He’s volatile, savvy and, some say, scary. But who is the real Donald Trump? In a series of interviews with dozens of friends, foes, and the Republican presidential candidate himself, a PEOPLE special report examines the truth about the man behind the bluster.
Standing backstage at his rally in Tucson, Arizona, on March 19, Donald Trump listens to the crowd cheer his name. “I like to talk to the crowds,” he tells PEOPLE. “Listen to the people, it’s incredible.”
Suddenly, however, the crowd erupts into boos.
“What is that going on out there?” he asks a Secret Service agent who is by his side.
“Protests,” the agent responds.
The presence of protestors in the crowd – and the Trump supporters’ frequently rough treatment of them – is a fact the campaign has had to deal with ever more frequently in the past month, with the candidate canceling a rally in Chicago due to security concerns.
“You gotta feel out the crowd,” Trump, 69, explains to PEOPLE, as the crowd begins chanting his name once more, a sign that the protestor (Trump would call him an “agitator”) had been successfully removed from the Tucson Convention Center.
Asked if he would ever shy away from an unfavorable crowd, Trump offers, “I did in Chicago. Look, I have 99 percent in favor but you will have agitators – professional agitators who stand up and start screaming and you have them taken out. It’s not a big deal,” he says, adding, as the crowd cheers again, “You hear the people?”
For much more of our special report on Donald Trump, pick up this week’s issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday
As for the reports of violence at the rallies, Trump insists there is none.
Although there have been multiple instances caught on video of Trump supporters punching or scuffling with protestors including that very day, and his own campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, is currently facing charges that he manhandled breitbart.com reporter Michelle Fields on March 8 – prior to PEOPLE’s interview – the candidate says that’s all “a media fabrication.”
“People aren’t getting hurt. They make it sound like it’s a little bit violent but there’s no violence whatsoever,” he says. “So you have five thousand people and you have 200 protestors. They shouldn’t even be reported on because they’re such a small number. Half of them are professionals representing Hillary [Clinton] or representing Bernie [Sanders]. Because the only person they don’t want to run against is me.”
WATCH: Donald Trump Calls for ‘Peace and Happiness’ Amid Violence at Rallies
Less that two weeks after making that statement, a YouTube video shows a teenage girl being pepper-sprayed outside a Trump rally in Wisconsin on Tuesday. The Janesville, Wisconsin, police department confirmed they are investigating the incident.
“A 15 year [old] girl from Janesville was peppered sprayed in the crowd by a non-law enforcement person … A male in the [crowd] groped the 15 year [old] girl, when she pushed him away; another person in the [crowd] sprayed her. We are currently looking for two suspects, one for the sexual assault and one for the pepper spray,” according to a Janesville Police Department statement obtained by CBS News.
Although Trump told PEOPLE there is no violence at his rallies, he did acknowledge it briefly while appearing on Meet the Press a week earlier, on March 13.
“When my people punch back because they have to out of self defense, everybody says, ‘Oh, isn’t that terrible?’ The fact is, that we have very peaceful rallies. I’ve had many, many rallies. I have 25,000, 30,000 people coming to rallies. And out of that, we have very, very little problem,” he said.
As for whether Trump is concerned for his personal safety – at a March 12th event, the Secret Service swarmed him when a man rushed the podium – he says, “No. We’re not concerned. We have great security. We go through days without anybody even standing up [in protest].”
It’s clear, he concedes, that the country is passionately divided – but Trump insists that’s no fault of his own.
“Obama is divisive. Our country is very divided,” he says. “I bring people together. And people will see that after I win. I bring people together.”