Donald Trump said Wednesday night that it was “terrible” for the father of the Orlando, Florida, mass shooter to appear behind Hillary Clinton during a rally this week, and he accused her campaign of knowing that he would show up there.
But Trump, who spoke at a rally in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, drew his own scrutiny over a recognizable figure who was seated behind him: former congressman Mark Foley, who resigned in 2006 after reports that he had sent sexually explicit Internet messages to at least one male underage former page.
The Republican presidential nominee also leveled intense criticism against Clinton and President Barack Obama, charging that the latter “founded” the Islamic State terrorist group because of his mismanagement of the situation in the Middle East. Clinton, he said, was the “co-founder.”
In an unorthodox move, Trump presented data on large, handheld cards to argue that Obama and Clinton have failed the country with their economic and security policies. Trump was interrupted by protesters during his rally, and tensions appeared to be running extra high in the crowd.
After Trump told the supporters seated behind him that they were “going to be famous” because they would appear on TV, he turned his remarks to Seddique Mateen, the father of the man identified by authorities as the mass shooter at an Orlando nightclub in June. Mateen positioned himself behind Clinton in a prime spot at a Monday campaign rally in Kissimmee, Florida. Afterward, he told a local TV station that he is supporting Clinton.
“Wasn’t it terrible when the father of the animal that killed the wonderful people in Orlando was sitting with a big smile on his face right behind Hillary Clinton?” Trump asked the crowd.
The Clinton campaign said Mateen “wasn’t invited as a guest, and the campaign was unaware of his attendance until after the event.” Clinton spokesman Nick Merrill said Clinton “disagrees with his views and disavows his support,” according to the Associated Press.
Trump argued that people attending campaign rallies in such proximity to the candidate often know the candidate. To bolster his point, he turned to the area where Foley, a former Republican congressman from Florida, was seated.
“How many of you people know me? A lot of you people know me, right?” he asked.
Some, including Foley, raised their hands.
“When you get those seats you sort of know the campaign,” Trump continued. “So when she said. ‘Well, we didn’t know,’ he knew, they knew.”
Trump said of Mateen: “Of course he likes Hillary because Hillary won’t even say the words radical Islamic terrorism.”
Foley told an MSNBC reporter that Trump is a longtime friend and one of his biggest contributors. Federal Election Commission records show that Trump made a handful of donations to Foley over the years.
A Trump spokeswoman did not immediately respond to a request for comment on whether Trump or the campaign knew that Foley would be in attendance. It was not clear at the time of his remarks that he did.
The Republican presidential nominee said Obama – whom he referred to at one point by his full name, Barack Hussein Obama – and Clinton botched policy in the Middle East and fueled the growth of terrorism there.
“He is the founder of ISIS,” Trump said, using an acronym for the Islamic State. He added: “And I would say the co-founder is crooked Hillary Clinton.”
Trump criticized the press for its coverage of his Tuesday comment that “Second Amendment people” might be able to take action if Clinton appoints anti-gun judges.
“Look at the way they covered that story,” he said.