President Donald Trump kicked off his re-election campaign with a rally in Orlando, Florida, this past Tuesday night that featured some hallmarks of his public appearances, like rants about Democrats, immigrants — and arrests of his supporters. In video that the Orlando Sentinel made available, a 51-year-old white male Trump supporter named Daniel Kestner who’s wearing one of the president’s campaign’s signature red “Make America Great Again” hats can be seen noticing that a reporter for the paper was videotaping a harsh confrontation between him and someone else. He then rushes the reporter, and eventually smacks at the phone — and later on, while Trump’s voice can be heard being broadcast out of the nearby Amway Arena, the seemingly same reporter filmed that Trump supporter getting handcuffed by police on what turned out to be a battery charge.
According to the reporter on the scene, the man was being ejected from the president’s rally, although it’s unclear why. Before police stepped in, figures who seemed to be with venue security tried to diffuse the situation, but to no avail.
The situation has clear roots in the president’s own rhetoric, and in this case, although the only directly physically affected element was the reporter’s phone, the situation could have certainly gone farther in an even slightly different context without security and police standing literally right off to the side. Trump targeted reporters right towards the beginning of his Tuesday night speech, singling out the media gathered inside the venue with the slander:
‘By the way, that is a lot of fake news back there.’
On other occasions, he has directly endorsed physical violence against his opponents, laughing off a yelled comment from a rally crowd to shoot immigrants just last month. That event, notably enough, also took place in Florida, but in a decidedly Republican-leaning area. On the other hand, even in the Republican surge of 2016, Orange County (where Orlando is situated) went for Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and at present, only about one-third of the people of Orlando even approve of the job Trump is doing as president. That’s not exactly a winning number — overall, in internal polling leaked from the Trump campaign, the president is losing by double digits in the state of Florida in a hypothetical match-up with leading Democratic presidential contender Joe Biden.
As the intensity of this race heats up, the man who harassed an Orlando reporter this Tuesday wasn’t the only arrest marking the president’s campaign kick-off. When Trump supporters and the far-right, political violence-endorsing group the Proud Boys confronted anti-Trump demonstrators gathering in the city concurrent to the president’s rally, a Trump supporter and protester ended up arrested after their confrontation turned physical.
There were numerous violent incidents that marked Trump rallies leading up to the 2016 presidential election, and as the president doubles down on his violent rhetoric — decrying asylum seekers as an “invasion,” for instance — this kind of behavior from his supporters can reasonably be expected to continue. Outside the campaign context, one of his supporters was arrested in a high-profile situation after they sent attempts at bombs to an array of leading Democratic figures — meaning there is a disturbing precedent already in place.
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