Though the incident took place mere feet away from the same law enforcement officials escorting protester Rakeem Jones out of the venue, the officers in question ignored the perpetrator and instead immediately grabbed a stunned Jones, threw him to the ground, and placed him in handcuffs.
Jones told the Washington Post that he and three companions, "a white woman, a Muslim, and a gay man" went to the rally as a "social experiment." One of the people in the group, Ronnie C. Rouse, said that as soon as Trump's speech began, someone in the crowd "singled them out" and moments later a group of eight officers wearing "Sheriff's Office" uniforms arrived to remove them from the premises.
With officers both in front and behind him, Jones walked up the stairs, pausing briefly to throw his hands up in mocking defiance of the booing crowd. The video clips show a man wearing a ponytail under a cowboy hat walking toward the aisle, waiting until Jones is within arm's reach, then decking him with a right cross. Seconds later, the officers yanked Jones up the stairs and forcibly detained him.
"The police jumped on me like I was the one swinging," Jones said to the Post. He added, "It's like this dude really hit me and they let him get away with it. I was basically in police custody and got hit."
The identity of the man who threw the
punch is unknown at this time, but one video shows several officers walking right past him, not even looking in his direction, after he threw the punch.
In a strange twist, the area's local law enforcement agencies are all refusing to take responsibility for what happened. The Post reports:
Fayetteville is in Cumberland County, N.C., but an official from the Cumberland County Sheriff's Office, reached by The Washington Post early Wednesday, said officers from that jurisdiction were not the ones who detained the man. The Fayetteville Police Department also told The Post they did not detain anyone at the rally, held at the city's Crown Coliseum.
As previously noted here at Reason, violence and threats of violence have become an increasingly common feature of Trump rallies, and disrupting a Trump event can technically be prosecuted as a federal crime.
The Republican frontrunner has also mused publicly that he'd like to punch a protester in the face, insinuated that people who disrupt his events might deserve to get "roughed-up," and encouraged his supporters to forcibly remove anti-Trump demonstrators, telling one crowd he'd "defend you in court."
UPDATE: WRAL.com reports that the suckerpuncher has been identified as 78-year-old John McGraw. He has been charged with disorderly conduct as well as assault and battery.