The calls for “Security!” rang out through the crowd near the podium 15 minutes before the event even began.
Loud boos poured down from the rafters of the cavernous arena, as three police officers quickly descended on the man with a long ponytail wearing a brown hoodie, who walked out peacefully.
That early escort, for what other attendees described as rude behavior, set the tone for one of the most protest-riddled campaign rallies held yet by Donald J. Trump. More than two dozen people were escorted from the event at Dorton Arena here for various forms of protest, causing the candidate to stop his stump speech about 10 times until the shouts and boos subsided.
“Be very nice to the protester,” Mr. Trump said after he was interrupted just five minutes into his speech. He then paused to discuss the demonstrators, making sure to criticize the way the news media covers the protests at his events.
“When I’m rough and I say ‘Get them out of the room,’ they say, ‘Oh, that’s terrible,’ ” Mr. Trump said, mimicking media reports. “Then when I’m nice, I say, ‘Be very careful, be very gentle, don’t hurt the protester,’ then they say, ‘He was very weak tonight.’ So you can’t win. So I’ll try and cut it right down the middle. Make sure that young lady is in beautiful shape, and if she’d like us to let her back in, do we invite her back in? I don’t know.”
The protesters came armed with various chants and signs. Two women who brought red signs reading “Stop the hate. We make America great” were quickly confronted as they began shouting. A female Trump supporter standing nearby grabbed the signs, ripped them up and threw them on the ground.
“If I wasn’t afraid of getting in trouble, I would have pulled their hair or I would have punched them, but I don’t want to get in trouble,” the woman, who declined to give her name, said after the event.
Another group, high in the bleachers, began shouting “Black lives matter” during a question-and-answer period. They were quickly blanketed by supporters, who blocked their faces with big “Trump” signs, eventually encasing them in placards before security walked them down the stairs and out, although apparently too slowly for Mr. Trump.
“Why didn’t you take them out the nearest door instead of walking them through the whole place?” a clearly annoyed Mr. Trump said.
Other incidents were less peaceful. A man with his hair pulled back into a bun and sporting a scraggly beard began shouting loudly, peppering accusations of fascism with profanity. He was forcefully shoved into a metal barrier by a Trump supporter, before officers quickly grabbed the shouter and escorted him out.
At first, the supporters in the crowd of more than 7,000 – drastically outnumbering those protesting – seemed on guard, ready to defend their candidate with shouts, shoves and boos, or, their favorite tactic, blocking demonstrators’ faces and bodies with numerous “Trump” campaign signs.
But by the end of the rally, they seemed simply annoyed. One man, clad in a checkered peacoat, started shouting, “Love, not hate! We’re not a fascist country!” People around him glanced at him, one woman nearby saying, “Shut up, dude,” as he got through about four rounds of his chant. Eventually, a guard grabbed him by the arm and pulled him through the crowd. People just stared at him as he went by.
The protests appeared to wear on Mr. Trump.
“There’s hatred between people, we want to bring it together,” he said, with a slight sigh, as four protesters were escorted down from the bleachers.
“Our country is so divided, it’s such a sad thing.”