We are in the midst of the emotionally charged political election season, which is drawing massive crowds for rallies, conventions and events. On the presidential campaign trail it has been common for venues to be filled to capacity, with thousands of people turned away. Fire marshals are on-site regulating the number of attendees inside. Outside of the site, the people can be extremely volatile due to a convergence of various (often opposing) groups; a scene has the potential to become a “perfect storm” of politically charged emotion that could escalate to violence among some of the following groups:
- Those who traveled with the intention of attending. These individuals are often agitated after waiting in a line for hours and suddenly are informed that the arena has reached capacity and are thus turned away.
- Groups whose sole purpose is to have a politically-based demonstration outside of the site. Many of these may be protesters supporting the opponent of the event-hosting candidate, and are typically eager to make their views heard.
- Those with specific social causes flock to these highly visible and crowded events and seek possibilities for media coverage. An example is those protesting the recent violence between citizens and law enforcement.
- A notably high presence of law enforcement and security personnel, given the concerns with the recent terrorist attacks. For the recent national party conventions the host agencies recruited significant numbers of personnel from other localities to handle the events. This can create management challenges because officer training and procedure protocols for handling these types of events may vary according to their different home jurisdictions.
Recent Incidences of Violence
- A man at a Trump event in North Carolina was punched by a 78-year-old man, who told the camera “next time, we might have to kill him.”
- A video from an event in Mechanicsburg, PA showed a man being grabbed and punched by a group. The police said the protester didn't want to press charges and refused medical attention.
- In June 2016 in Dallas, a photographer was bloodied when hit in the head by a rock at a rally.
Could a Candidate Be Liable for Injuries at a Venue?
From a criminal liability standpoint, a charge similar to “inciting a riot” is the closest that a candidate could come to being charged as a result of crowd violence at a rally event. Hermann Walz, a NY attorney discussed this recently with the Washington Post, explaining that it would be doubtful since the 1st amendment rights of free speech tend to prevail; however, he did not rule it out entirely in the a candidate were to specifically instruct members of the crowd to engage in a violent act in response to a disruptive protestor. Civil liability is much more likely, as the candidates typically are renting the venues for a private event. Three assault victims at a rally in Louisville, KY filed a suit against the Trump campaign recently. Administrators for the national campaign committee or party committee usually add additional insurance when hosting large events.