BLOOMINGTON, Ill. — Donald Trump remained defiant at another campaign stop Sunday, blaming the media and Bernie Sanders for violence at his rallies and mocking a protester struggling to be heard.
“Let’s hear your voice,” Trump said as his supporters surrounded the protester, drowning him out with their taunts. “Go ahead, let’s hear it.”
As security walked the man out, Trump yelled after him to widespread cheers. “Get him out of here, please. Get him out.”
In his speech, a 45-minute display of his trademark bravado, Trump said demonstrations against him had been planted by Sanders and denied he had ever provoked anyone to hurt protesters. But two days after a string of brawls led Trump to cancel a rally in Chicago, the tension was apparent before he even arrived.
“We just want to see who we get to knock out first,” one woman yelled as she waited outside the gates.
Trump’s most ardent supporters lined up as early as 5 a.m., sitting through hours of rain. Another woman vowed to defend herself against protesters.
“They touch me,” she said, “this hillbilly’s kicking somebody’s ass.”
One teenage fan shielded himself from the rain by wrapping a blanket around his head. As gates opened and the line moved forward, a Trump campaign staffer tapped the boy on the shoulder.
“Excuse me, they’re not going to let you wear that blanket on your head,” he said. “You know, Muslim.”
Some attending the rally, which was inside a private airplane hangar, were also at Friday’s canceled rally in Chicago, where fistfights spilled into the street. On Sunday morning, Trump’s followers were on the lookout for more trouble from the other side. Rumors spread that a thousand Trump opponents had gathered in the rear of the crowd.
“The whole back is protesters,” one Trump fan reported. “They’re all Muslims and blacks.”
As they waited for Trump’s private jet, the crowd of almost 3,000 dried off from the rain and complained about the left-wing media. A quiet current of anxiety ran through the hangar. The day before, a protester tried to rush the stage in Dayton, Ohio, and police in Kansas City used pepper spray to stop protests outside a rally.
Without warning, a sharp pop rang out.
Many flinched. Conversations stopped. A little girl clutched at her father’s leg.
Seconds later, another pop sounded. After a few nervous seconds, the crowd identified the source — not gunshots, but the crackling of a microphone left exposed to the rainy sky.
Mark Burns, a black pastor who has endorsed the Republican frontrunner, kept the crowd occupied with a fiery speech on Trump’s love of Jesus and how the media has deepened American’s racial divide.
In America, the pastor yelled, there are no white people. No black people. “There is only green people. Green is money.” Trump, he said, knows money.
Trump’s jet landed and taxied into view. As the candidate took the stage to the roar of the crowd, a dozen security guards formed a perimeter, flanked by police officers and sheriff’s deputies.
A quick wave of his hand drew more cheers, and he stepped to the microphone. He immediately laid into his Republican rivals. Marco Rubio should’ve quit long ago, he said. Ted Cruz is still a liar. John Kasich is a good man, Trump said, but will never win.
Hillary Clinton, he said, has no fervor left in her campaign. Trump then threatened to send protesters to Bernie Sanders’ rallies, as revenge.
The only acceptable candidate, Trump promised, was himself. He pointed out that had a sizeable lead in Illinois, one of five states voting in Tuesday’s primaries.
“You’re going to say it was the single greatest vote you have ever cast, by far.”
As Trump spoke, the police on either side of the stage whispered to one another and scanned, stone-faced. Seven times, security dashed onto the floor to remove protesters.
“Commie!” the fans screamed as one demonstrator was taken outside. “Bernie sent him!”
Multiple protesters made a show of ripping up official Trump campaign signs and tossing the pieces into the air. One danced with a Mexican flag, in response to Trump’s plan to build a wall along the country’s southern border. A group held up handmade signs emblazoned with “Black Lives Matter.”
“I know more about protesters than you’ll ever know,” Trump told CNN’s Don Lemon on Friday night. “I’ve been having protesters all my life.”
In recent weeks, Trump has encouraged supporters at campaign events to “knock the hell out of" protesters, said he wanted to punch one man in the face and promised he’d pay the legal fees of supporters who would do the same.
As Trump draws closer to sealing the Republican nomination, his campaign events have become flashpoints for escalating rage. A white supporter punched a black man at a North Carolina rally, then said he might have to kill him.
A protester in Alabama was thrown to the ground and beaten. The fighting in Chicago left a police officer bleeding from the head.
But at Sunday’s rally, Trump spoke as though none of that had happened.
“You know how many people have been injured at our shows?” he said. “Nobody. Nobody.”
Trump ended by whipping the crowd into one last frenzy.
“I love you, Illinois,” he said. “Go out and vote on Tuesday. I will never let you down.”
As Trump left the stage and mingled with supporters in the front rows, a young woman rose above the sea of bodies. Seated on a man’s shoulders, she pointed at a flaming skull on her T-shirt and tore apart a Trump sign. People handed up more signs, and she ripped them up, one by one.
Nobody seemed to care. Her protest was lost in the crowd’s cheering. Trump, engulfed in security, headed back to his jet and was gone.