Donald Trump will not face charges for inciting a riot in North Carolina, a local sheriff's office announced Monday, after investigating more than 100 incidents at a March 9 rally whose violence was caught on film.
A Trump supporter was caught on video punching a protestor in the face as police escorted him out of the event in Fayetteville last Wednesday. John Franklin McGraw, who later said the protestor wasn't "acting like an American," and "the next time we see him, we might have to kill him," has been charged with assault and battery, disorderly conduct, and communicating threats.
On Sunday, Mr. Trump said he would consider paying Mr. McGraw's legal fees. On Tuesday, Trump backed away from that offer. In an interview with ABC's "Good Morning America," he said: "I never said I was going to pay for fees." Asked if it had appeared he was encouraging violence with his initial statement, Trump replied, "Well, maybe so. Maybe that's why I wouldn't do it."
Numerous journalists and commentators have worried that Trump's bombastic style could inspire violence, and see violence at recent campaign events as evidence that their fears are confirmed.
The Cumberland County Sheriff's Office, based in Fayetteville, said Monday evening that it had investigated almost 100 incidents at the event, but decided there was insufficient evidence to charge Trump for inciting a riot.
"People are responsible for what they do and what they say. Part of our investigation has been looking into those issues," Office attorney Ronnie Mitchell told reporters.
Under North Carolina law, a riot is defined as "a public disturbance involving an assemblage of three or more persons which by disorderly and violent conduct, or the imminent threat of disorderly and violent conduct, results in injury or damage to persons or property or creates a clear and present danger of injury or damage to persons or property."
Last week was not the first, or last, time that the Republican frontrunner has been accused of encouraging violence. In Fayetteville, as protestors were removed, Trump told the audience ""In the good old days, this doesn't happen because they used to be treated very, very rough," according to local station WRAL.
He also described an earlier event that also turned violent, saying that his supporters "started punching back. It was a beautiful thing."
After McGraw reportedly punched the protestor, a 26-year-old black man named Rakeem Jones, Trump told the cheering crowd, "We're gonna have such fun tonight," according to the Washington Post. Later, after another scuffle, he asked, "Why are they allowed to do things that we’re not allowed to do? Can you explain that to me? Really a disgrace."
His team has repeatedly blamed violence on protestors' behavior. In Fayetteville, for example, Trump spokesperson Hope Hicks said that protestors "used foul language, screamed vulgarities and made obscene gestures, annoying the very well-behaved audience... We are told a 78-year-old man took great exception to this," she added.
On Friday, the campaign cancelled an event at the University of Illinois-Chicago after fights broke out between supporters and protestors.
This report includes material from Reuters and the Associated Press.