Trump says supporters who harassed Biden campaign bus 'did nothing wrong'

  • FBI investigating incident that prompted safety concerns
  • Convoys also blocked traffic in New York and New Jersey

Donald Trump and senior Republican leaders have continued to defend supporters of the president who participated in a caravan that surrounded and harassed a Joe Biden campaign bus on a Texas highway on Friday.

“This story is FALSE,” the president tweeted on Monday, the last day before election day. “They did nothing wrong.”

The FBI confirmed it was investigating the incident, after videos shared on social media sparked widespread safety concerns. Concerns were also raised after convoys of Trump supporters blocked traffic on highways in New York and New Jersey on Sunday.

In Texas, police investigated a car crash at the scene and witnesses reported that some members of the pro-Trump caravan were armed. Nobody was hurt and neither Biden nor his running mate, Kamala Harris, was on the bus at the time.

But the incident prompted the Biden campaign to cancel at least two events in a state where polling remains tight, as Democrats accused the president of encouraging supporters to engage in acts of intimidation.

The historian Eric Cervini, who had flown to Texas to help with get-out-the-vote efforts, posted a video on Instagram that showed a long line of cars with Trump paraphernalia stalled along the highway, waiting for the Biden-Harris bus.

“These Trump supporters, many of whom were armed, surrounded the bus on the interstate and attempted to drive it off the road,” he wrote, adding: “As a historian who studied the rise of the Third Reich, I can tell you: this is how a democracy dies.”

A local progressive activist who spoke to the Guardian on condition of anonymity said the incident was a reflection of larger problems in the area.

“It’s straight-up harassment and intimidation,” she said. “And then, to see President Trump validate them by retweeting their video and saying he loves Texas, he’s basically endorsing domestic terrorism.”

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Regarding the incident in Texas, Ronna McDaniel, chair of the Republican National Committee, said on Sunday: “Certainly you don’t want harm. And we shouldn’t be hurting other people. The president would not endorse that.”

But Trump spoke favorably of the caravan at multiple rallies – and received backing from senior party figures.

At a late-night rally in Opa-locka, Florida, before Trump took the stage, the US senator Marco Rubio said: “I saw yesterday a video of these people in Texas. Did you see it? All the cars on the road ... we love what they did.

“But here’s the thing they don’t know: we do that in Florida every day.”

Trump appeared to seek to discourage the FBI from investigating, saying in a tweet: “In my opinion, these patriots did nothing wrong.”

On Monday, Trump added: “This story is FALSE. They did nothing wrong. But the ANTIFA Anarchists, Rioters and Looters, who have caused so much harm and destruction in Democrat run cities, are being seriously looked at!”

Unlike Texas, New York and New Jersey are strongly Democratic states, all but certain to go to Biden on election night. But on Sunday video footage on social media showed vehicles flying pro-Trump flags blocking traffic on the Whitestone Bridge over the East River in the Bronx, in New York City.

Local media reported similar blockades on the express lanes of the Garden State Parkway in New Jersey and the Tappan Zee Bridge over the Hudson River, linking Westchester and Rockland counties in upstate New York.

The Democratic state senator David Carlucci, who represents Rockland county, called the blockades “aggressive, dangerous and reckless” and added: “We all have the right to show support for a presidential candidate, but we do not have the right to endanger others and to break the law.”

Speaking in Philadelphia on Sunday, Joe Biden said: “We’ve never had anything like this. At least we’ve never had a president who thinks it’s a good thing.”


Joan E Greve in Washington and agencies

The GuardianTramp

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