Police fired pepper spray to disperse thousands demonstrating against a Trump rally in Phoenix, Arizona. The incident followed a fiery speech by the US president in which he blamed media for his troubles over white supremacism.

A demonstrator is affected after police used tear gas to break up protesters gathered outside of the Phoenix, Arizona, Convention Center where US President Donald Trump spoke at a Make America Great Again rally on August 22, 2017.
A demonstrator is affected after police used tear gas to break up protesters gathered outside of the Phoenix, Arizona, Convention Center where US President Donald Trump spoke at a Make America Great Again rally on August 22, 2017. (AFP)

Police fired pepper spray to disperse protesters outside a rally by US President Donald Trump in Phoenix, Arizona, on Tuesday after they said demonstrators pelted them with rocks and bottles.

"People in the crowd have begun throwing rocks and bottles at police," Phoenix Police Department spokesman Sergeant Jonathan Howard said.

Four people were arrested, Phoenix Police Chief Jeri Williams said.

"We had tens of thousands of people downtown peacefully exercising their first amendment rights," Williams said. "What’s unfortunate is that a very small number of individuals chose criminal conduct."

"Fake media"

Tuesday's melee followed a speech by Trump in which he blamed media for the widespread condemnation of his response to the Charlottesville, Virginia protest organised by white supremacists.

The president opened his Phoenix rally with a call for unity from his supporters. 

"What happened in Charlottesville strikes at the core of America, and tonight this entire arena stands united in forceful condemnation of the thugs that perpetrated hatred and violence.”

But he then hit out at what he called "fake media," saying they had distorted his post-Charlottesville message and what he said was a call for "healing, unity and love" in the wake of the white supremacist, neo-Nazi rally that left one counter-protester dead.

Choosing his words carefully

Democrats and fellow Republicans had denounced Trump for placing blame for the Charlottesville violence on “both sides.” 

He omitted that reference in his recap Tuesday night.    

“You know where my heart is,” the president said. “I’m only doing this to show you how damned dishonest these people [media] are.”

TRT World's Sara Firth has more. 

On and off the teleprompter

Trump's address was reminiscent of his 2016 campaign style, casual insults flung at perceived enemies such as media and a range of topics without a clear theme.

Although Trump's high-profile warm-up acts suggested the president's speech would be about unity, the president seemed more intent on settling scores, including with his own Republican party.

Trump's attack on members of the GOP was primed ahead of the rally by a New York Times report headlined McConnell, in Private, Doubts if Trump Can Save Presidency

The piece outlined the rapidly deteriorating relationship between the senate majority leader and the president.

He skewered two senators, apparently Arizona's and both republicans, but failed to mention their names, calling the omission "very presidential." Neither of them was in the audience.

Trump bemoaned that the Senate was only "one vote away" from passing a health care overhaul. Arizona Republican senator, John McCain, who is undergoing treatment for brain cancer,  cast the vote that killed the bill.

Trump also called out another unnamed senator, saying he was "weak on borders, weak on crime." 

Last week, this is what Trump had to say about Arizona Republican Senator Jeff Flake: 

Pardoning Joe Arpaio?

Trump also hinted he might pardon Joe Arpaio, a former sheriff of Maricopa County, Arizona, who was found guilty last month of criminal contempt for violating the terms of a 2011 court order in a racial profiling case.

Arpaio is scheduled to be sentenced on October 5.

The 85-year-old faces up to six months in jail, though attorneys who have followed the case doubt someone his age would be incarcerated.

He lost a re-election bid last year in the county.

"Do the people in this room like Sheriff Joe?" Trump asked, sparking loud applause and a chant of "Pardon Joe!"

"Was Sheriff Joe convicted for doing his job?" Trump asked, before predicting that Arpaio would be just fine. "I won't do it tonight because I don't want to cause any controversy," he said.

A flag with the image of US President Donald Trump hangs off a vendors cart as a line of supporters wait to enter the Phoenix Convention Center for a Trump rally on August 22, 2017 in Phoenix, Arizona.
A flag with the image of US President Donald Trump hangs off a vendors cart as a line of supporters wait to enter the Phoenix Convention Center for a Trump rally on August 22, 2017 in Phoenix, Arizona. (AFP)

Riled up

After a day of noisy but largely peaceful protests outside the convention centre, police called on the crowds to disperse as the night wore on.

Earlier protesters yelled, "Shame, shame, shame" and "No Trump, No KKK, No fascist USA" as Trump supporters began filing into the convention centre ahead of the rally. 

Supporters, who lined up for hours in the Arizona heat ahead of the event, chanted: "Build the wall," a reference to Trump's pledge to erect a wall on the US border with Mexico. 

Many wore red hats with Trump's campaign slogan, "Make America Great Again."

The Phoenix Fire Department said it treated 56 people for heat exhaustion and dehydration at the convention center. Twelve people were taken to the hospital. 

A Trump supporter, hand on gun, argues with anti-Trump protesters outside the Phoenix Convention Center before the presidents rally on August 22, 2017 in Phoenix, Arizona.
A Trump supporter, hand on gun, argues with anti-Trump protesters outside the Phoenix Convention Center before the presidents rally on August 22, 2017 in Phoenix, Arizona. (AFP)

"Make America Great Again"

It was also Trump's first trip as president to Arizona, a state he won in the 2016 election. 

Ahead of the rally, Vice President Mike Pence said the president will be "completely focused" on his agenda for the country.   

"He's also going to call on the Congress to get ready to come back when they arrive on September 5 and go straight to work to make America safe again, make America prosperous again, and in his words, to make America great again," Pence said on Tuesday in an interview with Fox News.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies