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Clinton condemns anti-Trump protest violence, alleges Trump 'lowered the bar'

A protester against Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump carries a burning American flag outside a Trump campaign rally on Thursday, June 2, 2016, in San Jose, Calif. A group of protesters attacked Trump supporters who were leaving the candidate's rally in San Jose on Thursday night. A dozen or more people were punched, at least one person was pelted with an egg and Trump hats grabbed from supporters were set on fire on the ground. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)

Hillary Clinton has denounced the violence committed by protesters outside a Donald Trump rally in San Jose on Thursday night, but she also accused Trump of creating an environment conducive to that behavior.

In an interview with CNN's Jake Tapper Friday, Clinton said, "I condemn all violence in our political arena."

She added that she also condemned the violence when it was being committed by Trump supporters earlier in the campaign and alleged that Trump had incited that. In the past, Trump has at times decried violence against protesters but at other times said he would pay legal fees for supporters who hit one.

"Trump has lowered the bar," Clinton said, "and now is it a surprise that people who don't like him are stepping over that low bar? I don't think so. He needs to condemn all violence by everyone."

Asked whether she fears the violence benefits Trump politically, she told Tapper it does not help anybody.

"I don't want to parse it," she said. "I don't want to talk about the political implications. I just want it to end."

Trump has dismissed the San Jose protesters as "thugs" and noted that some were seen burning American flags. Videos from the protest showed people throwing bottles and eggs, sucker-punching Trump supporters, tearing up signs, and burning a "Make America Great Again" hat.

"Great evening in San Jose other than the thugs," Trump tweeted Friday. "My supporters are far tougher if they want to be, but fortunately they are not hostile."

During the protest, John Podesta, Clinton's campaign chairman tweeted, "Violence against supporters of any candidate has no place in this election."

A representative of the Bernie Sanders campaign also condemned the violence on Thursday night.

Rapid response director Mike Casca retweeted a news report on the protests and commented, "We cannot stop trump's violent rhetoric with violence - only peaceful protest in a voting booth can do that."

The city of San Jose was still reeling from Thursday night's events Friday.

Mayor Sam Liccardo praised police for containing the violence while protecting the right to assemble, but he cast blame on both the candidate and the protesters for what happened.

"While it's a sad statement about our political discourse that Mr. Trump has focused on stirring antagonism instead of offering real solutions to our nation's challenges, there is absolutely no place for violence against people who are simply exercising their rights to participate in the political process," he said in a statement.

San Jose Police Chief Eddie Garcia said at a Friday news conference that, in hindsight, there were not enough officers present to keep the peace.

In an editorial Friday, the San Jose Mercury News criticized protesters for making Trump look sympathetic.

"Protesters fell into Donald Trump's trap with their response to his campaign tactics Thursday," it said. "It was not one of San Jose's finer moments. Violence has no place in American politics."

The South Bay Labor Council, one of the organizations that participated in the protest, expressed similar sentiments.

"We condemn the violence that happened at the rally," said Executive Officer Ben Field. He added that his group's role was entirely peaceful and the violence appears to have started after they left.

According to Field, the protest was intended to condemn the "often hateful and divisive speech" coming from Trump.

"It's disappointing that today we're talking about the violence perpetrated by a few of the demonstrators yesterday instead of the message of our rally, which was a condemnation of violence and hate," he said.

Other groups that organized or participated in the San Jose protest did not respond to requests for comments on what happened, but organizers of other recent protests have argued that Trump bears responsibility for the volatile environment that surrounds his events.

Martin Eder, executive director of Activist San Diego, an organizer of a protest in San Diego last week that descended into chaos, said the intent was to hold a nonviolent, positive protest because "any of that kind of conflict or yelling back and forth is counterproductive."

They formed the "Love Trumps Hate Solidarity Network" specifically to emphasize that positivity.

The activists held a successful press conference with thousands of attendees and they demonstrated peacefully for hours before things went downhill, he said. The protesters and Trump supporters were supposed to be kept separate, but that system somehow broke down when the rally ended.

