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Trump blames Sanders supporters for Chicago unrest; protester tries to rush stage

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Posted at 2:18 PM, Mar 12, 2016
and last updated 2016-03-12 16:19:16-05

By Jeremy Diamond and Eugene Scott

CNN

(CNN) — Donald Trump on Saturday denounced the protests that led him to cancel a scheduled rally the previous night in Chicago, calling them “a planned attack” that was “professionally done” and blaming Bernie Sanders supporters for inciting violence.

Sanders, however, pushed back against Trump, calling on him to denounce violence at his rallies and labeling him a “pathological liar.”

The accusations come on a day when Trump refused to apologize for his rhetoric at his rallies, one of which was interrupted when a man tried to rush the stage. Secret Service officers protected the GOP front-runner, who was unharmed.

Trump focused on Sanders in his comments about the protesters Friday night.

“Some represented Bernie, our communist friend,” Trump said in Dayton, Ohio, his first campaign appearance since the Chicago event was postponed.

Later in the day, Trump said protesters at his Cleveland event are “Bernie’s crowd.”

“You know Bernie was saying Mr. Trump should speak to his crowd,” Trump said. “You know where they come from? Bernie’s crowd. They’re Bernie’s crowd.”

And when a protester momentarily disrupted Trump’s rally, the GOP front-runner again said the demonstrator was a “Bernie person.”

“Get your people in line, Bernie,” Trump said.

Several protesters on Friday could be heard chanting Sanders’ name, and progressive group MoveOn.org, which has endorsed Sanders, confirmed in a statement that it helped students print signs for the protests at the Chicago rally and recruit members to attend the “student-led protest.”

Sanders said his supporters were not to blame for the unrest.

“I don’t think our supporters are inciting. What our supporters are doing is responding to a candidate who has, in fact, in many ways, encouraged violence,” Sanders said Saturday at a press conference in Chicago. “When he talks about … ‘I wish we were in the old days when you could punch somebody in the head.’ What do you think that says to his supporters?”

Sanders also referred to an incident earlier this week in which a black protester was sucker-punched by a Trump supporter as he was being led out of a rally.

“So the issue now is Donald Trump has got to be loud and clear and tell his supporters that violence at rallies is not what America is about and to end it,” Sanders said.

In a statement issued later Saturday, Sanders added: “As is the case virtually every day, Donald Trump is showing the American people that he is a pathological liar.”

Clashes broke out Friday night between protesters and Trump supporters after the campaign announced the rally would be canceled more than 30 minutes after it was scheduled to start. Hundreds of protesters had packed into the University of Illinois at Chicago venue for the rally, prompting the campaign to call off the event.

The protests and fights in Chicago were the latest in a string of increasingly heated and at-times violent confrontations breaking out at rallies for the front-runner in the Republican presidential race. And they come as Trump has repeatedly suggested protesters should face more violent repercussions for disrupting his rallies.

“We’re all together and we want to get along with everybody, but when they have organized, professionally staged wise guys we’ve got to fight back, we’ve got to fight back,” Trump said Saturday in Dayton.

As he did the previous night in a round of phoned in TV interviews, Trump didn’t walk back any of his rhetoric Saturday. He again claimed that neither the tone of his campaign nor his supporters were to blame for any violence at his rallies.

“They want me to tell my people please be nice be nice. My people are nice,” Trump said Saturday.

“They were taunted, they were harassed by these other people.”

Early Saturday afternoon, Trump’s campaign issued a statement about the Chicago rally, saying that Chicago police, as well as Secret Service and private security firms, “were consulted and totally involved” in the decision to cancel the event.

“We have received great credit from everyone for canceling this event. Nobody was injured and crowds disbanded quickly and peacefully. It has been termed ‘really good management and leadership under great pressure!'” the statement read. “It would have been easier for Mr. Trump to have spoken, but he decided, in the interest of everyone’s safety, to postpone the event.”

Man tries to rush stage

While Trump was speaking in Dayton, a man tried to jump a barrier behind the stage in an apparent effort to confront the GOP front-runner, but was unsuccessful. He was quickly blocked by Secret Service officers, and members of Trump’s security detail rushed to cover him. After a few moments, Trump, who was visibly startled, gave a thumbs-up and thanked the cheering crowd for warning him.

“I was ready for him,” Trump said, “but it’s much easier if the cops do it.”

Law enforcement sources told CNN the man will be charged with disorderly conduct. The Secret Service issued a brief statement on the incident later on Saturday, saying the man was taken into custody without incident by Secret Service agents and Dayton police officers, who arrested him.

Trump spokeswoman Hope Hicks issued a brief statement on the incident.

“A man attempted to breach the secure buffer and was removed rapidly and professionally,” she said. “All further inquiries should be directed to the (Secret Service).”

2016 hopefuls continue criticism

The other 2016 presidential candidates continued their attacks on Trump Saturday over the violence at the Chicago rally.

“If you play with matches, you’re going to start a fire you can’t control,” Hillary Clinton said at a caucus kick-off event at a local YMCA in St. Louis. “That’s not leadership. That’s political arson.”

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio said he still plans to support the Republican nominee in the general election, but it’s “getting harder every day.”

“I think we also have to look at the rhetoric coming from the front-runner in the presidential campaign,” he told reporters in Largo, Florida. “Someone who’s basically encouraged people in the audience to rough up anyone who stands up and says something he doesn’t like.”

Rubio said if the anger from voters continues, the country will “continue to be ripped apart at the seams.”

And Ohio Gov. John Kasich said at a press conference in Sharonville, Ohio, that he was shocked that disruptions at Trump rallies had escalated to his point. He said the Republican front-runner has “created a toxic environment” but also noted that there are those who “sometimes seek confrontation.”

CNN’s Phil Mattingly, Kristin Wilson and Jim Acosta contributed to this report.