Donald Trump on Wednesday addressed a crowd of nearly 5,000 energized supporters in Richmond, delivering his standard stump speech and taking shots at Democrats who debated for the first time just the night before.
But not long into his speech, nearly 20 protesters unfurled a banner that read “No human life is illegal” and began shouting “Dump Trump” as the Republican front-runner tried to press on with his speech.
After more than 10 minutes of heckling, the protesters were escorted out by a combination of Trump campaign and event staff, as well as several police officers. At least one female protester was physically forced out of the event hall by a police officer after she got into a physical altercation with another woman at the event. An African-American woman shouted, “Black power” as she was forced out of the rally.
The protesters started shouting and heckling Trump just as he began talking about his plan to build a wall between the U.S. and Mexico, which at first drew massive applause from the crowd of supporters. Trump supporters quickly began cheering to drown out the protesters.
Trump seemed unfazed by the protesters.
“That’s why we have freedom of speech, folks,” he said, before listing off his latest successes in the polls. Two CNN/ORC polls released Wednesday showed him leading in South Carolina with 36% of support and in Nevada with 38%.
But several of his supporters quickly became agitated, shouting “Go back to Mexico” as some of the protesters were escorted out. Another Trump supporter began hurling obscenities at two of the protesters, Ronald Sanchez and Maria Sanchez.
Several protesters told CNN they are students at Virginia Commonwealth University and said they obtained tickets through the Trump campaign’s public Eventbrite link to get into the event.
Henrico County Fire Marshal Billy Garrett, Jr. told CNN that the event hall’s crowd capacity was 5,000 people, and while the room never filled up completely, Trump disputed those numbers after the event and again in a phone call to CNN Wednesday night.
Trump told CNN after the event that he’s not worried about how protesters – who have popped up at many of his events – might affect his campaign in the long-term.
“It’s a very, very small group. You look at the thousands of people – we had 7,000 people – you had 10 protesters,” he told CNN as he was leaving the rally. “So you look at the thousands of people we had tonight – not at all.”
Much of Trump’s speech was focused on knocking presidential contenders on both sides of the aisle.
He noted, once again, how the Republican candidates who have attacked him have floundered in the polls.
And he slammed Democrats, saying, “They just couldn’t give things away fast enough. And they’re giving them to illegal immigrants.”
And he gave Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, a self-proclaimed democratic socialist, a new moniker: “socialist-slash-communist.”
“Because that’s what he is,” Trump said, to applause.