According to Eder, future protesters should learn from the San Diego violence that "situations are intentionally provoked to create violence, which helps [Trump's] storyline."

He blamed police in part for allowing the two groups to get close enough together for a conflict to develop. It may have looked on TV like protesters just wanted to wail on Trump supporters, but he alleged that a supporter sprayed some of them in the face with mace.

Photographer Jimi Giannatti has posted photos online that he claims show Trump supporters pepper spraying protesters outside the San Diego rally.

"They had been provoked," Eder insisted. "This was not something that would have naturally occurred."

Eder criticized police for using "military tactics" to quell the protest.

"The police played into the hands of the very scenario that Donald Trump wants and feeds on," he said.

According to Eder, protesters planned to avoid violence, knowing it could bolster Trump, and they even received some training to prevent it.

"We're not the haters here...I don't know that there's anything that we could have done," he said.

The American Civil Liberties Union San Diego chapter laid out similar complaints about the law enforcement response at a press conference Thursday and in a letter sent to the city clerk seeking information about "an unacceptable show of excessive force by SDPD against peaceful protesters."

In the letter, the ACLU requests answers to several questions, including, "Who decided to remove separation barriers before the crowds had dispersed and why?"

San Diego police did not return a call seeking comment on these allegations.

Organizers of a protest in Albuquerque earlier in May alleged that the fury ignited by Trump's presence was beyond the control of protest leaders.

"I would say that the Trump campaign spreads fear and violence across the country," said George Lujan of the SouthWest Organizing Project at the time. "I don't think it's hyperbole at all to say that."

Lujan argued that Trump's rhetoric would have drawn people out to protest no matter what, particularly in a liberal city with a large immigrant population. Peacekeepers from his group and others kept the protests safe during the hours it was planned for, but violence broke out after they left.

Lucas Herndon of ProgressNow New Mexico said the peaceful organized protest was scheduled to end when the rally began. The chaos came later.

Trump supporters have attempted to blame the increasingly volatile protests that follow the candidate across the country on organizations that receive funding from billionaire George Soros or support immigration reform. Trump himself has often claimed the protesters are paid professionals or are somehow coordinated by the Sanders campaign.

One of those organizations, MoveOn.org, has assisted groups organizing some protests, including one in Chicago in March that led to Trump canceling his rally there. In a statement at the time, the progressive grassroots organization called Trump's allegation that it was responsible for the violence "profoundly dishonest and untrue."

"There is only one person to blame for the chaotic and often violent nature of Trump rallies: Donald J. Trump" Executive Director Ilya Sheyman said in a statement. "This sort of violence does not happen at Sanders, Cruz, Clinton, Rubio, or Kasich events, despite the fact that there are often protests at their events."

MoveOn did not respond to a request for comment on its role in anti-Trump protests Friday.

Conservative blogs have pointed to an anonymous Craigslist posting offering people $16 per hour to protest Trump in Janesville, Wisconsin in March as proof that Sanders supporters are funding demonstrations. It is unclear who actually posted it or whether it was a legitimate offer, though.

Other Craigslist posts cited by some as evidence the chaos is being caused by professional agitators appear to simply be ads for door-to-door canvassing or other typical campaign activity, according to Snopes.com.

A veterans group affiliated with Hillary Clinton did reportedly organize the protest outside Trump Tower Tuesday during Trump's press conference on his veteran donations.

While the South Bay Labor Council is associated with the AFL-CIO, Field said the San Jose rally was organized by local and regional groups like his.

Eder emphatically denied that any outside groups coordinated the San Diego protest.

"The Love Trumps Hate Solidarity Network was all local folks and we had a budget of $37," he said.

In retrospect, he wishes he had communicated with some outside groups for guidance on how to avoid violence, but he did not expect things to get out of control.

He fears that violence and the media coverage of it drowned out the protesters' message of rejecting Trump's "hate speech" and promoting a multicultural America.

"We got that message across very effectively," he said, "were it not for the violence that again became the main storyline."

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