Donald Trump, Republican presidential front-runner, appeared Friday in St. Louis, as he faced intensifying criticism for the violent clashes between supporters and protesters at his rallies.
Trump's St. Louis rally was interrupted repeatedly by protesters, and police said 31 people were arrested and charged with general peace disturbance. One person arrested outside the event was charged with third-degree assault.
Trump taunted the protesters from the stage at the city's Peabody Opera House, even as he promised that police and security would be "gentle" as they removed them.
"They're allowed to get up and interrupt us horribly and we have to be very, very gentle," Trump said in response to one of the interruptions. "They can swing and hit people, but if we hit them back, it's a terrible, terrible thing, right?"
He panned the protesters as weak "troublemakers," ordered them to "go home to mommy" or "go home and get a job" because "they contribute nothing."
Trump was introduced by conservative activist Phyllis Schlafly.
“I know who you came to see and hear, so I’ll be quick,” she said. “This is the heart of America and we’re happy to welcome a really great American today. He is a real conservative and I ask you to support him.”
She also criticized President Barack Obama in her opening.
“You know Obama doesn’t want us to be superior. He wants us to be like everyone else,” Schlafly said.
Trump said thousands remained outside as the rally began, with the Peabody having a capacity of 3,000.
“I wish we could have had a larger place, but this is beautiful,” Trump said of the Peabody.
He spoke briefly about the ratings he’s helped create for Republican debates, and then turned to Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton, comparing her to Obama. He said Obama is destroying the country.
“She didn’t like him much before. They fought like crazy. All of a sudden she’s saying he’s the greatest thing that ever happened,” Trump said. “We are going to win based on the fact that she is becoming him. It’s just not going to happen, folks. We’re not gonna let it happen.”
The first half-hour of the rally was interrupted six times by protesters. At least half a dozen people were ejected from the event.
It began with yelling during Trump’s speech 10 minutes into the rally. As the person was removed, the crowd chanted, “USA! USA! USA!”
“Get him outta here. He’s all mouth,” Trump said. “Isn’t it great to be at a Trump rally?”
The ousters continued as Trump talked of winning Missouri, saying he was “tired of the garbage.”
When that statement was met by loud disapproval from some in the crowd, Trump instructed officers to remove them.
“Two young kids. Young, spoiled kids,” he said, shaking his head.
He talked for several minutes about those protesting against him, and said he had refused to cancel his St. Louis rally when asked based on anticipated protesters.
“I said absolutely not. These are not the people that made our country great. But we’re going to make it great again,” he said. “How ’bout letting some people in to take their seats? There are a lot of people standing outside.
“Missouri, I can’t believe this. There used to be consequences to protesting. There are none anymore,” he said. “These people are so bad for our country, you have no idea, folks. They contribute nothing.
“I think I set a record today with these wise guys.”
He repeatedly emphasized that the protesters were not being hurt as they were removed, specifically speaking to what he called the “dishonest press.”
Meanwhile, outside there continued to be intense back-and-forth between protesters and Trump supporters who couldn’t get in. Police officers used themselves as barricades between the two.
A white man was restrained by others in the crowd after he pushed a black woman after a confrontation.
Later, two men, one bloody, were taken away by officers as the rally went on inside.