About half an hour into his lengthy campaign rally in Manchester, N.H., on Thursday, President Trump was interrupted by a protester.
The commotion unfolded on the balcony behind him and to his left, with some shouts aimed at derailing Trump's speech competing with the ambient noise of the arena and the amplified sound of Trump's rhetoric. As the crowd slowly realized that a protester was present, it turned its attention to the location of the disruption, prompting Trump to similarly turn and observe what was going on.
When he looked, a man was standing at the edge of the balcony, gesticulating at the crowd.
“That guy’s got a serious weight problem,” Trump said. “Go home. Start exercising. Get him out of here.”
“Got a bigger problem than I do!” he added. “Got a bigger problem than all of us. Now he goes home and his mom says, 'What the hell have you just done?'"
If Trump was talking about the guy on the balcony, he immediately didn’t go home. That guy was actually a Trump supporter, wearing a “Trump 2020” shirt.
The interruption was spurred by what appeared to be a group of three young people holding two banners reading “Jews Against the Occupation” and disparaging the president’s policies. When they stood up and began shouting, their voices didn’t carry far.
But the man to whom Trump appeared to be referring was sitting nearby and quickly leaped into action. He grabbed one banner from a protester and threw it into a nearby entryway. He grabbed the second and, after a brief struggle, threw it over the edge of the balcony where it fluttered into the crowd below.
By that time, security had arrived to remove the group of protesters, who were led out through the same nearby entryway. The crowd cheered the man who'd grabbed the banners, and he reveled in their applause.
It appears to have been only at this point that Trump turned his attention to the scene. It’s not clear if he saw the protesters who’d been removed or if he only saw the man at the edge of the balcony. Of the four, though, the largest was the man who grabbed the banners — a man who was presumably a Trump supporter and who remained at the rally.
It’s possible, of course, that Trump was just riffing, seeing a commotion and deciding to disparage the protesters without being particularly concerned about accuracy. That line about the protester going home to his mother is a common line from Trump campaign rallies, implying that protesters are necessarily immature children. It’s also possible that he essentially mocked the weight of a Trump fan.
(Update: The Daily Mail’s David Martosko reports that Trump was in fact referring to the man who confronted the protestors, identified as Frank Dawson. Trump later called and spoke with him.)
Why target the protesters? It’s part of the scene. When protests emerge at a Trump rally, it provides an opportunity for the supporters in the audience to target their hostility at an opponent in the room. The man at the balcony embodied what many in the room would have liked to have done: Confront a Trump opponent and literally rip their argument away from them.
That impulse to go after protesters can get awkward. When Trump later in the rally noticed a woman in the front of the crowd experiencing a medical issue, he drew the emergency team's attention to it. He stepped away from the mic while police and EMS workers moved into the crowd.
Someone in the crowd, apparently believing that there was another protester, offered some advice.
He yelled out, “Kick his a--!” Happily, the medical workers instead escorted the woman out in a wheelchair.