The US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit [official website] on Tuesday dismissed part of a lawsuit [opinion, PDF] brought by protesters attacked during a 2016 Donald Trump presidential campaign rally, finding that Trump’s comment did not rise to the level of inciting a riot under Kentucky law [text].
On March 1, 2016, protestors at a rally in Kentucky were attacked by attendees after Trump’s directive to “Get ’em out.” The protesters argued that Trump’s comment during that rally should be considering in totality with the other comments Trump made in previous rallies inciting violence against protesters to quell protesters’ speech.
Judge David McKeague wrote that “[t]he 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.” McKeague also focused on Trump’s statements specifically not to hurt the protestors, finding that “any implication of incitement to riotous violence is explicitly negated by the accompanying words, ‘don’t hurt ’em.'” McKeague further opined that:
If words having meaning, the admonition ‘dont hurt ’em’ cannot be reasonably construed as an urging to ‘hurt ’em.’ The words were said at a campaign rally by the main speaker in response to disturbances caused by protesters. The words were self-evidently said in order to quell the disturbances by removing the protesters. As to how the offensive words were said, we know, most relevantly, by plaintiffs’ own allegations, that the words were accompanied by the admonition, ‘don’t hurt ’em.’ That this undercuts the alleged violence-inciting sense of Trump’s words can hardly be denied.
Along with Judge Richard Griffin, McKeague also ruled that Trump’s comments are free speech protected by the First Amendment [text] “because he did not specifically advocate imminent lawless action.” Judge Helene White, in an concurring opinion, found there was no reason to decide on the free speech issue.
The court’s ruling reverses the decision [opinion, PDF] of the US District Court for the Western District of Kentucky [official website] to allow the suit to proceed.