FOUNTAIN HILLS, Ariz. — David Rau wasn't sure about Donald Trump. So the landscape contractor strolled over to the main park in this Phoenix suburb to watch one of the businessman's recent rallies and decide for himself.
Demonstrators pulled their cars across an access road to block people driving to the event. Dozens marched to the park and stood by Rau, chanting "Stop the hate!" as he tried to listen. He left a Trump convert. "I've got the right to listen to somebody speak, don't I?" Rau asked.
Trump's rise in the Republican presidential contest has sparked increasingly confrontational protests, mobilized his opponents and drawn scrutiny of the GOP front-runner's rhetoric and the sometimes rough way his campaign handles dissent. But as demonstrators escalate their tactics, they also risk helping Trump, especially among Republican voters his rivals are furiously trying to persuade to reject the billionaire businessman.
"I encourage people to speak out against Trump in a forceful but respectful manner because some of these protests are only serving to help him," said Tim Miller, a spokesman for a Republican group trying to stop Trump.
Even Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, running for the Democratic presidential nomination, has been troubled by protesters' tactics, as well as by Trump's response.
"In America, people have a right to hold rallies," Sanders told MSNBC. "It is absolutely appropriate for thousands of people to protest at a Trump rally, but I am not a great fan of disrupting rallies."
Trump engages the demonstrators vigorously, mocking them, calling them bad people and sometimes feeding the anger of his supporters in the crowd.
The Phoenix demonstration followed one in Chicago, where hundreds of Trump foes flooded into a rally and Trump canceled the event, citing security concerns. That infuriated Trump backers, who blamed the demonstrators.
In Arizona, activists gathered about 3 miles from the site of the Trump rally, along one of two roads that wind through the mountains north of Phoenix into central Fountain Hills. The protesters — mainly a coalition of local immigrant rights groups who have a long history of demonstrations against Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who was speaking at the rally — then maneuvered their cars across the intersection. Three were arrested, and many Trump supporters had to walk to the rally or missed it.