Protests against President Donald Trump during his rally in Phoenix, Arizona turned violent in some places, but no gunfire was reported – despite the presence of heavily armed militia among the demonstrators.
Phoenix police fired tear gas and flash bangs to disperse a protest which turned violent on Tuesday night. While most of the demonstrations were peaceful, a “very small number” of protesters engaged in throwing rocks, bottles and gas at police in the wake of Trump’s rally, Chief Jeri L. Williams said.
Officers are addressing criminal behavior near 2nd St & Monroe. Please follow directions to move from the area.
— Phoenix Police (@phoenixpolice) August 23, 2017
Two people were arrested for aggravated assault of a police officer, Williams said.
An organizer of one of the largest protests said his group did not start the violence, KPHO-TV reported.
“It was peaceful,” Carlos Garcia of Puente Arizona told the station. “We started getting shot at by rubber bullets.”
Tuesday’s protest was peculiar in part due to the presence of a group called Phoenix John Brown Gun Club. It is the armed militia component of the organization called Redneck Revolt, which describes itself as “a pro-worker, anti-racist organization that focuses on working class liberation from the oppressive systems which dominate our lives.”
Members of the club openly carried their AR15 rifles – as allowed by Arizona law – and marched with anti-Trump protesters, but their demonstration went peacefully.
Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton and other Democrats in Arizona had urged Trump to cancel the rally which gathered some 19,000 of his supporters, saying that country “is still healing” following the violence in Charlottesville, Virginia on August 12 and that Trump would further division.
Last night in Phoenix I read the things from my statements on Charlottesville that the Fake News Media didn’t cover fairly. People got it!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 23, 2017
In addition to a number of people injured in clashes between white nationalists and counter-protesters in Charlottesville, one woman was killed and 19 people were injured when a car driven by an alleged white supremacist slammed into a group of counter-protesters later in the day.
At the rally, Trump accused the media of misreporting his remarks about Charlottesville and ignoring the parts where he condemned the white supremacists.
“I hit ‘em with neo-Nazi,” he said. “I hit ‘em with everything. I got the white supremacist, the neo-Nazi. I got ‘em all in there. Let’s see. KKK? We have KKK. I got ‘em all. So they’re having a hard time. So what did they say, right? ‘It should have been sooner; he’s a racist’,” Trump said at the rally.
The president’s initial statement, made before the fatal incident, blamed the violence in Charlottesville on “many sides,” including the counter-protesters armed with bats, sticks and pepper spray. Days later, he called the protesters the “alt-left” and said there was “blame on both sides” for the violence, sparking further media outrage.