Protesters who claim they were pushed and shoved by Donald Trump supporters at a campaign rally in Kentucky in March 2016 had no right to hold up a sign with the president’s face on the body of pig, his lawyers argue.
Trump’s lawyers told a federal court in the state Thursday that “forcing the ‘private organizers’ of a political rally to accept everyone” who wants to join in with their own political message violates the First Amendment, because “a speaker has the autonomy to choose the content of his own message.”
“Of course, protesters have their own First Amendment right to express dissenting views, but they have no right to do so as part of the campaign rally of the political candidates they oppose,” Trump’s lawyers said. Essentially, they are arguing that the rally is protected speech, and that the demonstrators had no right to protest at the rally.
The arguments are intended to halt the lawsuit brought by the three protesters—Kashiya Nwanguma, Molly Shah, and Henry Brousseau—against the campaign and two Trump supporters, Alvin Bamberger and Matthew Heimbach, a white nationalist. The protesters accuse the two men of assault and battery for trying to remove them from the rally in Louisville after Trump ordered the crowd to “get ’em out of here.”
Bamberger has brought his own separate suit against Trump alleging that he was “inspired” by the billionaire to act as he did.
U.S. District Judge David Hale allowed the protesters’ suit to go to a trial in early April. The trio charge the Trump campaign with incitement to riot, negligence, gross negligence and recklessness.
In the motion Trump’s lawyers argued the protesters shouldn’t have been at the rally in the first place and had no right to their own speech or expression there.
“The Plaintiffs obviously interfered with the Trump campaign’s First Amendment right to ‘choose the contents of its own message’ when they attended a Trump campaign rally and began vigorously expressing their disdain for Mr Trump,” the lawyers wrote in the motion, adding this included “holding up a sign depicting Trump’s face on the body of a pig.”
Trump’s order for the crowd to remove them, they said, was “exercising his lawful First Amendment right to exclude protesters from his campaign rally.”
All three protesters were either shoved or punched by members of the crowd. "Don't hurt 'em. If I say, 'Go get 'em,' I get in trouble with the press," Trump said while the trio were removed.
Judge Hale already ruled in late March that Trump’s order for the protestors to be removed isn’t protected by the First Amendment, which enshrines freedom of speech, and that it’s “plausible” Trump’s directive to remove them “advocated the use of force.”
The latest round of arguments from Trump’s lawyers are looking to stop the proceedings from heading to trial while Trump’s lawyers appeal to a higher court to have the case thrown out. Like this and other cases, the president’s lawyers argue that he shouldn’t be unnecessarily burdened with litigation while in office.
“Even if Mr Trump implicitly instructed the audience to remove the protesters by using force if necessary, his speech was still entirely lawful and protected under the First Amendment,” the president’s lawyers insist, “unless he advocated a greater degree of force than was necessary under the circumstances.”