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Trump did not incite violence against protesters at a 2016 campaign rally, court rules

Updated 6:33 PM ET, Wed September 12, 2018

(CNN) - Three people who were pushed and shoved while protesting at a 2016 Donald Trump campaign rally cannot sue the President for inciting the crowd, a federal appeals court has ruled.

The three-judge panel ruled unanimously Tuesday in favor of the President, saying that Trump saying "Get 'em out of here" during the rally in Louisville, Kentucky, was not a valid claim of "incitement to riot," which is a misdemeanor under Kentucky law.

Kashiya Nwanguma, Molly Shah and Henry Brousseau attended a rally for Trump on March 1, 2016, to "peacefully protest" the then-candidate. Nwanguma was carrying a sign with Trump's head on a pig's body, according to multiple news reports.

After Trump said "Get 'em out of here," several members of the audience -- including Matthew Heimbach, a representative of the white nationalist Traditionalist Workers Party, and Alvin Bamberger -- began to attack the protesters, according to a judge's ruling last year.

The three protesters accused Heimbach and Bamberger of assault and battery and pressed charges of incitement to riot, negligence, gross negligence and recklessness against the Trump campaign.

The negligence claims arise from the plaintiffs' allegations that Trump knew his supporters would attack protesters. In particular, the complaint says that Trump's directive to eject Nwanguma, a black woman, was reckless, given the presence of a white nationalist group in the audience.

Bamberger later said he regretted pushing the woman, while Heimbach called the accusations against him "a miscarriage of justice."

The three protesters were seeking unspecified punitive and compensatory damages.

CNN has reached out to the the protesters' lawyer, Daniel J.Canon, and is waiting for comment.

In an April 2017 ruling US District Judge David Hale rejected the notion that the attackers were Trump's agents but said it's plausible the would-be president incited a riot. He denied the defendant's motions to dismiss or strike portions of the complaint.

But the court on Tuesday ruled that Trump's words were protected by the First Amendment because "he did not specifically advocate imminent lawless action."

"The 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," Circuit Judge David McKeague noted.

"In the ears of some supporters, Trump's words may have had a tendency to elicit a physical response, in the event a disruptive protester refused to leave, but they did not specifically advocate such a response."

McKeague also stated that Trump followed the words "Get 'em out of here," with "Don't hurt 'em," which shows Trump didn't incite violence.

"If words have meaning, the admonition 'don't hurt 'em' cannot be reasonably construed as an urging to 'hurt 'em,' McKeague said.

All three judges in the panel were appointed by President George W. Bush.


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