The shouting began just moments after Donald Trump took the stage Friday at his Miami golf resort. Three small groups of Latino protesters had snuck into the crowd of nearly 3,000 supporters on Oct. 23, and their chants of “Equality” and “Dignity” echoed through the hall one after another. Chaos quickly followed.
There was yelling, kicking and pushing. One Trump supporter used a campaign sign that read “The Silent Majority Stands With Trump,” to hit a protester on his back as he was being led away. A large bald man grabbed protester Ariel Rojas by the collar, toppling him to the floor, before kicking him. The candidate, no foe of confrontation himself, appealed for mercy and peace. “You can get them out,” Trump said of the protesters, “but don’t hurt them.”
The words were not heeded. “It was intense,” Paula Muñoz, 23, one of the protesters, said afterwards, exhilarated but shaken as she reconvened with the other activists in a parking lot across the street. One had gotten kicked in the knee; another was nursing his back, which got wrenched in the scuffle. “I’m pretty shocked by the way people reacted,” said Jorge Tume, 24, who helped organize the demonstration.
He maybe should not have been. Protests at campaign events are as old as American democracy, but they have taken a dim turn this presidential season at the massive events staged by Trump. Supporters of the Republican frontrunner were caught spitting on Hispanic protesters at an event in Richmond, Virginia. At an event before the U.S. Capitol in September, one supporter was caught on video pulling the hair of a young woman who tried to shout down Trump. Outside Trump’s New York headquarters, Trump’s personal bodyguard was videotaped ripping a sign from the hands of a protester on the public sidewalk. When the protester tried to grab it back, he punched the protester in the face. A lawsuit has been filed.
The protest Trump movement shows no signs of abating, nor do the angry responses in Trump’s crowds. A group of influential Republican Latino activists met Tuesday in Colorado and blasted Trump, threatening to withhold their support in the general election if other GOP candidates embrace his rhetoric. And on Wednesday, the day of the debate, thousands of Latino leaders and over 60 organizations will protest Trump in Boulder near the debate event hall.
“[The protest] will remind these same politicians that immigrants, their loved ones, and their allies are voters and are ready to demonstrate their political power,” said Federico Peña, former Denver mayor and a Cabinet member to President Bill Clinton, who will lead the rally, according to the Denver Post. Former Colorado U.S. Sen. Ken Salazar, who served in President Obama’s first-term Cabinet, will also speak at the event.
Aware of the increasing confrontations, the Trump campaign has been taking steps in recent weeks to dial down the vitriol. “The campaign does not condone violence of any kind,” says campaign spokeswoman Hope Hicks. And the candidate has continued to maintain his trademark swagger. “I am going to win with Hispanics,” he claimed to loud cheers from the crowd in Miami, after the protesters had been cleared. (That would be a tough turnaround, since a recent Washington Post/ABC news poll shows 82% of Hispanics view him unfavorably.)
Meanwhile, a national network of immigrant rights groups has taken to organizing regular protests at Trump events, sometimes coordinating in advance with training on non-violence and how to react to the crowds. “We made reference to what the civil rights workers and students had to go through,” explained Florida Immigrant Coalition leader Maria Rodriguez, who organized training for the Miami disruption. “It’s not like we’re even going to change the mind of his followers, perhaps. But we have to inspire a sense of defense of dignity among all of us.”
The protesters speak of Trump, who began his campaign by alleging that Mexico sends rapists and criminals across the U.S. border, as a demagogue who has riled up dangerous anti-immigrant feelings. “What many people think and say in their houses now is being expressed in the streets and in their workplaces and in public spaces,” says Univision’s Jorge Ramos, the anchor of the nation’s largest Spanish-language newscast, who Trump kicked out of one of his press conferences in August. “Those rejections of immigrants have been legitimized by Mr. Trump’s dangerous words.” Univision was barred from Trump’s Miami rally.
The rise of Trump, who has been the Republican frontrunner in national polls for almost 100 days now, has divided many Latino groups, as the debate rages over how he should be treated. The president of the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce invited Trump to speak without consulting other group members, and local leaders rebelled. They said the president tried to bar them from a meeting, and there’s a video of him threating to return a leader’s membership dues who spoke against Trump’s appearance. Trump later canceled his session with the organization.
Hispanic arts and labor organizations have called for a boycott of Trump’s hosting gig on Saturday Night Live in November, and pressure is mounting on NBC to rescind the offer.
Like those local chamber of commerce leaders, Rojas, the student protester who got knocked to the ground in Miami, worried that engaging with Trump would just give him more publicity. “People have done things like this in the past, and it’s only made him stronger,” he said. “But what if we didn’t show up? What’s that going to say about us?”