Politics

A federal appeals court has dismissed a lawsuit that alleges President Trump encouraged his supporters to assault protesters at a Louisville campaign rally in 2016.

The three plaintiffs claimed they were pushed, shoved and punched by audience members after Trump repeatedly shouted “get ‘em out of here” during his speech at the Kentucky International Convention Center.

The 6th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled on Tuesday that Trump’s words were protected by the First Amendment and that he didn’t specifically encourage violence because he also said “don’t hurt ‘em.”

“The notion that Trump’s direction to remove a handful of disruptive protesters from among hundreds or thousands in attendance could be deemed to implicitly incite a riot is simply not plausible — especially where any implication of incitement to riotous violence is explicitly negated by the accompanying words, ‘don’t hurt ’em,’” Circuit Judge David McKeague wrote in the opinion.

“If words have meaning, the admonition ‘don’t hurt ’em’ cannot be reasonably construed as an urging to ‘hurt ’em.’”

Kashiya Nwanguma, Molly Shah and Henry Brousseau filed the lawsuit in 2016 against Trump, alleging that Trump incited a riot under Kentucky law.

Nwanguma alleged she was assaulted and subjected to racial slurs made by Trump supporters Alvin Bamberger and Matthew Heimbach, a local white supremacist.

Shah alleged she was shoved by Trump supporters and Brousseau alleged he was punched in the stomach.

Dan Canon, an attorney for the protesters, said in a statement that they will “seek further review.”

“Mr. Trump, throughout his campaign, intentionally used crowd violence to suppress dissident speech – the kind of core speech that the First Amendment traditionally protects,” Canon  wrote.

“The Court’s opinion today gives him a free pass for that conduct, even though he had publicly been asking for violence to occur at these rallies for months, and even though his co-defendants have said they would not have attacked our clients if Trump had not directed them to do so. Allowing a candidate for public office to use the First Amendment as a shield under these circumstances is unprecedented and dangerous.”

When a lower court ruled that the case could proceed against Trump last year, U.S. District Court Judge David Hale said he found ample support that the protesters’ injuries were a “direct and proximate result” of Trump’s directions.

“It is plausible that Trump’s direction to ‘get ’em out of here’ advocated the use of force,” Hale wrote “It was an order, an instruction, a command.”

But the appeals court reversed Hale’s decision, saying the claim that Trump incited violent conduct isn’t plausible.

“In the ears of some supporters, Trump’s words may have had a tendency to elicit a physical response, in the event a disruptive protester refused to leave, but they did not specifically advocate such a response,” McKeague wrote for the 6th Circuit.

After the protesters were removed from the 2016 rally, Trump explained why he calls on audience members to remove protesters.

“See, if I say ‘go get them,’ I get in trouble with the press, the most dishonest human beings in the world,” Trump said. “If I say ‘don’t hurt them,’ then the press says ‘well, Trump isn’t as tough as he used to be.’”

This story has been updated.

Ryland Barton is the Capitol bureau chief for Kentucky Public Radio.