BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — Donald Trump said Sunday that the protester who interrupted his rally at a convention center here Saturday was “so obnoxious and so loud” that “maybe he should have been roughed up.”

Mercutio Southall Jr. – a well-known local activist who has been repeatedly arrested while fighting what he says is unfair treatment of blacks – interrupted Trump’s rally and could be heard shouting, “Black lives matter!” A fight broke out, prompting Trump to briefly halt his remarks and demand the removal of Southall.

“Get him the hell out of here, will you, please?” Trump said. “Get him out of here. Throw him out!”

At one point, Southall fell to the ground and was surrounded by several white men who appeared to be kicking and punching him, according to video captured by CNN. A Washington Post reporter in the crowd watched as one of the men put his hands on Southall’s neck and heard a female onlooker repeatedly shout: “Don’t choke him!”

As security officers got Southall on his feet and led him out of the building, he was pushed and shoved by people in the crowd. The crowd alternated between booing and cheering. There were chants of “All lives matter!”

“Maybe he should have been roughed up, because it was absolutely disgusting what he was doing,” Trump said on the Fox News Channel on Sunday.

“I have a lot of fans, and they were not happy about it. And this was a very obnoxious guy who was a trouble-maker who was looking to make trouble,” Trump said.

That was a change in tone from just a month ago, when Trump would regularly tell his audiences not to harm the protesters who often infiltrate his rallies.

“Don’t hurt ’em,” Trump said at a rally in Miami on Oct. 23 as pro-immigration activists were led out. “You can get ’em out, but don’t hurt ’em.”

The Republican front-runner has long made provocative statements a hallmark of his campaign. Critics and rivals have said that Trump is stoking racial tension. Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush said Trump’s comments about Islam are “manipulating people’s angst and their fears.”

Saturday’s racially charged altercation occurred in Birmingham, famous in the 1960s as a center of the civil rights struggle. The thousands who attended Trump’s rally were nearly all white in a city with a black majority.