Three protesters can proceed with their lawsuit against President Donald Trump and several of his supporters after a federal judge agreed that his rhetoric possibly incited violence at a campaign rally last year, rejecting the president's defense that it was free speech.
Kashiya Nwanguma, Molly Shah, and Henry Brousseau said they attended the Louisville, Kentucky, rally last March to "peacefully protest Trump." Several of his supporters then shoved, punched, and forcibly removed them from the event after Trump yelled, "get 'em out of here" several times.
The protesters had filed a lawsuit after the March 1, 2016, rally, claiming that Trump encouraged violence and that they were the targets of racial and sexist slurs.
US District Judge David J. Hale of Kentucky ruled Friday that the suit against Trump, his campaign, and several supporters can go forward, saying that the protesters have sufficiently proven that their injuries were a “direct and proximate result” of Trump’s actions. They are seeking unspecified financial damages.
"It is plausible that Trump’s direction to “get ’em out of here” advocated the use of force," he wrote, stating that Trump should have known his statements would provoke violence. "It was an order, an instruction, a command."
The president's lawyers tried to dismiss the suit, arguing that Trump was using free speech and was not instructing the crowd to use force. Hale disagreed, citing violence at previous rallies and noting the unrest started as soon as Trump told the crowd to remove the protesters. The Supreme Court has also ruled that speech that incites violence is not protected by the First Amendment.
Nwanguma, Shah, and Brousseau are accusing two Trump supporters of assault and battery, as well as charging Trump and his campaign with incitement to riot, vicarious liability, and negligence.
The clash, one of several violent incidents at Trump's campaign rallies, garnered national attention after video showing Trump supporters pushing and shoving the three protesters went viral, particularly footage that captured Matthew Heimbach, a white nationalist, roughly shoving Nwanguma.
Hale noted this particular incident, saying that Trump's directive to "eject a black woman when several members of a group that Trump knew or should have known was a recognized hate group were present in the audience, was entirely reckless."
According to the ruling, Heimbach also pushed Shah, while another supporter punched Brousseau, a seventeen-year-old high school student, in the stomach. The unknown attacker is thought to also be a member of the Traditionalist Worker Party, the white nationalist group Heimbach was representing at the rally.
Trump's lawyers had argued that these supporters did not start shoving the protesters because Trump told them to, that they were acting on their own initiative.
However, one of the protesters, Alvin Bamberger, later apologized and expressed remorse for his actions. In a letter to the Korean War Veterans Association, whose uniform he wore at the rally, Bamberger recalled that “Trump kept saying ‘get them out, get them out’ and people in the crowd began pushing and shoving the protestors...I physically pushed a young woman down the aisle toward the exit."
As the clash unfolded, Trump told the crowd "Don't hurt 'em. If I say, 'Go get 'em,' I get in trouble with the press."
Hale pointed out that if Trump had wanted these protesters removed he would have asked his security personnel to escort them out and "instructed the intervening audience members to stop what they were doing, rather than offering guidance on how to go about it."
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Brianna Sacks is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Los Angeles.
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