A look back at Trump comments perceived by some as encouraging violence

PHOTO: Donald Trump pauses to look at a demonstrator behind him during a campaign rally in Fayetteville, North Carolina, March 9, 2016.PlayJonathan Drake/Reuters
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The aggressive shouting at a CNN reporter by supporters of President Trump at a rally yesterday prompted questions at the White House press briefing Wednesday about the heckling directed toward journalists and the president's feelings about violence in general.

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White House press secretary Sarah Sanders responded by denying that President Donald Trump encourages or endorses violence, though there have been multiple instances in the past that some would say run counter to that claim.

"The president does not support violence against anyone or anything," Sanders said at the White House briefing Wednesday.

This is far from the first time that Trump aides, including Sanders, have disputed the idea that Trump, both as a candidate and now as president, condones violence.

Here are some examples:

Recounting a childhood story

Decades before launching his political career, Trump started crafting his public image with the release of his book "The Art of the Deal," which was published in 1987. In that book, he described an incident when he was younger that stood out as a memorable moment.

"Even in elementary school, I was a very assertive, aggressive kid," Trump wrote in the bestseller. "In the second grade I actually gave a teacher a black eye — I punched my music teacher because I didn't think he knew anything about music and I almost got expelled. I'm not proud of that but it's clear evidence that even early on I had a tendency to stand up and make my opinions known in a very forceful way. The difference now is that I like to use my brain instead of my fists."

Asked about the story during an interview with The Washington Post on April 21, 2016, he hedged about the details.

"When I say 'punch,' when you're that age, nobody punches very hard. But I was very rambunctious in school, and it was good to go to a military academy because in those days it was a lot tougher than it is now. It was a different environment," Trump said.

Weighing in on protesters

Protesters regularly interrupted Trump's rallies during the presidential campaign — which he often mentioned in his speeches.

In Cedar Rapids, Iowa, on the day of the Iowa caucuses, for instance, he told audience members he would pay their legal fees if they engaged in violence against protesters.

"If you see somebody getting ready to throw a tomato, knock the crap out of them, would you? Seriously, OK? Just knock the hell ... I promise you I will pay for the legal fees. I promise, I promise," he said on Feb. 1, 2016.

At a Las Vegas rally later that month, he said security guards were too gentle with a protester. "He's walking out with big high-fives, smiling, laughing," Trump said. "I'd like to punch him in the face, I'll tell you."

A similar situation unfolded at a rally that month in Warren, Michigan.

"Get him out," he said of a protester. "Try not to hurt him. If you do, I'll defend you in court. Don't worry about it."

The sucker-punch incident

PHOTO: John Franklin McGraw was sentenced to unsupervised probation for attacking a protester at a Trump rally on March 9, 2016.Cumberland County Sheriff
John Franklin McGraw was sentenced to unsupervised probation for attacking a protester at a Trump rally on March 9, 2016.

On March 9, 2016, as a protester was being escorted out of a rally in Fayetteville, North Carolina, he was sucker-punched by another attendee.

The Cumberland County Sheriff's Office released a statement saying officers arrested the man suspected of throwing the punch, identified by authorities as John Franklin McGraw, for allegedly assaulting the protester.

The day after the Fayetteville incident, the Trump campaign released a statement that didn't mention Trump's earlier comments at other rallies where he appeared to suggest hitting protesters.

"We obviously discourage this kind of behavior and take significant measures to ensure the safety of any and all attendees," it read.

In the subsequent days and weeks, Trump was asked about the incident and said that he did not condone the violence but at one point said he would look into whether to pay the legal fees for McGraw. Trump said he never offered to pay in the first place.

McGraw was charged with misdemeanor charges of assault and battery and disorderly conduct and pleaded no contest. In court in December 2016, he spoke with and hugged the man whom he had punched.

An ongoing lawsuit

Even though most of Trump's public remarks now come during appearances with world leaders at the White House and less often at rallies across the country, some of his acerbic comments have followed him.

Three protesters who claim they were roughed up by Trump supporters at a March 1, 2016, rally in Louisville, Kentucky, have filed a federal suit against Trump, accusing him of inciting violence.

His lawyers tried to get the case dismissed by saying his comments are protected by the First Amendment's guarantee of freedom of speech and that he did not intend for his words to incite violence.

But federal Judge David Hale rejected that argument in April 2017 and said there was sufficient evidence that the protesters' injuries were a "direct and proximate result" of Trump's comments, according to The Associated Press. Trump was allowed to appeal the case, and the latest step in the proceedings came when a stay was issued in June 2018 pending interlocutory appeals, according to court documents.

"Please don't be too nice" to suspects, Trump tells police

Trump seemed to encourage police to be more violent in handling potential offenders during a speech to law enforcement officers in July 2017.

The speech was largely focused on the threat posed by the gang MS-13, but it appeared that Trump was speaking in general when he commented on police interactions with suspected criminals.

He described the precautions typically taken by police where they place a hand over a suspect's head while they're being put into a police car in order to protect them.

"When you see these thugs being thrown into the back of a paddy wagon, you just seen them thrown in, rough. I said, 'Please don’t be too nice,'" he said.

"When you guys put somebody in the car and you’re protecting their head you know, the way you put their hand over [their head]," Trump continued, mimicking the motion. "Like, 'Don’t hit their head and they’ve just killed somebody, don’t hit their head.' I said, 'You can take the hand away, OK?'

"I have to tell you, you know, the laws are so horrendously stacked against us, because for years and years, they've been made to protect the criminal. Totally made to protect the criminal. Not the officers. You do something wrong, you're in more jeopardy than they are," he added.

Additional denials stemming from Trump comments, tweets

Critics have condemned Trump's most controversial comments for some time now, and several of his statements have become flashpoints in the past.

In tweets published June 29, 2017, Trump made disparaging comments about "Morning Joe" co-hosts Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski, who had publicly criticized Trump.

Hours later, deputy press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, asked whether "the hostility of the verbal environment can create an atmosphere of violence," disputed the notion that his tweets do so.

"The president in no way form or fashion has ever promoted or encouraged violence. If anything, quite the contrary. And he was simply pushing back and defending himself," she said.

On July 2, 2017, Trump shared the doctored video, from a 2007 WWE skit in which he is seen taking down WWE owner Vince McMahon. In the version Trump shared, McMahon's face is blocked by the CNN logo.

When the video was shown to then-homeland security adviser Tom Bossert on ABC News' "This Week" on the same day, he said it is "certainly not" a threat against the media or CNN specifically.

"I think that no one would perceive that as a threat. I hope they don't," he added. "But I do think that he's beaten up in a way on cable platforms that he has a right to respond to."

Bossert is currently an ABC News contributor.

Outcry from Democrats was swift, and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California posted a tweet making her feelings clear.

"Violence & violent imagery to bully the press must be rejected. This #July4th, celebrate freedom of the press, guardians to our democracy," she wrote.

CNN released a statement at the time criticizing the video.

"It is a sad day when the president of the United States encourages violence against reporters. Clearly, Sarah Huckabee Sanders lied when she said the president had never done so," the statement reads.

"Instead of preparing for his overseas trip, his first meeting with Vladimir Putin, dealing with North Korea and working on his health care bill, he is instead involved in juvenile behavior far below the dignity of his office. We will keep doing our jobs. He should start doing his," the statement concludes.

In the wake of the aggressive shouting at the CNN reporter at Trump's rally in Tampa on July 31, 2018, the president's two eldest sons -- Donald Jr. and Eric -- shared social media posts of the rally crowd heckling Jim Acosta..

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