On Saturday, March 19, Donald Trump’s campaign held a political rally here in Tucson at the Tucson Convention Center. That afternoon at the rally, Tucsonan Bryan Sanders was assaulted by a Trump supporter while he attempted to peaceably protest the event. In the hours after the event, videos of the incident, blogs, articles and rumors flooded the internet. Now, in retrospect, Sanders spoke to the Weekly about what happened.
Can you tell me in your own words what happened?
I went initially to document the event. My initial thought was to go down there and interview people and see what the atmosphere is actually like. Going in, I was a Trump opponent. I oppose his policies on just about everything. I am not trying to portray that I was going down there as a journalist, but I did go down there to document it, see what it was like, and then, you know, protest against his xenophobia, his racism. The atmosphere outside the event was extremely intense … I decided to go inside the convention center and see what the atmosphere is actually like in there. I went in through the front door. I’ve been accused of sneaking in all sorts of interesting ways, but I just walked in like everybody else. I had a ticket. I was never asked for my ticket. I got through security and immediately protesters start getting thrown out. It’s a very intense situation. It’s a mix of banality … and then this kind of underlying “us versus them” feeling.I decided to pull out my poster. The poster has a picture… of the confederate flag superimposed on Donald Trump’s face and at the bottom it says “Bad for America” in really big letters. It took about a minute or so for people to start noticing it. Some people started yelling “Trump, Trump, Trump” because that’s what they were instructed to do at the beginning of the rally. After a while, I started yelling “liar” at Trump. And now, all hell kind of breaks lose. Security shows up and I immediately start to leave. I don’t resist leaving. I get walked up the stairs. People were yelling. I get up to this landing and this guy I had never seen before in my life stepped up from the right, he grabbed the sign out of my hands and ripped it up, he grabbed my hand and pulled me closer to him and sucker punched me. He hit me a couple more times and when I went down he kicked me in the back and kicked me in the ribs. Some people were cheering. Some people were still yelling “Trump.”
I woke up the next day and I was kind of trending.
What do you think of the media coverage that followed?
I think the mainstream media got the story almost 100 percent correct … but the internet backlash was a lesson in modern troll philosophy. You know, people immediately started lying about everything they saw in the video. Donald Trump himself went on the George Stephanopoulos show and lied about me and said that I was a “professional agitator.” He said that I had dragged an American flag on the ground. He said that I had worn a KKK mask and that I must have verbally assaulted the guy before he hit me. He said I must have been paid by the Bernie Sanders campaign. All of these were lies. The next morning after the event, half a dozen right-wing blogs spewed the exact same lie, never with any evidence at all, simply repeating what Trump himself had said that morning. I’m not being paid by any campaign. I’ve never talked to anyone from any campaign.
A lot of people need to look up the history of free speech and what it actually means. The United States Air Force, who employ the man who assaulted me, released a statement two days after the incident. It was a wonderful distillation of what I am arguing: “We believe wholeheartedly in our fellow American’s right to express their views on political issues and we strongly condemn any attempt to silence those views through force or violence.”
Do you consider yourself an activist?
It’s hard to look at it now and say “no” to that question, but that Saturday when I woke up I certainly wasn’t. I am a politically inclined dude. I am not going to shy away from speaking my mind about Trump and about the dangerous direction he is trying to steer the country. So if that’s an activist, I guess so. Sometimes you just wake up and everything has changed.
What else has changed for you?
There’s a high level of paranoia the first couple of weeks. There is a combination of factors. You’re dealing with being assaulted which is really difficult in itself. It kind of destroys your whole sense of safety. Also, because this was a hugely public event that went viral, you’re dealing with being thrust immediately under the glare of the internet. So I guess I’ve grown a tougher skin.
I think all these assaults at his rallies and the fear that a lot of people have about what his presidency would be mean has really woken people up to the importance of being involved actively, not just voting but actually doing something. It’s amazing how seriously people are taking this election. And they should be. There is a lot on the line.
It’s not enough for us to de-friend everyone who likes Trump on Facebook, stop talking to people who like Trump, make fun of people who like Trump. It’s not enough.
It’s not going to do anything but divide us even further. That’s what he wants. It plays right into his profile … Trump supporters are good people. There’s a mentality within the rallies that is ugly and violent and scary, but those people are good people. I firmly believe that. The last thing I want to do is just to preach to people who already agree with me.