Candidates point fingers over Trump rally violence

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump arrives at the Wright Brothers Aero Hangar for a campaign rally, Saturday, March 12, 2016, in Vandalia, Ohio. (AP Photo/Kiichiro Sato)

Following a tumultuous weekend of Trump campaign events, one Sheriff's Office in North Carolina is reportedly considering charging Donald Trump with inciting a riot during one of his rallies last week.

The Fayetteville Observer reported that The Cumberland County Sheriff's Office is "looking at the totality," of the circumstances surrounding an incident during which a 78-year-old man punched a protester in the face.

The consideration comes after a tumultuous weekend of violence at his campaign rallies. Despite the growing chaos, the GOP front-runner has continued to deny responsibility for the chaos, insisting that his rhetoric was not the cause of the incidents that have captured headlines and even forced him to cancel a campaign event.

Asked if he accepts responsibility for "the escalated tension," at his rallies, Trump told NBC's Chuck Todd that the "disrupters," present at his cancelled Chicago rally were "like professionals."

"They had Bernie Sanders signs all over the place, and they were made by Bernie Sanders people. I mean, these were professionally-made signs," Trump alleged.

The suggestion that Sanders supporters are the root of the pandemonium at Trump's rallies is an excuse Trump has adopted as one of his deflections lately.

On Saturday, CNN reported, Trump "accused Bernie Sanders' supporters of sowing unrest at his events and the GOP front-runner refused to back down from his rhetoric that some have cited as the cause of heightened tension at his rallies."

Describing the protesters that disrupted the Chicago rally, CNN reported Trump told a crowd in Ohio that "some represented Bernie, our communist friend."

"At a rally in Cleveland later Saturday, Trump doubled down on his accusation when a protester disrupted his event moments after it began," CNN reported.

Asking the audience where the protesters were coming from, Trump said, "they're Bernie's crowd," CNN reported.

An NBC news headline may indicate that Trump is correct to a certain extent. In a piece headlined "how Bernie Sanders supporters shut down Donald Trump's rally in Chicago," Alex Seitz-Wald describes how the protest came together.

Seitz-Wald begins the piece with Ja'Mal Green, who he writes is "a prominent black activist and Bernie Sanders supporter in Chicago."

When Green saw that Trump was holding a rally at the University of Illinois-Chicago he began coordinating an effort to shut the event down, Seitz-Wald reported.

"Little did he know," Seitz-Wald wrote "they actually would shut it down."

Seitz-Wald reported that while "protesters interrupt virtually every Trump speech," Chicago stood out because of the "scale and the organization behind the effort."

"Hundreds of young people, mostly minorities, poured in from across the city, taking over whole sections of the arena and bracing for trouble.", an organization that has endorsed Sanders' presidential bid, has acknowledged the role they played in organizing the Chicago protest.

"MoveOn proudly supported University of Illinois at Chicago students and local organizers in their courageous nonviolent protest outside the event," The organization's Executive Director, Ilya Sheyman, said in a statement released Saturday.

"But let's be clear about one thing, the protest Friday night was a direct result of the violence that has occurred at Trump rallies and that has been repeatedly encouraged by Trump himself from the stage," Sheyman stressed.

"There is only one person to blame for the chaotic and often violent nature of Trump rallies: Donald J. Trump."

Sheyman pointed out that the type of violence that occurs at Trump rallies "does not happen at Sanders, Cruz, Clinton, Rubio, or Kasich events, despite the fact that there are often protests at their events."

The aforementioned candidates have been unanimous in their disavowal for Trump's fiery rhetoric, including the Republicans who have vowed to support their party's nominee, even if it is Trump.

"Republicans blame Trump for climate of violence," wrote Politico's Eli Stokols and Kyle Cheney.

While Marco Rubio said that "at this moment," he plans on supporting the eventual Republican nominee Stokols and Cheney reported that Rubio said "it's getting harder every day."

John Kasich made a similar comment, according to Stokols and Cheney, saying that "it makes it extremely difficult," according to The Associated Press.

Kasich's willingness to offer a critique if noteworthy, as The Associated Press reported, because "the Ohio GOP governor has largely declined to criticize Trump until now."

Kasich told The Associated Press that he asked his aides to give him a list of Donald Trump's quotes promoting violence at rallies after clashes between protesters and supporters led to the cancellation of a Trump rally on Friday night.

During his interview, Kasich read a list of Trump quotes compiled by his press secretary.

The quotes included Trump's comments that his audiences should "hit back" a little more and a statement that he'd like to punch a protester in the face.

The list is similar to one read by CNN's Jake Tapper during the latest GOP debate in Florida. Tapper's collection of quotes included an instance in which Trump promised to cover the legal fees for the person who would "knock the crap," out of a protester.

"Seriously, OK, just knock the hell [sic]. I promise you I will pay for the legal fees, I promise, I promise," Tapper quoted Trump saying.

While Trump countered Tapper's question with an explanation of how protesters are "bad dudes," he hasn't backed off his promise to cover the legal fees.

Asked if he would cover the legal fees of the aforementioned 78-year-old man who was caught on video punching a protester, Trump told Todd he has his team looking into it.

Todd had also asked Trump how offering to pay the legal fees is "not condoning what this older gentlemen did to this protester?"

In response, Trump continued to dodge responsibility, delving into an account of how Secret Service had warned him people in the audience were armed with tomatoes they planned to throw at the candidate, saying that "people are there doing harm, you have to go and you have to use equal force."

Ted Cruz also mentioned some of Trump's prior quotes in his condemnation of the candidate. Describing how responsibility in any campaign "starts at the top," Cruz said that "it is not beneficial when you have a candidate like Donald Trump who is telling his protesters, 'punch that guy in the face.'"

Cruz, however did acknowledge the wrongdoing of the protesters as well.

"The protesters were in the wrong," Cruz said on ABC News. "When you come up and you use violence, you engage in violence, you threaten violence - when you try to shut down and shout down speech, that's not what the First Amendment allows, " Cruz explained.

"The first amendment gives every one of us the right to speak, but not to disrupt others."

On the Democratic side of the race, Hillary Clinton has been relentless in her criticisms of Trump as she eyes a potential faceoff with the GOP candidate in November.

Clinton called Trump's rhetoric "ugly," and "divisive," during a campaign event on Saturday, CNN reported.

Calling the encouragement of violence and aggression "wrong," Clinton also said it is also "dangerous."

"If you play with matches, you're going to start a fire you can't control," CNN quoted Clinton saying.

"That's not leadership. That's political arson."

For his part, Sanders has repeatedly disputed the idea that his people are the source of the turbulence and criticized Trump's behavior.

"I don't think our supporters are inciting," CNN quoted Sanders saying during a Chicago press conference.

"What our supporters are doing is responding to a candidate who has, in fact, in many ways, encouraged violence."

In a statement regarding Trump, Sanders said that "what caused the violence at Trump's rally is a campaign whose words and actions have encouraged it on the part of his supporters."

Sanders stressed the importance of Trump no longer provoking violence, saying that he should "make it clear to his supporters that people who attend his rallies or protest should not be assaulted, should not be punched, should not be kicked."

In that same press release, Sanders said that "as is the case virtually every day, Donald Trump is showing the American people that he is a pathological liar."

While Trump's original tweet about protesters blamed both Sanders and Clinton, he zeroed in on Sanders Sunday.

Writing that Sanders was lying by saying the disrupters aren't instructed to attend Trump's campaign events, Trump offered a warning.

"Be careful Bernie, or my supporters will go to yours!"

Information from the Associated Press contributed to this report.

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