Donald Trump has blamed "thugs" and supporters of "our communist friend," Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders, for the protests that forced him to cancel his rally in Chicago on Friday night.
Trump's event at the University of Illinois-Chicago was cancelled at the last minute due to safety concerns. The atmosphere in the arena, where 9,000 people were waiting to hear the frontrunner for the Republican presidential nomination speak, quickly descended into chaos, with verbal and physical fights breaking out between Trump supporters and demonstrators.
"After speaking with law enforcement, I just thought it would be a wise thing for us to postpone this rally," Trump told MSNBC's Chris Matthews.
Chicago police later disputed Trump's claims, telling reporters that they never talked with the candidate and did not advise him to cancel the event.
"The Chicago Police Department had no role," John Escalante, the department's interim superintendent, said a press conference on Friday, according to CBS News. "In fact, I can tell you we did assure the Trump campaign that we had more than adequate resources outside the UIC Pavilion and that we guaranteed them we could provide safe access and exit for Mr. Trump."
A number of Trump rallies have been marred by violence in recent weeks. A Secret Service agent choked a photographer and slammed him to the ground on February 29 after the journalist tried to take pictures of protesters being escorted out of a rally. Last week, Trump's campaign manager was accused of assaulting a journalist who tried to ask the candidate a question. Protesters have also been sucker punched, shoved, and verbally abused in various racially charged confrontations. Friday was the first time, however, that the billionaire has had to cancel an event due to security concerns.
"The organized group of people, many of them thugs, who have shut down our First Amendment Rights in Chicago, have totally energized America!" Trump said on Twitter after the cancelled event.
On Saturday morning at a rally in Dayton, Ohio, Trump claimed his supporters were "taunted, they were harassed by these other people, these other people by the way, some represented Bernie, our communist friend."
"Now really Bernie should tell his people… he should really get up and say to his people 'stop, stop,'" Trump said.
The organized group of people, many of them thugs, who shut down our First Amendment rights in Chicago, have totally energized America!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump)March 12, 2016
It is Clinton and Sanders people who disrupted my rally in Chicago - and then they say I must talk to my people. Phony politicians!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump)March 12, 2016
Sanders responded to Trump's remarks in a statement issued on Saturday.
"As is the case virtually every day, Donald Trump is showing the American people that he is a pathological liar," Sanders said. "Obviously, while I appreciate that we had supporters at Trump's rally in Chicago, our campaign did not organize the protests."
Sanders also referenced a recent occasion where Trump said, "I want to punch him in the face," after being interrupted by a protester. The Vermont senator said "we should not be surprised" by the violent confrontations at Trump events given the Republican candidate's own statements and his inflammatory rhetoric.
"What caused the protests at Trump's rally is a candidate that has promoted hatred and division against Latinos, Muslims, women, and people with disabilities, and his birther attacks against the legitimacy of President Obama," the Vermont senator said. "What caused the violence at Trump's rally is a campaign whose words and actions have encouraged it on the part of his supporters."
Later during in the rally in Dayton, Trump appeared to get spooked by something behind him in the crowd, which prompted members of his Secret Service detail to quickly surround him.
Trump's rivals in the GOP field piled on after the Chicago event was cancelled. Marco Rubio likened Trump to a "third-world strong man" in an interview with the New York Times on Saturday. The Florida senator also said at a press conference that the violent clashes at Trump's rallies are "a frightening, grotesque, and disturbing development in American politics."
Being a leader means acknowledging people's anger, but trying to address why they're angry, not manipulating their anger.
— Marco Rubio (@marcorubio)March 12, 2016
Both Rubio and Ohio Governor John Kasich previously said they would support Trump if he were the Republican nominee, but their commitment has started to waver.
"I don't know," Rubio said on Saturday when he was asked directly if he stood by his promise to support Trump. "I still at this moment intend to support the Republican nominee but… it's getting harder every day."
Kasich, meanwhile, told reporters on Saturday before a campaign event in Cincinnati, Ohio, "I'm sort of to the point where I've had enough of this. So the fact of the matter is you take things a day at a time. I do not believe, and frankly I'm a little shocked, that we got to this point. I'm shocked at it."
"That toxic environment has allowed his supporters, and those who seek confrontation, to come together in violence" Kasich said.
Senator Ted Cruz, who is also courting voters in Florida, said "the responsibility for [Friday night's events] lies with the protesters, who took violence into their own hands. But in any campaign, responsibility starts at the top."
"When you have a campaign that affirmatively encourages violence, when you have a campaign that is facing allegations of physical violence against members of the press, you create an environment that only encourages this sort of nasty discord," Cruz said.
Wyoming and Washington, DC will hold Republican primaries on Saturday, along with Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands. A combined total of 48 delegates are at stake in the contests.
Tuesday is expected to be a decisive day on the path to the GOP nomination, with five key states — Illinois, Florida, North Carolina, Ohio, and Missouri — holding primaries. Polls indicate that Trump holds a significant lead over the other three Republican candidates, and he could secure the nomination with a strong showing.
Follow Tess Owen on Twitter: @misstessowen
Watch Trump's Guide To Dealing With Protesters: