Police issue warrant for Trump supporter who appeared to punch protester at a rally

Story highlights

  • Trump held a rally in North Carolina
  • The altercation is not the first incident of violence at a Trump rally

Asheville, North Carolina (CNN)Police issued a warrant Tuesday for the arrest of a man whom reporters witnessed grabbing a protester by the neck and apparently hitting him in the face during a Donald Trump campaign rally.

The Asheville Police Department issued a warrant for Thomas Vellanti Jr.'s arrest on Tuesday morning after footage of the altercation on Monday, which the police department called an "assault," circulated on social media and in national news reports.
    "This morning, the Asheville Police Department followed up on the incident and obtained warrants for the suspect, Thomas Vellanti Jr.," the police department said in a statement. "The Asheville Police Department worked diligently to protect both those attending the rally and those exercising their right to protest."
    "APD has taken out warrants on Thomas Vellanti Jr. for the assault which was caught on video last night at the Donald Trump Rally. #AVLPD," the police department tweeted Tuesday.
    The Trump campaign has not answered requests for comment. A call to Vellanti also went unanswered.
    A CNN reporter saw Vellanti accosting a group of eight protesters who began shouting in the middle of Trump's rally and exchanged words with one man before grabbing him by the neck while brandishing his closed fist. Vellanti then appeared to swing at the protester, but it's unclear if the protester dodged the punch.
    Police officers, who were stationed throughout the arena of Trump's rally, were not involved in the incident and Vellanti remained at the rally.
    The incident on Monday came as Trump lambasted Hillary Clinton for calling half of his supporters a "basket of deplorables," accusing her of running a "hate-filled" campaign.
    And moments earlier, Trump had brought a group of supporters on stage, proclaiming them hard-working Americans, not "deplorables."
    Clinton has said she regretted saying the word "half," but said she will continue to call out the "bigotry" in the Trump campaign.
    Reporters also witnessed Vellanti trying to grab a female protester who was also being escorted out of the building.
    And when a woman in a hijab tried to sit down as the group of protesters were ejected, the man shouted, "Get out!" and motioned for her to leave.
    After the protesters were ejected, Vellanti extended his arms, raising his clenched fists like a victorious boxer.
    The incidents occurred as a Trump campaign staffer arrived by the group of protesters to escort them out of the rally. The staffer did not ask the supporter to leave the rally.

    Past incidents of violence

    The altercation is not the first incident of violence at a Trump rally.
    A Trump supporter in Fayetteville, North Carolina, was charged with assault in March after he punched a protester as he was being escorted from the venue by police. Trump later suggested he might pay for the man's legal bills.
    And last fall, a Black Lives Matter protester was tackled, punched and kicked by a Trump supporter at a rally in Birmingham, Alabama. Trump later said that man maybe "should have been roughed up."
    Trump has also been accused of stoking violence at his rallies, telling supporters during a February rally that he'd "like to punch him (a protester) in the face."
    "In the old days," Trump added then, protesters would be "carried out on a stretcher."
    But Trump has sought to mollify the tone of his campaign, saying at more recent rallies that his supporters should be non-violent toward protesters.
    As he slammed Clinton for saying that half of his supporters are "racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamophobic," Trump argued that every American deserves "leadership that honors you, cherishes you and totally defends you."
    "Every American is entitled to be treated with dignity and respect in our country," he said.