Several American protesters were assaulted and forcibly removed during a speaking event for Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The Turkish president's bodyguards had assaulted protesters on U.S. soil earlier in the year, but it remains unclear whether Erdogan's security staff personally struck any demonstrators during the latest incident (video below).
On Sept. 21, Erdogan delivered a speech before the Turkish American National Steering Committee (TASC) in Manhattan, New York. Six protesters disrupted the event, with one man shouting at the Turkish president, "You're a terrorist. Get out of my country!"
The protesters and other members of the crowd swiftly began to clash, prompting security staff to intervene. Footage of the incident showed the demonstrators being punched and kicked by the crowd. Men in suits were also seen striking the protesters. None of the security teams on the scene have claimed responsibility for escorting the protesters off of the premises.
TASC asserted in a statement that U.S. Secret Service had roughly removed the protesters from the event. The Secret Service denied that version of events and said that the protesters were escorted out by hotel security and officers of the New York Police Department (NYPD). The NYPD officials said their officers were not involved and that TASC security had removed the protesters, CBS News reports.
The U.S. State Department said that "at this time, it does not appear that Turkish officials were involved in this incident."
Erdogan has drawn criticism from the international community for reportedly exerting an increasingly autocratic hold over Turkey and suppressing dissidents. The Turkish president ignited controversy earlier in the year when his bodyguards assaulted several American protesters.
On May 16, Erdogan's security detail clashed with protesters during the Turkish president's visit to an embassy in Washington, D.C. Erdogan's bodyguards charged into the crowd of demonstrators and injured 11 people. The incident prompted Turkish ambassador Serdar Kilic to meet with Under Secretary of State Tom Shannon to diffuse tensions, according to the BBC.
Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri blasted the treatment of the American protesters, tweeting out: "Unacceptable. They were assaulting these people on U.S. soil. Turkish Ambassador should be kicked out of country."
In August, 15 Turkish security officials were indicted for assault in relation to the incident.
Meghan Bodette was among the six protesters who disrupted Erdogan's speech. The demonstrator asserted that Erdogan's government had committed human rights abuses against Kurdish people in Turkey, The New York Times reports.
"Erdogan should not be able to speak here unchallenged, and we challenged him because the American people need to know that a state that claims to be our ally is hindering the fight against ISIS in Syria and destroying civilian lives," Bodette tweeted out on social media.
On Sept. 20, a day before the altercation, U.S. President Donald Trump spoke warmly of Erdogan during a press event.
"He's running a very difficult part of the world," Trump said of Erdogan. "He's involved very, very strongly and, frankly, he's getting very high marks. ... I think we're, right now, as close as we have ever been."