Among honorable humans, the sucker punch is not highly regarded. The attacker, it seems, is taking advantage of the victim’s defenselessness, distractedness or lack of awareness — if there is such a thing as a fair fight, the sucker punch is not part of it. Merriam-Webster: “to hit (a person) suddenly and usually without any obvious reason”; “to punch (a person) suddenly without warning and often without apparent provocation.” In the Urban Dictionary, the sucker punch is “easily confused with a … ‘bitch move.’” Boxers have been suspended and charged with assault for sucker punches; cities have been terrified by gangs of teenagers reportedly deploying it.
But after a white Trump supporter sucker-punched a black Trump protester at a rally in Fayetteville, N.C., earlier this week, some Trump supporters took to cable news, social media and reporters’ email inboxes to support John McGraw, the 78-year-old man who allegedly struck 26-year-old Rakeem Jones at the Crown Coliseum on March 9. Some defended McGraw’s reported actions by invoking race, blaming interlopers at Trump rallies or blaming the liberal news media.
Trump himself did not condemn the attack when asked about it during the Republican debate Thursday night. The most he could bring himself to say was he did not “condone” violence at his rallies, though he publicly said of a protester at one rally, to wild cheers, that “I’d like to punch him in the face, I tell ya.”
Perhaps the most prominent McGraw backer was Andy Dean, a Trump supporter who sometimes appears on CNN.
“Well first off, that’s guy’s 78 and throwing a punch like that?” Dean said, as Slate noted. “At his age, I must say that this is very, very interesting.” He added: “Why is it that at Trump rallies liberals come and create chaos? … At that age, that looks like good exercise. … At 78, it’s somewhat impressive.”
On Facebook, the group “Prayers for John McGraw” appeared. Reached through Facebook, a person who claimed to be one of the group’s administrators wrote: “He punched an officious intermeddler.” The person added: “It’s not like this was a BLM protest. Just a little poke on the beak. Cheapest lesson in manners this kid can get.” (The person refused to speak with The Washington Post by phone, then claimed: “I’m actually a Bernie Sanders supporter and I hate Trump’s fan base and made this page to make them look bad.”)
Responses on Twitter included: “A sucker punch does not constitute a beating. ‘Try’ to be accurate once in a while, mmkay?” And: “An old man punked a younger guy. Their race is insignificant to the story. Unless you’re the Post of course.” And: “They went looking for trouble! … Looks like a setup, the news media acts like they were innocent bystanders.” And: “Yeah, a 78 year old man who felt threatened threw a punch. Why is race always as issue with you?”
McGraw himself was not shy about defending his alleged actions.
“You bet I liked it,” he told “Inside Edition” when asked about the rally. “Clocking the hell out of that big mouth.” Of the victim, he said: “We don’t know if he’s ISIS. We don’t know who he is, but we know he’s not acting like an American and cussing me … and sticking his face in my head. If he wants it laid out, I laid it out.” He added: “He deserved it. The next time we see him, we might have to kill him. We don’t know who he is. He might be with a terrorist organization.”
Asked about the punch by CNN’s Jake Tapper at Thursday night’s Republican debate in Miami, Trump condemned the violence. Mostly. Here was the exchange:
TAPPER: Earlier today, a man was arrested and charged with assault after sucker-punching a protester in the face at your rally in Fayetteville, North Carolina. This is hardly the first incident of violence breaking out at one of your rallies.
Today, Hillary Clinton, your potential general election opponent, clearly indicated she sees this as an issue for the campaign. She said, quote, “this kind of behavior is repugnant. We set the tone for our campaigns, we should encourage respect, not violence.” Do you believe that you’ve done anything to create a tone where this kind of violence would be encouraged?
TRUMP: I hope not. I truly hope not. I will say this. We have 25 [thousand], 30,000 people — you’ve seen it yourself. People come with tremendous passion and love for the country, and when they see protest — in some cases — you know, you’re mentioning one case, which I haven’t seen, I heard about it, which I don’t like. But when they see what’s going on in this country, they have anger that’s unbelievable. They have anger.
They love this country. They don’t like seeing bad trade deals, they don’t like seeing higher taxes, they don’t like seeing a loss of their jobs where our jobs have just been devastated. And I know — I mean, I see it. There is some anger. There’s also great love for the country. It’s a beautiful thing in many respects. But I certainly do not condone that at all, Jake.