President-elect Donald Trump arrives at a rally at the Crown Coliseum in Fayetteville, N.C., Dec. 6, 2016.
Photo by Andrew Harnik/AP

Court case to test Donald Trump’s role in inciting violence

The Rachel Maddow Show, 3/4/16, 9:00 PM ET

Violence and racism a troubling mix in ominous political climate

Rachel Maddow reports on several recent incidents of racist violence and also a steadily increasing level of violence at Donald Trump political rallies, all contributing to an ever more threatening political climate.
Rachel Maddow reports on several recent incidents of racist violence and also a steadily increasing level of violence at Donald Trump political rallies, all contributing to an ever more threatening political climate.
It’s genuinely difficult to count the number of ways in which Donald Trump wasn’t a normal presidential candidate, but among the most alarming was the Republican’s tacit embrace of violence as a legitimate tool at his rallies. While many have credibly argued that a candidate shouldn’t be held responsible for the actions of his or her supporters, in Trump’s case, we saw a candidate who seemed a little too eager to encourage vicious behavior.

After one protester at a Trump rally was punched by one of the candidate’s supporters, for example, Trump declared, “Maybe he deserved to get roughed up.” On other occasions, Trump promised to “pay for the legal fees” for supporters who “knock the hell” out of protesters.

And in Kentucky in March 2016, three protesters were physically assaulted at a Trump event – a known white nationalist helped initiate the confrontation – and the trio filed a lawsuit alleging that the Republican bears some responsibility for the violence. The president’s lawyers, not surprisingly, have tried to get the case thrown out, but as the Washington Post reported, a federal judge, citing Trump’s own public comments, has decided to allow the case to proceed.
Judge David J. Hale ruled against efforts by Trump’s attorneys to throw out a lawsuit accusing him of inciting violence against protesters at a March 2016 campaign rally in Louisville.

At the rally, Trump repeatedly said “get ‘em out of here” before, according to the protesters, they were shoved and punched by his supporters. Trump’s attorneys sought to have the case dismissed on free speech grounds, arguing that he didn’t intend for his supporters to use force. But Hale noted that speech inciting violence is not protected by the First Amendment and ruled that there is plenty of evidence that the protesters’ injuries were a “direct and proximate result” of Trump’s words.
“It is plausible that Trump’s direction to ‘get ‘em out of here’ advocated the use of force,” Hale wrote. “It was an order, an instruction, a command…. Trump’s statement at least implicitly encouraged the use of violence or lawless action.”

The judge added that Trump’s rhetoric at the time was “particularly reckless.”

It’s too soon to say what will end up happening in the case, and it’s still possible the plaintiffs will lose. Friday’s decision simply denied the request to have the lawsuit thrown out of court altogether; it wasn’t the final ruling.

But the development was nevertheless striking. It’s the latest instance in which Trump’s own public comments have been held against him in a courtroom – see the Muslim ban, for example – and it’s litigation that may yet hold the president responsible for his role in endorsing violence before his election.