BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — Donald Trump on Saturday sought to clarify his comments about a database of Muslims in the U.S., amid a backlash over the Republican front-runner's apparent support for such a registry.
On Thursday evening, Trump faced questions from NBC News about creating a database system to track Muslims, which Trump said at the time he "would certainly implement." On Friday, Trump attempted to distance himself from the comments, saying in a tweet, "I didn't suggest a database — a reporter did."
At a campaign rally at the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex on Saturday, Trump explained that he was originally "referring to the wall [along the Southern U.S. border], but database is OK. And watch list is OK. And surveillance is OK."
He continued: "If you don’t mind, I want to be, I want to surveil. I want surveillance of these people that are coming in, the Trojan horse, I want to know who the hell they are."
Several of Trump’s 2016 rivals criticized him over the database remarks Friday. Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush said Trump’s comments were "just wrong." Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called it "shocking rhetoric." And Sen. Ted Cruz said, "Listen, I’m a big fan of Donald Trump’s, but I’m not a fan of government registries of American citizens."
Trump said Saturday "it doesn't matter" if he couldn’t hear the question posed to him on Thursday, "but I do want databases for those people coming in, but I also insist on the wall, and it was all fine. All of a sudden I end up with some stories, I say what are you talking about?"
"So here’s the story, just to set it clear: I want surveillance of these people, I want surveillance if we have to, and I don’t care," Trump added.
Trump said he also wants surveillance of "certain mosques," adding, "We've had it before, and we'll have it again."
After the speech, attendees seemed split on this proposal — but they didn’t waver in their support of the candidate. One woman, who declined to give her name to NBC News, stated unequivocally, "I’m for surveillance."
Another Trump supporter, Linda Glass, when asked if these comments made her like Trump more or less, responded: "Well, I like him. I don’t think he would do anything wrong. I think he’s gonna make America great again, just like he says."
Trump also took the opportunity Saturday afternoon to employ a favorite tactic of his — hitting his rivals by listing what he sees as their flaws, all while declining to comment on them.
"I’m going to be nice today," he promised the crowd. "I’m not going to call Jeb Bush low energy, I’m not gonna repeat it. I’m not gonna say Marco Rubio’s a lightweight. I said I’m not doing it! I will not do it.
"I said I will not say that Ben Carson’s last week was a bad week because his top person and his top consultant said he’s incapable of learning about foreign policy," he said, adding, "I won’t say that he said in his book that he suffers from pathological disease. I said I’m not gonna say it, so I’m not saying it!"
When asked about these types of attacks from Trump, 24-year-old Caleb Payne defended the man he hopes to see become president.
"People do that to Trump all the time," he told NBC News, bolstering Trump’s prior claim that he’s a counter-puncher — not the initial aggressor.
Brook Quinnelly, 25, agreed: "Yeah, he gets ridiculed every single day, too, so what’s the difference?"
During the speech, Trump was interrupted by protesters sporting Black Lives Matter T-shirts. The business mogul called for their removal, as is frequently done when Trump is interrupted by protesters.
The second protester was pushed, kicked and punched by Trump supporters, according to video shot by a CNN reporter near the scuffle.
This is not the first time protesters have been met with venom from Trump's backers. Just a few days earlier in Worcester, Massachusetts, a man calling out “Trump’s a racist” was pushed by crowd-goers around him before law enforcement escorted him out of the venue.