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In answering questions about clashes between his supporters and protesters at campaign events, Donald Trump made the startling -- but incorrect -- claim that a recent protester was linked to Islamic terrorism.
At a Trump rally Saturday in Dayton, Ohio, Thomas DiMassimo, 22, jumped a barrier and rushed the stage, according to police. Secret Service agents tackled him, and DiMassimo was charged with inducing panic and disorderly conduct. He was released from the Montgomery County Jail later the same day.
On NBC’s Meet the Press, host Chuck Todd noted that after the rally, Trump tweeted a video that purportedly showed DiMassimo posing with gun against the backdrop of an ISIS flag, with Arabic-language music playing in the background.
Trump’s tweet said, "USSS (U.S. Secret Service) did an excellent job stopping the maniac running to the stage. He has ties to ISIS. Should be in jail."
On Meet the Press, Todd told Trump the video was a hoax, but Trump stuck by the claim.
"He was playing Arabic music, he was dragging the flag along the ground, and he had Internet chatter with ISIS and about ISIS. So I don't know if he was or not. But all we did was put out what he had on his Internet," Trump said. "(He) had chatter about ISIS, or with ISIS."
When Todd repeated that the video was a hoax, Trump repeated the charge, adding, "All I know is what's on the Internet." Trump’s campaign did not respond to an inquiry.
The Trump protester’s background
DiMassimo, who could not be reached for comment, has a long history of anti-racist activism, often with a confrontational bent. For instance, he was filmed on Aug. 12, 2015, destroying a Confederate battle flag at a protest at Stone Mountain, Ga.
Another video, uploaded by YouTube user "Tommy DiMassimo," shows DiMassimo taking part in a protest at Wright State University, where he is reportedly a student, in April 2015. The video shows him dragging a United States flag behind him, and ultimately standing on it.
Trump was correct that genuine video exists showing DiMassimo dragging the U.S. flag. And we expect that Trump won’t be the only American disturbed by such images.
However, that’s not the same thing as DiMassimo being linked to ISIS. Trump’s statement rates False.
Trump’s tweet made the connection based on an new version of the video DiMassimo originally uploaded. The one Trump linked to was obviously edited and includes an image of DiMassimo armed and in front of the ISIS flag, as well as Arabic-language music. (The post also fails to capitalize the first "M" in DiMassimo’s last name.)
The online news site BuzzFeed tracked the video with the ISIS imagery to a May 2015 upload by someone named Thomas Jenners, whose account has since been deleted. It also found a Facebook page called "Tommy dimassimo wasn’t hugged enough as a kid" that was dedicated to trolling DiMassimo, including ISIS-related jabs.
Put it all together, and all signs point to the video Trump tweeted being either a hoax or an effort to troll DiMassimo.
Adding to the evidence is that DiMassimo was released within hours of the incident. That would be almost inconceivable if he had truly been a terrorist linked to ISIS, said Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, a terrorism expert at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.
"If the guy had actually made an ISIS video while doing his activism, then the feds would have certainly come across it," Gartenstein-Ross said. "And then there would be a number of things he could be charged with, such as material support for terrorism. There would certainly be an argument that he poses a threat to the community for his pro-ISIS ties, which means they could have detained him pending trial."
The police report of the incident, obtained by the Dayton Daily News and shared with PolitiFact, says DiMassimo told police that he intended to take Trump’s microphone and yell, "Donald Trump is a racist." The report makes no mention of ISIS or Islamic terrorism.
Cruz’s handling of protesters
Cruz blamed protesters for "behaving abusively" and Trump for egging on his supporters as causes of friction.
"You know, listen, I get protesters at my events. But it's very different," Cruz said on Meet the Press. "When I have protesters at my events, I endeavor to engage in them with civility and respect. More than once, I've actually had a conversation with the protesters on substance."
We found several examples of this, and campaign reporters we spoke with affirmed his statement as well. Cruz’s statement rates True.
In February 2015, Cruz famously sparred with the actress Ellen Page over the intersection of religious freedom and gay rights. Cruz disagreed with Page on most (if not all) points, but kept the exchange going for about six minutes.
At the University of Maine on March 4, Cruz addressed protesters to double down on his immigration policy.
"You wrote a sign that says, ‘There’s no human being that’s illegal.’ Now that’s true. Every human being is God’s creation, a precious gift from God. But if you really believe that no human being can break the law, you will discover the falsity of that if you resist the police officer right now."
Of course, Cruz’s reaction isn’t to talk issues every time he’s interrupted. Often, he brushes it off with jokes. It’s also debatable whether Cruz and the protesters are actually participating in conversations. Nonetheless, Cruz repeatedly affirms their First Amendment rights to protest.
"I understand you seem confused about the First Amendment," he said at a February rally in Houston, addressing the protesters. "You have a right to speak, but you don’t have the right to disrupt others. I’m curious, does that coordinated effort suggest the lefties are getting scared?"
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