These new tactics, which the Trump campaign has introduced over the past week, represent refinements by Trump and his staff in their quest to control the atmosphere and message of his often unruly rallies. They come in the wake of an altercation between a photographer and a Secret Service agent at a Trump event, and at a time when the emboldened candidate has escalated confrontations with protesters, leaving his podium to stare them down at his two most recent rallies and repeatedly lamenting that his supporters cannot retaliate against them.
Trump first asked his supporters to pledge their allegiance at a weekend rally in Orlando. But the length of Saturday’s oath made it difficult for attendees to repeat it after Trump. The candidate had adjusted by Monday, when he had supporters raise their right hands and repeat a shorter oath.
Meanwhile, the Trump campaign appears to be ramping up efforts to prevent displays of dissent.
On Friday, two members of Trump’s private security team wore street clothes to a rally in New Orleans. One of them, Eddie Deck, explained to reporters that his duties were now weighted towards intelligence work researching potential protesters and assisting uniformed security personnel under the direction of Trump’s head of security.
Trump’s campaign spokeswoman, Hope Hicks, did not respond to emailed questions about the role of the plainclothes guards and the new tactics employed at his rallies.
In New Orleans, Trump’s plainclothes guards assisted with the removal of Black Lives Matter protesters, who interrupted the candidate’s stump speech for more than five minutes.
Some protesters were stripped away first and removed individually by security personnel, while others who remained huddled together were slowly pushed en masse out of the airport hangar where the rally was held.
On Monday, two members of Trump’s private security team again wore street clothes to Cabarrus Arena & Events Center here.
Before the start of the rally, they began assisting in the preemptive removal of potential dissenters, including a group of young people dressed in black who silently linked hands as they were jeered by Trump supporters and a man wearing a shirt that said “Fascist Trump” on the back.
Trump — who often says that he likes protesters because they are the only thing that makes camera operators aim away from him and pan his large crowds — also repeated a promise to deploy his own protests at future rallies but did not finish explaining why. “Every once in a while I’m going to bring my own demonstrator just to create—,” he said and trailed off.
Trump continued to taunt protesters and lament the fact that he and his supporters could not retaliate against them. “Bye-bye,” Trump told one protester after strolling away from his podium to stare the demonstrator down.
As a young man in a hooded Duke University sweatshirt was removed from the rally, Trump said, “Looks like a nice little guy actually. Go home to mommy … He’ll go home to mommy now.”
And as another protester extended his middle finger to the crowd, Trump said, “He puts up his hand. He puts up the wrong finger. We’re supposed to take it nowadays.”
There were several other protest incidents, including one in which a woman wearing a gold Star — modeled after those Jews were forced to wear in Nazi-occupied Europe — affixed to her jacket that read “Stop Islamaphobia” stood silently and was removed from the venue.
At recent rallies in Nevada and Louisiana, Trump has said that protesters — including those from Black Lives Matter at the New Orleans event — were throwing punches and lamented that his supporters would be blamed for retaliating.
A POLITICO reporter who witnessed both protests did not observe the demonstrators throwing punches. Multiple witnesses to both incidents also reported that they did not observe the protesters throwing punches. At the Nevada rally, security guards at South Point Arena in Las Vegas confirmed to POLITICO that the protester in question had not thrown punches, despite Trump’s claim.
A spokeswoman for the campaign has not responded to requests for video that might validate the candidate’s claims. In addition to protesters, Trump’s campaign has gone to increasing lengths to control members of the press in recent days.
At Monday’s rally here and at Friday rally in New Orleans, press pens were constructed with barriers that created long avenues of exit and entry, forcing members of the media to enter and exit away from the floors of the venues.
In the past, the press pens at most rallies have opened directly on to the floors of venues, giving members of the media access to crowds. But Trump’s aides -- and more recently Secret Service agents – have long worked to prevent members of the media from exiting press pens to document protests and scuffles while Trump speaks.
The more frequent use of the restrictive press pen design — which had been deployed sporadically in past months — comes in the days after a Secret Service agent was caught on video choke-slamming a photographer for Time Magazine at a rally in Virginia late last month. The photographer, Christopher Morris, had been attempting to leave the pen to document a Black Lives Matter protest and shouted an obscenity at the agent before he was thrown to the ground.
The Secret Service has said it is investigating the incident.
The introductory portion of Monday’s rally offered other new tactics. In the past, Trump has picked out spontaneous comments from his crowds — including “Ted Cruz is a pussy” — and repeated them from the stage. Here, the event's emcee proactively generated crowd fervor by asking audience members to shout out slogans for the crowd to chant. Suggestions included “Romney sucks” and two Clinton-themed chants, “blue dress” and “lock her up.”
“Dump GOP?” said the emcee, repeating another crowd suggestion. “Yeah, I’m with you on that one.”
As happens frequently at Trump’s rallies, someone led a prayer asking God to bless the billionaire with political success. On Monday, it was local businesswoman Leigh Valentine, who sells non-surgical facelift kits and other cosmetics. She thanked God for delivering Kentucky and Louisiana – which voted on Saturday — to Trump.
Miss North Carolina USA also spoke before the rally, sporting a sash and a glittering tiara.
Author: Ben Schreckinger