A large group of black students attending a Donald Trump rally at Valdosta State University Monday were escorted out by law enforcement before the event started.
“We didn’t plan to do anything,” Tahjila Davis, a 19-year-old mass media major, told The Des Moines Register. “They said, ‘This is Trump’s property; it’s a private event.’ But I paid my tuition to be here.”
News reports placed the number of students escorted out at about 30.
Kicking out anticipated protestors isn’t an uncommon practice for Trump events, but this was one of the largest groups so far in his campaign. It occurred hours after a Secret Service agent choke-slammed a Time magazine photographer attempted to capture images of #BlackLivesMatter protesters at an event in Virginia.
Though at least one outlet reported the students were kicked out based on a request by the Trump campaign, the campaign denies that was the case.
“There is absolutely zero truth to that,” says campaign spokeswoman Hope Hicks.
One Secret Service agent oversaw the students’ removal, but agents did not actively participate in escorting them out.
“If a group at an event protests, it does not become an issue with the United States Secret Service unless our protectee is threatened,” said Kevin Dye, a spokesman for Secret Service. He said it’s not uncommon for Secret Service agents to monitor these situations, but they do not actively participate in removing protesters.
Another Secret Service agent told CNN the protesters were “asked to leave by the host committee and local law enforcement.”
“We do not escort protestors (or) disruptors out of events,” the agent, speaking on background, said. “(It’s) not a Secret Service function and (campaign) staff knows that.”
Time magazine photographer Chris Morris told CNN that at a rally earlier in the day a Secret Service agent began choking him as he tried to exit the media pen.
A video of the incident shot by an attendee at the rally and later posted on social media shows the agent putting two hands on the photographer’s neck and slamming him to the ground.
A Secret Service spokesman said the agency is “aware of an incident involving an employee” and will provide further details of the incident after they gather the facts.
“Our local field office is working with their law enforcement partners to determine the exact circumstances that led up to this incident. The Secret Service will provide further details as warranted once additional facts surrounding the situation are known,” said spokesman Robert Hoback.
The Valdosta student protest came after Trump also spent part of the day trying to clean up a racially charged controversy after he refused to disavow former Ku Klux Klan grand wizard David Duke over the weekend.
When asked about his Sunday comments on CNN’s “State of the Union,” Trump blamed a “bad earpiece.”
“I was sitting in a house in Florida, with a bad earpiece,” the brash billionaire told NBC’s “Today” show. “I could hardly hear what he’s saying. I hear various groups. I don’t mind disavowing anyone. I disavowed Duke the day before at a major conference.”
Duke had detailed his support for Trump in a Facebook post on Thursday.