Anti-Trump agitators sparked security fears in Chicago on Friday and shut down a rally that had drawn tens-of-thousands of supporters.
Stunned fans of Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump were informed at the University of Illinois-Chicago Pavilion on Friday that activists had succeeded in derailing the event. The announcement came amid large protests both inside and outside the venue.
In the days leading up to the rally, the activist group Moveon.org circulated a petition demanding officials at the taxpayer-funded school cancel the Trump campaign rally. The petition collected nearly 50,000 signatures and another 10,000 Facebook users pledged to show up to disrupt the event.
“Donald Trump is running on a platform of hate and dangerous intolerance,” the Moveon.org petition states. “It has no place in Chicago but especially not at an institution of higher learning.”
Hours before the rally was scheduled to start, hundreds of people lined up outside the venue at the university – a magnet for minority student populations and left-wing activists.
Domestic terrorist Bill Ayers, a onetime confidante of President Obama, was among the demonstrators in line outside the arena.
The former leader of the Weather Underground, participated in bombings of the New York City police headquarters in 1970.
Demonstrators packed into an arena, breaking out into protest even before Trump had shown up. At least five sections in the arena were filled with protesters.
“Mr. Trump just arrived in Chicago and after meeting with law enforcement that for the safety of tens-of-thousands of people that have gathered in and around the arena, tonight’s rally will be postponed until another date,” someone announced over a loudspeaker. “Thank you very much for your attendance and please go in peace.”
Scuffles and fistfights between Trump supporters and the agitators could be seen after the announcement, as a large contingent of Chicago police officers moved in to restore order.
Trump told MSNBC in a telephone interview Friday evening, “It’s sad when you can’t have a rally. Whatever happened to freedom of speech? I think we did the right thing. We can come back and do it another time.”
Trump said he and law enforcement jointly decided to postpone the event because he “didn’t want to see people hurt or worse” but added “our freedom of speech was totally violated.”
Trump conceded “there’s a lot of anger in this country,” but said he didn’t believe it was directed necessarily at him or his campaign. “I’ve never seen anything like it. I don’t think it’s directed at me. Just what’s been going on for years,” Trump told host Chris Matthews.
Trump attributed the protests not to objections to his policies, but to general malaise in the United States – particularly among people upset they haven’t been able to find jobs.
“On one side you have people that haven’t had a pay increase in 10 years, frankly, and the businesses are moving out of the country and they’re upset and they’re angry,” Trump said. “And on the other side you have people that feel differently about other elements, and you know, it all comes together.”
The Chicago Police Department, Chicago Fire Department, the Secret Service and the FBI all coordinated efforts to provide security.
“It’s like 10 percent of them are here to shut it down,” a Chicago police officer told DailyMail.com, requesting anonymity to speak freely.
Some protesters wore shirts that read “Muslims United Against Trump” and “Make America Hate Again.” They were escorted out of the building as others cheered “USA!”
“I feel a lot of hate,” 18-year-old Trump supporter Veronica Kowalkowsky said, Fox News reported. “I haven’t said anything bad to anyone.”
Many in the crowd jumped up and down, with arms up in the air, shouting “F— Trump!” ”Bernie! Bernie!” and “We stopped Trump!”
“Trump represents everything America is not and everything Chicago is not. We came in here and we wanted to shut this down. Because this is a great city and we don’t want to let that person in here,” student Kamran Siddiqui told Fox News.
Siddiqui said he’s a supporter of Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders and that it felt “amazing” to have stopped Trump from speaking at his own rally.
Betsy Woodruff, a reporter for the Daily Beast, called it a “victory for the protesters.”
“This is what it’s going to look like if he’s the Republican nominee,” she said on Fox News.
Ilya Sheyman, executive director of MoveOn.org, responded to news of the postponement of the rally:
“Mr. Trump and the Republican leaders who support him and his hate-filled rhetoric should be on notice after tonight’s events. These protests are a direct result of the violence that has occurred at Trump rallies and that has been encouraged by Trump himself from the stage. Our country is better than the shameful, dangerous, and bigoted rhetoric that has been the hallmark of the Trump campaign. To all of those who took to the streets of Chicago, we say thank you for standing up and saying enough is enough. To Donald Trump, and the GOP, we say, welcome to the general election. Trump and those who peddle hate and incite violence have no place in our politics and most certainly do not belong in the White House.”
More than 10,000 officially RSVP’d for Trump’s event, which was scheduled to take place at 6 p.m. EST. The first person in line arrived at 3 a.m., NBC-5 Chicago reported.
“We’re not going to let Donald Trump take us back to the 1950s,” said Rep. Luis Gutierrez, a Chicago Democrat and staunch advocate for illegal immigrants told the station. “We’ve worked too hard.”
“[The goal is] for Donald to take the stage and to completely interrupt him. The plan is to shut Donald Trump all the way down,” added activist Quo Vadis, Fox reported.
Gutierrez’s and Vadis’ glee to stop Trump was shared by the protesters, who chanted “We stopped Trump!” after the announcement was made, Chicago Tribune reporter Bill Ruthhart tweeted.
Conservative author Ann Coulter tweeted:
Trump’s main rival in the Republican primary, Sen. Ted Cruz, was on the Hugh Hewitt show Friday evening and weighed in on the unrest in Chicago, saying the billionaire has created “an environment that encourages this sort of nasty discourse.”
Sen. Marco Rubio described the scene as a “very disturbing moment in our political discourse” and pointed to “real significant anger and frustration at the direction of the country.”
“America is better than this,” Rubio said on a call to Fox News. “We don’t have to tear each other apart.”
Rubio said Trump is not entirely to blame for tonight’s events but the Republican front-runner “does bear responsibility for other things that have happened at his events.”
Following the cancellation of the rally, Dr. Ben Carson, who endorsed Trump earlier in the day, said, “If your expression is shutting down somebody else’s planned expression, you’re interfering with their rights.”
Friday’s protests come just one day after Grammy-winning artist Chris Brown called for mobs of black people to provoke Donald Trump’s supporters at rallies.
“What you need to start doing — all these black people, go together 40, 50 deep. See what they do then,” Brown said in a video posted to his Instagram account on Thursday, WND reported.
“God will have his revenge. F–k Trump and f–k the pigs,” Brown added.
Trump has four more days to reschedule the event before Illinois primary voters head to the polls March 15.