Miami: Donald Trump once again raised the spectre of violence against Hillary Clinton, calling on Friday for the Secret Service agents who guard her to voluntarily disarm to “see what happens to her” without their protection.
“I think that her bodyguards should drop all weapons,” Trump said at a rally in Miami, to loud applause. “I think they should disarm. Immediately.”
He went on: “Let’s see what happens to her. Take their guns away, OK. It’ll be very dangerous.”
Trump suggested that the Secret Service should stop protecting Clinton because, he falsely claimed, she wants to “destroy your Second Amendment,” apparently a reference to her gun control policies.
Presidential nominees are protected at all times by heavily armed teams of Secret Service agents, some uniformed and some undercover, who are devoted to the candidates’ physical safety.
Trump’s comments were a provocative echo of widely condemned remarks he made at a campaign rally in Wilmington, North Carolina, in early August. There, he suggested that gun rights supporters should rise up against Clinton if she was elected to stop her from appointing judges who might favour stricter gun regulation.
“If she gets to pick her judges, nothing you can do, folks,” Trump said, as the crowd began to boo. He quickly added, “Although the Second Amendment people — maybe there is, I don’t know.”
Those remarks were widely interpreted as an invitation for gun rights supporters to take matters into their own hands should Clinton prevail in November’s election.
Trump never apologised or disavowed the comments, despite angry denunciations from Clinton’s running mate, Gov. Tim Kaine of Virginia, and groups like the Brady Campaign and the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence.
On Friday night, advocates of gun control condemned Trump anew. Matt Bennett, a vice president at Third Way, a think tank, expressed disbelief at Trump’s “cavalier disregard for the safety” of Clinton.
“No serious gun rights person believes that a Secret Service protected should have their protection taken away,” Bennett said.
Elizabeth Shappell, communications director for Correct the Record, a group that supports Clinton’s campaign, called Trump’s remark “a truly deplorable comment that betrays our nation’s most fundamental democratic values.”
It was the culmination of a rocky and unpredictable day for Trump, who is known to veer from scripted performances to reckless moments of improvisation. It diverted attention, for a moment at least, from his grudging admission of error earlier Friday, when he finally conceded that President Barack Obama was born in the United States, despite Trump’s long-standing claims to the contrary.
On Friday night, breaking from his prepared remarks and turning his gaze from the teleprompters, Trump looked straight into the crowd as he made the insinuation about Clinton’s safety. He gestured emphatically with his hands as he spoke, at one time pointing to a member in the crowd to find agreement.
“What do you think?” he asked of his plan to disarm the Secret Service, as the arena erupted into cheers.
In May, Trump accused Clinton in a Twitter post of hypocrisy for accepting armed Secret Service protection while supporting some limits on access to weapons for civilians. That post also levied a false accusation against Clinton, suggesting she supported a ban on all guns. She does not.
“Crooked Hillary wants to get rid of all guns and yet she is surrounded by bodyguards who are fully armed,” Trump said. “No more guns to protect Hillary!”
Trump’s comments were a variation on criticisms made by the National Rifle Association, perhaps Trump’s closest political ally in the presidential race. The group has publicly criticised Secret Service protection for Obama’s two daughters, which is required under federal law, as hypocritical.