A group of black students waiting for Donald Trump to appear at a Valdosta State University rally Monday evening was ejected by security prior to the event.
The estimated 30 students were standing silently at the top of bleachers, according to news accounts of the incident. Interviewed after being escorted from the building, some of the students said they planned to sit quietly through the rally as a form of low-key protest.
“We didn’t plan to do anything,” said a tearful Tahjila Davis, a Valdosta State mass media major, to USA Today. “They said, ‘This is Trump’s property’ it’s a private event.’ But I paid my tuition to be here.”
In the immediate aftermath of the students’ dismissal a Trump spokesperson denied the campaign had asked for them to be removed. Valdosta Police Chief Brian Childress later said Trump’s security detail had indeed asked for the group to be kicked out.
Hours earlier, a Trump rally in Virginia erupted in chaos as a group of Black Lives Matter protesters was escorted from the venue. A Time photographer attempting to photograph the ejection ran afoul of the Secret Service and was body slammed to the ground.
It’s not unusual for campaigns to preemptively deal with suspected protesters. Trump’s large and raucous rallies have become targets for all sorts of anti-Trump activists.
But the racial aspect of Monday’s ejection is heightened by history and context. Valdosta State was whites-only until 1963. And Trump on Sunday appeared to decline to disown a virtual endorsement from former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke. The GOP front-runner later blamed a “faulty earpiece” for his avoidance of a question on the issue from Jake Tapper of CNN.
It’s clear many Trump supporters are racially prejudiced. According to recent data from the polling firm YouGov, nearly 20 percent of Trump voters disagree with the Emancipation Proclamation, which freed slaves in Confederate states during the Civil War. Five percent of Marco Rubio supporters hold that view, by way of comparison.
Thirty-eight percent of Trump supporters say they wish the South had won the Civil War.
More broadly, white ethnocentrism appears to motivate many Trump voters. Republicans with the highest levels of ethnocentrism are more favorable toward Trump than to any other GOP contender, according to research from Kerem Ozan Kalkan, an assistant professor of government at Eastern Kentucky University.
“It is this kind of generalized prejudice that helps to propel his candidacy and sets him apart from the other Republican candidates,” writes Professor Kalkan in the Monkey Cage political science blog of The Washington Post.
But some blacks – a few – are Trump voters themselves.
Trump himself has said he’ll get 25 percent of the black vote. This is based on the results of one poll from last September that showed him winning a quarter of the African-American electorate.
But that poll is both old and probably an outlier. More recent surveys have Trump getting between 4 and 12 percent of black voters.
That level of minority support is typical for a Republican presidential candidate. In the last two elections, the GOP candidate got 4 percent and 6 percent in 2008 and 2012, respectively. Of course, Barack Obama was the Democrat on the ballot in both those elections. In 2004, Republican George W. Bush received 11 percent of the black vote.
Thus, the bottom line: It’s possible the Trump campaign was actually throwing out its own supporters. But unlikely.