What can you say to defend yourself after you are accused of roughing up a protester at a Donald Trump campaign rally? Well, you can try blaming Donald Trump.
That's the road taken by Alvin Bamberger, a 75-year-old veteran from Ohio who can be seen in videos of a Trump rally in Louisville, Ky., early last year gruffly pushing 21-year-old protester Kashiya Nwanguma through the crowd and toward the exits.
You may recall seeing the video of Nwanguma, a young black woman, being pushed and jostled through the mostly white and male crowd of Trump supporters while Trump shouts "Get 'em out of here!" from the podium. She wasn't the only protestor but the scene of the black woman surrounded by angry white men was too dramatic for TV to resist repeated replays.
Now a federal judge has told Nwanguma and two other protestors that they can proceed with a lawsuit that accuses Trump, his campaign and three supporters, including Bamberger, of inciting violence.
Trump's lawyers tried to have the suit dismissed, arguing that when he shouted "Get 'em out of here," he was not calling on his supporters to use force. Leave it to Trump to come up with that stretch.
U.S. District Judge David J. Hale in Louisville wasn't buying it. He ruled recently that there were sufficient facts to show it is "plausible" that the protesters' injuries were a "direct and proximate result" of Trump's words.
"It was an order, an instruction, a command," said the judge, who also noted that the Supreme Court has ruled out constitutional protections for speech that incites violence.
Then Trump's case was further undermined by Bamberger in a cross-claim against Trump, of all people. Bamberger claimed that Trump had indeed incited him and others as he "repeatedly urged people attending Trump rallies to remove individuals who were voicing opposition to Trump's candidacy," Bamberger's attorneys wrote.
"Indeed, at one or more campaign rallies," Bamberger's filing said, Trump "promised to pay the legal fees of those who -- following Trump's urging -- removed the protesters."
"Bamberger would not have acted as he did without Trump and/or the Trump campaign's specific urging and inspiration," his filing said.
"I was caught up in the frenzy," he wrote in an apology letter to the Korean War veterans' association whose uniform he was wearing at the rally. "I physically pushed a young woman down the aisle toward the exit, an action I sincerely regret."
Thank you, Mr. Bamberger. I'd be lying if I didn't admit to a certain amount of satisfaction that the pompous Trump is being called to account at least a little for his reckless and dangerous dives into hate-pandering demagoguery on the campaign trail.
Even as you watch Nwanguma and other protestors getting ejected from the Louisville rally you can hear Trump complaining about busloads of Syrian refugees being let into our country "without paperwork" or "any other way to tell who they are." In fact, refugees typically undergo more than a year and a half of vetting. Yet Trump fed this and other lies without regard to the hate that he was fueling.
With that in mind it is hardly surprising that one of the other two Trump supporters named as a defendant in the lawsuit is activist Matthew Heimbach, whom the Southern Poverty Law Center has described as "the face of a new generation of white nationalists."
Still, Bamberger's counter-claim sounds a bit like the proverbial guy who killed his parents, then asks for sympathy because he's an orphan. Getting "caught up in the frenzy" of an agitated crowd isn't an excuse. It's a recipe for mob action.
What happened, I cannot help but ask, to the conservative virtue of personal responsibility? Suing Trump or any other speaker for inciting you to abandon good judgment reminds me of the lawsuits filed against fast food companies for making us fat. I'm upset with them, too, but I can't honestly blame them for all the cheeseburgers I've eaten.
So it is with the rallies of Donald Trump or any other charismatic speaker whose hate-baiting gets out of hand. We don't have to take the bait.
CLARENCE PAGE writes for the Chicago Tribune. His column is distributed by Tribune Content Agency.