Crowd members roared with laughter and one made a threatening gesture to a CNN reporter after Donald Trump praised a physical attack on a journalist at a campaign rally in Montana this week.
Trump has drawn considerable controversy for the comments praising Republican Greg Gianforte, who was convicted earlier this year of an unprompted attack on a Guardian reporter. At the rally on Thursday, Trump joked about the attack and praised Gianforte for punching and body slamming a reporter who had asked him a question. As CNN‘s Jim Acosta reported, the statements went over very well with the crowd of Trump supporters.
“The disturbing part of Trump’s jokes about Gianforte was the effect on the crowd,” Acosta wrote on Twitter. “I saw one young man in the crowd making body slam gestures. He looked at me and ran his thumb across his throat. I talked to him after the rally was over. He couldn’t stop laughing.”
Video from the rally showed the crowd erupt in laughter at Trump’s comment praising Gianforte. While he recounted the incident — in which Gianforte attacked reporter Ben Jacobs for asking him a question about health care — Trump gestured to reporters who were covering the rally, leading the crowd to target them.
As Trump told the crowd, as soon as he heard about the attack, he suspected it might help Gianforte’s chances of winning his special election, which was just days later.
“This was like the day of the election or just before—and I said, ‘Oh, this is terrible, he’s going to lose the election.’ Then I said, ‘Well, wait a minute, I know Montana pretty well, I think it might help him.’ And it did,” Trump said to applause from the crowd.
The statement drew a rebuke from the Guardian, which called on Trump to apologize. Others said Trump’s rhetoric is dangerous and has encouraged attacks on reporters, especially after the president referred to the press as the “enemy of the American people” for its critical coverage of him.
'He's my guy': Trump praises Gianforte for assault on Guardian reporter https://t.co/u1DSN35xvn
— Media Guardian (@mediaguardian) October 19, 2018
The timing of Donald Trump’s praise for the attack on a reporter has also drawn considerable controversy, as it comes just two weeks after the disappearance and presumed murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi. Trump has been reluctant to condemn Saudi Arabia for allegedly torturing and killing the journalist, saying he does not want to risk jeopardizing an arms deal with the nation.