Donald Trump has blamed organized “thugs” for clashes that forced him to call off a chaotic rally in Chicago where supporters and protesters broke into fights even before the controversial candidate took the stage.
Five people were arrested and two officers were injured during the ugly skirmishes, Chicago police said. One of the injured officers was struck by a bottle and suffered a bloody gash that will require stitches, police said.
The scenes were criticized by Trump’s rivals, who said responsibility for the rancor lay with the candidate.
Democratic Sen. Bernie Sanders denied that his campaign was behind the protests.
"As is the case virtually every day, Donald Trump is showing the American people that he is a pathological liar. Obviously, while I appreciate that we had supporters at Trump's rally in Chicago, our campaign did not organize the protests," Sanders said in a statement Saturday. "What Donald Trump must do now is stop provoking violence."
But Trump tweeted with characteristic defiance early Saturday: “The organized group of people, many of them thugs, who shut down our First Amendment rights in Chicago, have totally energized America!”
Trump, meanwhile, carried on with a scheduled rally in Dayton, Ohio, on Saturday, and tweeted that another rally in Cincinnati on Sunday was not canceled as had been reported.
"Will be great — love you Ohio!" he wrote.
On Friday night, the scene inside the University of Illinois-Chicago Pavilion devolved into clashes, and punches were thrown among attendees. Demonstrators held up anti-Trump signs and tussled with supporters before the crowd was eventually told that the event was postponed.
The Chicago Police Department said that it was notified at 6:30 p.m. that the Trump campaign had cancelled their scheduled event. Police said the department "played no role" in the event being called off and had adequate security.
Some in the crowd were heard yelling “We did it! We did it!” after the rally was called off for the evening. There were clashes inside the venue and a large group was seen fighting outside.
"It is unfortunate that parties on both sides allowed their political views to become confrontational and that’s unfortunately resulted in the scuffling that occurred inside the pavilion and those arrests that were made," police Interim Superintendent John Escalante said late Friday.
Trump told MSNBC in a telephone interview: "I just don’t want to see people hurt ... We can come back and do it another time." He said he felt the decision was "the right thing to do under the circumstances."
He said there was "so much anger" at the rally, adding: "I don’t think it’s directed at me , it’s just something that's been going on for years."
Jedidiah Brown, an activist and Sanders supporter, was dragged from the stage by security after tearing up a Trump poster.
“My focus was set on shutting it down,” he told the BBC in an interview Saturday. “The bitterness, the anger … I felt like I was in the middle of the civil rights movement.”
He added: “Trump’s message, Trump’s campaign is not welcome in Chicago.”
Carly Fiorina, who dropped out of the race to endorse Ted Cruz, agreed with Trump that "organized" groups had set out to disrupt the rally but said the candidate should take responsibility.
"Tone is set at the top," she told TODAY early Saturday.
Dannielle Villarreal and other protesters unfurled a banner that read "Trump = Hate" and which featured a Nazi swastika. She said they were there to protest Trump's "fascist language," and that members of the crowd confronted them.
"Many of them were shoving us, pushing us, trying to rip the banner from us," she said.
Questions have been raised in recent days after a man at a Trump rally sucker-punched a protester leaving an event in North Carolina, and after a Breitbart reporter accused Trump’s campaign manager grabbing her hard enough to cause a bruise. The campaign manager has denied the claim.
Earlier Friday at a rally in St. Louis, Trump was repeatedly interrupted by protesters. A total of 32 people were arrested at the event at the Peabody Opera House, police said.
Trump’s rivals criticized Trump’s rhetoric and language as predictably leading to violence. Marco Rubio pointed to instances where Trump has said he wanted to punch a protester and made similar comments.
"It shouldn’t surprise us that you see a growing amount of violence at some of his events," Rubio said.
Ted Cruz said responsibility for the violence lay with those trading blows, but added "any candidate is responsible for the culture of the campaign."
Hillary Clinton on Saturday also spoke about the incidents in Chicago during a campaign stop in St. Louis.
"The ugly, divisive rhetoric we are hearing from Donald Trump and the encouragement of violence and aggression is wrong, and it’s dangerous," Clinton said. "If you play with matches, you’re going to start a fire you can’t control. That’s not leadership. That’s political arson."