COLUMBUS, Ohio – Supporters of Bernie Sanders are divided over confrontational protests against Donald Trump, especially the one that shut down a Trump event in Chicago Friday night, which was partially organized by Sanders supporters. The rally was called off by Trump's campaign, citing security concerns, though the Chicago Police Department says it was not consulted in the decision.
Trump is increasingly blaming disruptions at his events on “Bernie’s crowd,” and on Sunday threatened to send his own supporters to cause trouble at Sanders' events. Sanders supporters have participated in and organized some protests at Trump events, but the Sanders campaign has stated that it is not involved with the protests.
At a massive Sanders rally Sunday night at Ohio State University, everyone seemed to agree that Trump is wrong, bigoted, and even dangerous. While some said his extremism justifies a dramatic response, others felt Trump has a right to speak and that any attempt to prevent the candidate from doing so is not just wrong, but against what Sanders stands for.
“It’s what he deserves,” Farida Moalim, an Ohio State student wearing a head scarf, said of the Chicago shutdown. “If you have a right to make your whole entire campaign about hatred and bigotry, then people have a right to protest.”
Archanaa Lingan, a senior in high school, said she was pleased to see Sanders supporters taking a bold stand in Chicago and elsewhere. “Sometimes you just have to make a statement,” she said. “I think Trump is inciting violence, no one else is.”
Christian Goodknight, an 18-year-old student at a nearby school, said he was all for attempts to take over Trump events and hoped to see more of it. What if Trump sent supporters to Sanders rallies? “We’d be ready,” he said, “there’d be a pretty big commotion.”
While opinions didn’t break down entirely along generational lines, older supporters tended to have a more negative view of the aggressive tactics by protesters.
Steve Austin, a bus driver in Columbus, condemned the shutdown of the Chicago rally and said Sanders should too. “It disturbs me that Sanders supporters would be involved in that,” he said. “I want Trump to shut up as much as anyone else, but he has a right to speak.”
Austin said that what attracts him to Sanders is his message of inclusiveness and peace, and that the protests run counter to that sentiment. “It’s the antithesis of what Sanders stands for,” he said.
Kyle Eads, who held his young daughter in his arms at the Sanders rally, agreed. “We shouldn’t impede on anyone’s First Amendment rights,” he said.
John Kinlock, a cellular engineer from Columbus, said that he’s not sure if shutting Trump down was the right approach, but he was glad to see people taking direct action against Trump. “Our people went there to protest, they did nothing wrong,” he said. “There should be more.”
Another young father, Jesse Blackburn, said he likes that people are standing up to Trump, but didn’t like the shut down and worries that liberals are unfairly demonizing all Trump supporters as racists.
He was also concerned about what would happen if Trump sent his supporters to a Sanders event. “Knowing the fervor on both sides, there would probably be more violent action, unfortunately,” he said.
Sanders proudly engaged in civil disobedience as a young activist during the Civil Rights movement, something his campaign has capitalized on it tries to appeal to African-American voters. His campaign has even featured a photo of a young Sanders getting arrested and dragged by police in two TV advertisements.
But like his supporters, Sanders and his campaign seem conflicted as to how much they should embrace the anti-Trump protests. Sanders on Sunday called Trump a “pathological liar” for suggesting that his campaign was involved in the Chicago protest.
“Obviously, while I appreciate that we had supporters at Trump’s rally in Chicago, our campaign did not organize the protests,” the senator said. “What caused the violence at Trump’s rally is a campaign whose words and actions have encouraged it on the part of his supporters. He recently said of a protester, ‘I want to punch him in the face.’ Another time Trump yearned for the old days when the protester would have been punched and “carried out on a stretcher.’ Then just a few days ago a female reporter apparently was assaulted by his campaign manager. When that is what the Trump campaign is doing, we should not be surprised that there is a response."
Meanwhile, some prominent Sanders backers have cheered on the Chicago protests. And MoveOn.org, which is backing Sanders, helped efforts to organize the march outside Trump’s rally Friday.
Inside the venue, “it became a Bernie Sanders rally” as protesters took over the place, one protest organizer told MSNBC. Protesters chanted Sanders’ name and waved his signs.
“Non-violent protest has been a critical part of beating back American fascism in the past and, ultimately, it's going to play a critical role in helping us defeat the fascist campaign that Donald Trump is waging for president,” said Neil Sroka of Democracy for America, another progressive group that backs Sanders. “Given that history, I can't help but admire the Sanders supporters brave enough to take our non-violent fight for our country's progressive and pluralistic values into the lion's den to directly confront Trump.”
People for Bernie, a large online group that grew out of the Occupy movement, also praised the Chicago demonstrations and the organizers behind it.
Dan Cantor, the national director of the Working Families Party, which has also backed Sanders, said unorthodox tactics are necessary because Trump is an unorthodox candidate. “Trump is like no one we've seen since before World War II,” he said. “Trump's Republican opponents are afraid of him. But Sanders and his supporters are not.”