With thousands of people already packed into stands and music blaring to warm up the crowd, Donald Trump’s campaign abruptly canceled his rally here Friday night over security concerns as protesters clashed with his supporters inside an arena where he was to speak.
Minutes after Trump was to have taken to a podium on the campus of a large, diverse public university just west of downtown, an announcer suddenly pronounced the event over before it had begun. Hundreds of protesters, who had promised to be a visible presence here and filled several sections of the arena, let out an elated, unstopping cheer. Trump’s supporters, many of whom had waited hours to see the Republican front-runner, seemed stunned and slowly filed out in anger.
Around the country, protesters have interrupted virtually every Trump rally, but his planned appearance here — in a city run for decades by Democrats and populated by nearly equal thirds of blacks, Latinos and whites — had drawn some particularly incensed responses since it was announced days ago.
The canceled rally came on a day that Trump sought to move past the primary fight, saying the party needed to unite behind him.
Elsewhere, Trump’s security has tried to identify and exclude potential demonstrators before they enter his events, but large groups of protesters had waited in line for seats here and engaged in tense disputes with Trump supporters even as the University of Illinois at Chicago Pavilion was still filling up. For more than an hour before the event was to begin, security teams led protesters out, one by one, but many more remained, sparring with Trump supporters.
In a statement, Trump’s campaign said that he “has determined that for the safety of all of the tens of thousands of people that have gathered in and around the arena, tonight’s rally will be postponed to another date.”
“Thank you very much for your attendance and please go in peace,” the statement said.
On MSNBC, Trump said that after meeting with law enforcement authorities, “I felt it was just safer. I don’t want to see anybody get hurt.”
Asked about the images of people clashing at the rally, Trump said, “Honestly, we have a very divided country.”
Trump’s opponents, Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz and John Kasich, condemned the disruptions, but said Trump was responsible for the tenor of his rallies. Cruz said Trump “affirmatively encourages violence.”
For hours, the Chicago police, along with university officers, federal authorities and others, were out in force. A Chicago police spokesman said city law enforcement authorities had not been consulted and had no role in canceling the event. The spokesman said there had been five arrests, two by the Chicago police, two by the university police and one by the state police. The fire department said three people, including a police officer, had been injured.
In the hours before the event, inside the 9,500-seat arena, Trump’s backers were energized. Some dressed in outfits to match his, and chanted “Trump! Trump! Trump!” as they waited.
But the situation grew tense as the size of the protest crowd became clear, and as some yelled anti-Trump slogans and skirmished with the supporters. Three men in T-shirts that read, “Muslims United Against Trump,” departed early on, delighting the pro-Trump crowd.
Outside, a tense standoff mounted as well. A line stretched for blocks while ticket holders — a diverse mix of older whites wearing Trump gear and younger, African-American and Muslim students — waited to be allowed inside. Some said they were devoted Trump fans eager to hear him speak in person.
“I believe in Trump absolutely,” said Jana Hayek, a Chicagoan and stay-at-home mother, holding the hand of her 12-year-old son, Peter. “I definitely agree with his immigration policy. It’s important to control who comes into this country.”
A large group opposing Trump merrily taunted the people entering the stadium with shouts of “Donald Trump has got to go” and signs caricaturing Trump as a fascist with a Hitler mustache. (In one only-in-Chicago insult, a protester carried a sign reading, “Trump puts ketchup on his hot dog.”)
And then, suddenly, an announcement declared the event “over” and repeated it several times.
As people streamed out, supporters of Trump were angry and frustrated. Anthony Pieroni, 19, a student at the university and a Republican, said he was disappointed.
“I understand why people didn’t want him to come here,” he said. “People were fighting, ripping up signs, going crazy. It was just a terrible idea.”
But protesters were jubilant and celebrated along the intersections on the city’s Near West Side. Some protesters shut down lanes of a nearby expressway. Arguments and small skirmishes broke out along the streets. At one point, police rushed in, separating people.
At least one man was hit on the head with a police baton, witnesses said, and blood could be seen coming from a gash on his face. A woman, also bloodied, was led away by police.
“They got the job done,” Vickie Deanda, 54, an accountant from Chicago, said of the demonstrators. “Someone has to object to this hatred. The people inside have a right to be there. But we have a right to be here too.”