Donald Trump rally attendee charged with hitting black man

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks during a campaign stop Friday, Feb. 19, 2016, in North Charleston, S.C. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. (AP) — A white Donald Trump rally attendee was charged with assault Thursday after he was caught on video hitting a black man being escorted by deputies from the venue, authorities said.

A news release from the Cumberland County Sheriff’s Office said John Franklin McGraw, 78, of Linden, was charged with assault and disorderly conduct after the rally for the Republican presidential front-runner Wednesday in Fayetteville.

The release said the assault victim was being escorted out of Crown Coliseum after disrupting the rally, and deputies had their eyes on the stairs when the assault happened.

“The deputies who did not see the assault continued up the steps with the victim, who was ultimately escorted from the Coliseum,” the news release said.

McGraw was arrested Thursday after investigators reviewed a video posted on social media. Videos from the event show a man with a pony tail and cowboy hat hitting a black man being escorted from the seating area.

Sheriff Earl Butler condemned the assault and launched an internal investigation into how deputies handled the situation.

Listings for McGraw rang disconnected. Authorities didn’t respond to an email asking if he had an attorney.

The television program Inside Edition said it interviewed McGraw after it happened and asked him if he liked the rally.

According to the video posted online by the program, he responded: “You bet I liked it … knocking the hell out of that big mouth.”

The video shows the man going on to say: “Yes, he deserved it. The next time we see him, we might have to kill him. We don’t know who he is. He might be with a terrorist organization.”

The man who was punched, Rakeem Jones, told The Associated Press that he and others went to the event as observers, not protesters. He says someone swore at one of their group, and by the time they tried to object, the police were escorting him out.

“It was like, wow, I got hit while the police are escorting me out. … The police watched me get hit,” he said.

He said his right eye is swollen and bruised.

Confrontations between protesters, Trump supporters and police have become standard at Trump rallies across the country. And Trump has incorporated reactions to them into his usual stump speech.

At one point during Wednesday night’s rally, Trump described an altercation at a past event between the audience and a protester, whom he described as “a real bad dude. He was rough, he was tough. And he’s starting to punch people and he’s screaming.

“He was a rough guy and he was punching. And we had some people – some rough guys like we have right in here – and they started punching back. It was a beautiful thing. I mean, they started punching.”

Audiences are usually told ahead of rallies in an announcement not to harm protesters — and instead attract authorities’ attention by chanting, “Trump! Trump! Trump!”

At least a dozen people were escorted from Wednesday night’s rally.

In an email in response to a question about the altercation, Trump campaign spokeswoman Hope Hicks said only that “we are not involved.”

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