No, North Carolina police aren't filing charges against Trump for inciting a riot; Update: Or are they?

I raised an eyebrow at this detail in a WRAL story that’s circulating this afternoon:

Last week, Trump visited Concord and Fayetteville in rallies that attracted thousands of attendees. During the rally in Fayetteville, a protester was assaulted as he was escorted from Crown Coliseum by police. A Linden man was later charged in the incident, and Cumberland County Sheriff’s Office investigators said Monday that they are considering filing a charge of inciting a riot against Trump.


Fayetteville is where one of Trump’s fans sucker-punched a protester who was being led out of the building. Trump said yesterday that he was looking into possibly paying the guy’s legal fees because that’s what making America great again is all about or something. Inciting a riot, though, would mean charges for Trump himself. Is that legal? Here’s what North Carolina’s statute says:

(a) A riot is a public disturbance involving an assemblage of three or more persons which by disorderly and violent conduct, or the imminent threat of disorderly and violent conduct, results in injury or damage to persons or property or creates a clear and present danger of injury or damage to persons or property…

(d) Any person who willfully incites or urges another to engage in a riot, so that as a result of such inciting or urging a riot occurs or a clear and present danger of a riot is created, is guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor.

I don’t know how one guy punching another, even at a crowded event, could constitute a “riot.” The event itself may have involved three or more people but the “disturbance” didn’t. And unless I missed it, Trump didn’t say anything at the Fayetteville rally before the punch was thrown that could be construed as incitement. He’s said things at other rallies that could be construed that way, like when he offered to pay the legal fees of anyone who stopped any tomato-throwing protesters by “knocking the crap out of them,” but that happened back in February. The constitutional standard for prosecuting someone for incitement requires (1) that the advocacy is “directed to inciting or producing imminent lawless action,” and (2) that the advocacy is also “likely to incite or produce such action.” Telling an angry mob with torches to burn something down is classic incitement. Telling a crowd of voters to beat up a protester would almost certainly be incitement (depending upon how likely they are to follow orders, I guess). Telling one crowd in another city to knock the crap out a protester who’s throwing things six weeks earlier and then having someone in the crowd in another city throw a punch at a protester obviously isn’t incitement. You can’t say that the speech incited “imminent” violence, whatever Trump’s intent and the intent of the punchthrower were.


According to the Daily Beast, the cops have realized that too:

The Cumberland County Sheriff’s Office says that reports suggesting their investigators are considering filing a charge of inciting a riot against Donald Trump are untrue. WRAL reported Monday that the department is reviewing whether to nail the Republican frontrunner after a protester was beaten by the candidate’s supporters during a rally last week.

According to Sgt. Sean Swain, a department spokesman, Sheriff Kevin J. Joyce appeared on a local radio show earlier Monday and was asked whether the department had looked into applying the state’s riot laws against Trump—it was something “they had looked at,” Joyce reportedly said. However, Swain told The Daily Beast, Trump’s actions ultimately did not fit the statute. “We would have made the charges by now” if that were the case, the spokesman added.

Probably a half-dozen righties on Twitter semi-joked after the initial story went out that filing the charges would have given Trump a bounce in the polls, which sums up pretty tidily why #NeverTrumpers are opposing him. Here he is at the same Fayetteville rally last week reminiscing about how protesters were treated in the “good old days.” Even this might not have counted as incitement before the punch was thrown, I think, since Trump would claim that it’s not an expression of his intent, just an, ahem, observation. But the point is moot: Per the NYT, he said this after the protester had been sucker-punched, not before. It’s awfully hard to incite someone retroactively.


Update: I’m officially surprised.

A North Carolina sheriff’s office is investigating whether Republican front-runner Donald Trump’s actions at a Fayetteville, N.C., rally last week “rose to the level of inciting a riot,” according to a statement from the department’s lawyer.

“We are continuing to look at the totality of these circumstances . . . including the potential of whether there was conduct on the part of Mr. Trump or the Trump campaign which rose to the level of inciting a riot,” said the statement from Cumberland Sheriff’s Office attorney Ronnie Mitchell. An associate in Mitchell’s office read the statement aloud to a Washington Post reporter.

That was published at 3:53 E.T., after the Daily Beast piece quoted above went online, so evidently they haven’t ruled out charges against Trump after all. I think there’s near zero chance that they’ll actually charge him but Cruz has something to talk about for the next few days now. Surely there are still more voters in the GOP who dislike the idea of their nominee inciting riots than like it. Aren’t there?

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Jazz Shaw 8:30 AM | February 25, 2024