Will Donald Trump Actually Pay His Violent Supporters' Legal Fees?

He's promised to bail out rally attendees who get in trouble with the law.

Earlier this week, our 2016 campaign season's sui generis "dog bites man" story hit the headlines again, after Rakeem Jones -- attending a Donald Trump rally in North Carolina as a dissenter -- was sucker punched by 78-year-old John McGraw. Here is the incident, captured in GIF form:


Asked to comment on the incident at the most recent debate, Trump did what he has always done -- tepidly sidestepped the issue before offering an endorsement of this sort of violence. His supporters, he said, "have anger that's unbelievable," and it's "a beautiful thing in many respects."

And while Trump told CNN's moderators Thursday night that he does not condone the violence, the truth is, he does. In November, activist Mercutio Southall was involved in an altercation at a Trump rally in Alabama, where New York Magazine writes he was "reportedly punched, kicked, and choked by an unknown number of attendees." Responding to the incident, Trump said Southall "maybe should have been roughed up."

And after a Nevada rally was briefly disrupted by protestors, Trump offered a lengthy and nostalgic disquisition on his love of violent retribution:

"He's smiling. See, he's having a good time," Trump said of a protester who was being escorted out by guards. “Oh, I love the old days, you know? You know what I hate? There's a guy, totally disruptive, throwing punches, we're not allowed to punch back anymore. I love the old days, you know what they used to do to guys like that when they were in a place like this? They'd be carried out in a stretcher, folks. Oh, it's true."

Trump went on to complain that "the guards are very gentle with him," before saying, "I'd like to punch him in the face, I'll tell you."

Well, McGraw, the culprit in the assault pictured above, has now been charged with "assault and battery, disorderly conduct and communicating threats," according to Fayetteville, North Carolina's WNCN. And those "threats" that were "communicated" are a real doozy. Per McGraw: “The next time we see [Jones], we might have to kill him.”

Of course, if the judicial system in North Carolina can manage some degree of competence, McGraw could soon find himself is deep trouble, given the clear video evidence of an unprovoked assault and the thorny matter of him having confessed to the crime: "You bet I liked it. Knocking the hell out of that big mouth." Fortunately for McGraw, Trump has pledged to dig into his own wealth to help him out with his legal defense. As The Week's Jeva Lange reported back in February:

"If you see somebody getting ready to throw a tomato, knock the crap out of them," Trump urged his supporters. Were anyone to feel concern about being prosecuted for assault in such a scenario, Trump reassured that, "I promise you, I will pay for the legal fees."

It is actually an open question as to whether Trump can intercede on McGraw's behalf. The Washington Post's Philip Bump put the question to an election law attorney named Jim Sutton, who said that there was some "precedent for a campaign being liable for an injury suffered by a protester at a campaign event," but it was still rather unclear as to whether it would happen. ("This is into the arcane corridors of campaign laws and how terms are defined," Sutton told Bump.)

Nevertheless, a promise is a promise, and Trump's specific pledge to assist his belligerent supporters by defraying the potential costs of their lycanthropic urges has clearly paved the way for such violence to become a feature at his campaign rallies. One might confidently speculate that Trump's vow to subsidize rally thuggery has encouraged more of the same, with attendees hoping to capitalize on the opportunity to assault anyone who seems to not be sufficiently full of affection for their dear leader.

Thus far, Trump has gotten by on the fact that the howling nimrods who have perpetrated or threatened violence at his rallies have, hitherto, not faced legal consequences for their actions. Should he keep his campaign promise to assist his brutal fans, it will provide some key insight into what a President Trump's Department of Justice might resemble -- in this case, a sort of evil version of the Southern Poverty Law Center. And while that's certainly a novel prospect, it's no longer an unthinkable one.


Jason Linkins edits "Eat The Press" for The Huffington Post and co-hosts the HuffPost politics podcast "So, That Happened." Subscribe here, and listen to the latest episode below.

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