Donald Trump rally gun scare protester insists he was beaten 'for holding a sign'
A man whose protest sparked a gun scare at a Donald Trump rally in Nevada says he was simply holding up a printed sign that read “Republicans against Trump”.
Mr Trump was rushed off stage by members of the Secret Service, after 33-year-old local man Austyn Crites pushed his way to the front of the crowd and pulled the sign out of his jacket.
Speaking to reporters afterwards, he said he had been holding the piece of paper up for only a few seconds when at least one person shouted “gun” - at which point panic broke out.
The initial commotion near the front of the stage caused Mr Trump to stop in his tracks, in the middle of a claim of ballot-rigging to allow more Democrats to vote in Nevada. More than 40 million Americans have now voted early ahead of Tuesday’s election day.
And after a few minutes off-stage, Mr Trump returned to resume his speech saying: “Nobody said it was going to be easy for us but we will never be stopped. We will never be stopped.”
Mr Crites told the BBC that Trump supporters started to beat him almost as soon as he pulled out the sign, dragging him to the ground and at one point causing him to fear for his life.
“It started with a few boos - all of a sudden people are violently trying to rip the sign out of my hands,” he said in the parking lot outside. “And I’m holding it up, just trying to keep it up for at least a few more seconds, and all of a sudden I get bombarded by all these people who start grabbing my crotch, kicking me and going extremely violent on me.
“Someone yells something about a gun, and I keep repeating - I'm down, someone is trying to choke me - and I gave myself just enough room to keep breathing, and I’m saying to these people; 'There is no gun, I just have a sign, I only have a sign’.”
Many people rushed away from the stage in the panic, and some journalists who left the media pen to head towards the commotion were manhandled and treated to verbal abuse, BBC News reported.
When police arrived on the scene, Mr Crites says he was “very happy, because they were able to stop it”. He was taken to the back of the hall, searched and briefly background checked before he was released.
The Secret Service later said in a statement that someone in front of the stage had shouted "gun", but that "upon a thorough search of the subject and the surrounding area, no weapon was found".
Trump supporters online variously accused Mr Crites of being an “agitator”, of being sent by Hillary Clinton or even by the media as part of a “media hoax”.
Mr Crites told the Guardian he had been registered as a Republican supporter for around six years, and that he had no contact with or affiliation to the Clinton campaign.
“I like these people,” he said of the Trump supporters who beat him. “I understand that they are patriotic and want to do good in this country. The reason I don’t support Trump is because he’s fascist, he’s a dictator. And these types of people take good people and turn them into animals.”
Mr Crites said he liked Evan McMullin, a former Republican who is running as an independent in a number of states and doing particularly well in his home state of Utah, but that he was campaigning for Ms Clinton because she was the only candidate who could stop Mr Trump.
“I do it in a peaceful way, a democratic way,” he added. “I’m not jumping up on stage, I’m not punching people, I’m just holding a sign.
Meanwhile, the latest polling suggests Ms Clinton is marginally ahead on a national basis, having rallied slightly after a damaging week in which the FBI said it would investigate a new set of her emails.
At his Nevada rally, Mr Trump promised to take his campaign into traditional Democratic territory - a sign that he's not yet given up on appealing to people outside the Republican Party. He scheduled rallies for Sunday in Minnesota, which hasn't supported a Republican nominee since 1972, and Michigan, which hasn't since 1988.
Ms Clinton is focusing her efforts in the campaign's final days on energising voters who usually support the Democratic nominee, but may need an extra boost. To that end, she is pressing her case with music and sports celebrities, a strategy Mr Trump dismissed on Saturday.
Ms Clinton faced dark skies, intense rain and strong wind in Florida on Saturday before appearing in Pennsylvania with pop singer Katy Perry. The Democratic nominee was preparing to campaign on Sunday with basketball superstar Lebron James, having shared the stage Friday night with music diva Beyonce and hip hop mogul husband Jay Z.
"Tonight, I want to hear you roar," a smiling Ms Clinton said before introducing Perry for a Saturday night performance in Philadelphia.
Perry, who hugged the candidate while wearing a purple cape bearing the words, "I'm with Madam President," shouted, "In three days, let's make history!"
House Speaker Paul Ryan campaigned Saturday alongside Mr Trump's running mate, Mike Pence — a rare show of unity, but not with Mr Trump himself.
The speaker encouraged Republicans to "come home" to support Mr Trump in Ryan's home-state Wisconsin, ignoring for a day his icy relationship with the Republican nominee.
Independent News Service