COLUMBUS, Ohio -- GOP frontrunner Donald Trump is sticking by his dubious contention that he saw "thousands and thousands of people" cheering in the wake of the September 11th terrorist attack in Jersey City, New Jersey. It's a claim that has been debunked by a number of fact checkers since he made the assertion over the weekend - but Trump claimed he had proof.
"[T]he media was going crazy. They were having a field day, and one of my people came in, 'Mr. Trump, I have a story in the Washington Post,'" Trump told a crowd of thousands here in Columbus. Trump then proceeded to read out loud a story from the Washington Post on September 18th, 2001, which said that "law enforcement authorities detained and questioned a number of people who were allegedly seen celebrating the attacks and holding tailgate-style parties on rooftops while they watched the devastation on the other side of the river."
The anecdote in the article never led anywhere, according to the Washington Post's Glenn Kessler. Some readers brought up the same article that Trump pointed out, and Kessler contacted both of the reporters on the story. One of them, Serge Kovaleski, told Kessler, "I certainly do not remember anyone saying that thousands or even hundreds of people were celebrating," and the other, Fredrick Kunkle, the other reporter, recalled, "I specifically visited the Jersey City building and neighborhood where the celebrations were purported to have happened. But I could never verify that report."
Some of Trump's most ardent supporters believed his version of events, which Trump said he witnessed on TV at the time. Bruce Engelhardt, 63 years of age, is a shopping center manager from nearby Pinkerton. "I mean, it probably did happen in some ways," Engelhardt said. "Let's face it, you look at the facts, it did happen. There's good Muslims as well as those that aim to harm America. I think those are the ones we're concerned about."
Sylvana Whittaker, 52, a part-time real estate agent and homemaker from Worthington, also seemed surprised that no video existed of such celebrations.
"But they do celebrate 9/11," Whittaker said, who appears to think that there are anniversary celebrations of the attacks. "Maybe he was referring to when they do celebrate it. I know we have free speech here and we agree with that but still, why don't people apologize for that instead of all the other things they apologize for that are not offensive? It is offensive for a group of people that killed 2,000, 3,000 Americans, innocent working citizens to be celebrating that."
In the midst of Trump's stream-of-consciousness musing about the alleged celebrations, came a classic progression which could only have come from Trump.
'"So, nobody believed me," Trump said. "Some people believed me. By the way, thousands of people believe me because they saw it."
This rally, Trump's first campaign stop in Ohio, brought him to the doorstop of fellow presidential candidate and the state's governor, John Kasich.
Kasich and Trump have been warring since the last debate. Trump unleashed a recent tweet storm - his biggest to date against a rival, in which he called Kasich a "total dud" and threatened to sue him "just for fun." A Kasich-aligned Super PAC , released a new ad today, part of $2.5 million buy, targeting some of Trump's past controversial statements.
Kasich has criticized Trump's proposal to deport all undocumented immigrants and his unwillingness to rule out databases for American Muslims. Before the event, Trump tweeted that he was on his way to Ohio, "home of one of the worst presidential candidates in history."
In an interview that aired Monday evening with Fox News Channel's O'Reilly Factor, Trump also seemed closer to embracing than ruling out databases for Muslims. "They have no paperwork, there's no way of proving that their paperwork is correct," Trump complained. "When they come in from Syria, I want them to be registered. They have to be registered. We have to watch them because we just don't know who they are, we don't where they come from, we don't know if they're ISIS, and we don't know if they have evil intensions so I want them registered."
But even on Kasich's home turf, Trump drew a crowd of nearly 10,000, many ready to pick him over Kasich. Trump even played the role of maestro, as he led the crowd in chants of "Build the wall!" in the middle of his speech. It wasn't a conventional crowd for a political speech. Some audience members held a massive poster board reading "Make Anime Great Again."
"I do think Kasich's very strong when it comes to his political background in business," said 54-year-old Mike Holmes, a Coshocton native who works at a steel mill. "I just see Trump as a man who will get things done. He's not going to let people deter him from what he thinks is right."
Before Trump's rally began, New Day for America -- the super PAC supporting Ohio Gov. John Kasich -- had a plane flying around the Columbus arena telling voters that Trump can't be trusted. The group plans to spend $2.5 million attacking the Republican frontrunner by highlighting what they see as a disastrous potential Trump presidency. Their first ad, released Monday, strung together clips of Trump's more controversial statements.