By Thomas Beaumont and Jill Colvin ,AP
CLEVELAND, Ohio — Hundreds of police officers, Secret Service agents and private security guards in cars, on foot and on horseback blanketed the area around Donald Trump’s campaign rally Saturday afternoon. Dozens of protesters would soon be ejected from the event.
And that was the calmest rally in the past several days thrown by the front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination.
Welcome to Trump’s new normal.
After months spent goading protesters and appearing to encourage violence, Trump has seen his raucous rallies devolve over the past two weeks into events at which chaos is expected. The real estate mogul is routinely unable to deliver a speech without interruption, and a heavy security presence is commonplace amid increasingly violent clashes between protesters and supporters.
On Friday, groupings of well-organized students succeeded in keeping Trump from even taking the stage at a rally in Chicago. The next morning, a protester rushed the stage at a Trump rally outside of Dayton, forcing Secret Service agents to leap on stage and form a protective circle around him.
“Frankly, I’m a little shocked that we got to this point, I’m shocked at it,” said Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who is vying with Trump to win his home state’s winner-take-all primary on Tuesday.
Trump’s events have always been intense. For months, he incorporated interruptions by protesters into his speeches, growling “Get `em out!” — sparking explosive cheers from the audiences as he did so. ‘USA, USA’
While Trump sometimes appears angered by the disruptions, he has also embraced them, using the interruptions as opportunities to lead his supporters in chants of “USA, USA.” He’s also joked about how the protesters force TV cameras to pan out over the crowd and show how large they are.
But the confrontations began to escalate this month, most notably at a Trump event in New Orleans. A steady stream of demonstrators interrupted Trump’s speech, including a huddle of Black Lives Matter activists, who locked arms and challenged security officials to remove them.
There were skirmishes throughout the speech, mostly pushing and shoving, although one man was captured on video biting someone.
This week, an older white Trump supporter was caught on video punching a younger African-American protester as police led the protester out of a rally in North Carolina. The supporter, later charged with assault, told an interviewer the next time he confronted a protester, “We might have to kill him.”