The federal indictment against former President Donald J. Trump has sparked a wave of calls from his supporters for violence and an uprising to defend him, alarming observers and raising concerns about a dangerous atmosphere ahead of his court appearance in Miami on Tuesday. Tuesday.
In social media posts and public remarks, close allies of Trump — including a member of Congress — have portrayed the indictment as an act of war, calling for retaliation and stressing that much of his base carry guns. The Allies have portrayed Mr. Trump as a victim of an armed Justice Department controlled by President Biden, his potential opponent in the 2024 election.
The calls to action and threats have been amplified on right-wing media sites and have been met by supportive responses from social media users and cheers from crowds, conditioned over several years by Mr Trump and his allies to see attempts to hold responsible if attacks against him.
Political violence experts warn that attacks against people or institutions become more likely when elected officials or prominent media figures can threaten or incite violence with impunity. The pro-Trump mob that attacked the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, was drawn to Washington in part by a post on Twitter from Mr. Trump weeks earlier, in which he promised it would be “wild.”
The former president warned the public about the charges Thursday night in posts on his social media platform, attacking the Justice Department and calling the case “THE BIGGEST WITCH HUNT OF EVER.”
“An eye for an eye,” Arizona Republican Rep. Andy Biggs wrote in a Twitter post Friday. His warning came shortly before special counsel on the case, Jack Smith, spoke to the public for the first time since taking over the investigation into Mr Trump’s holding of classified documents.
On Instagram, the fiancé of Mr Trump’s eldest son, Kimberly Guilfoyle, posted a photo of the former president with the words “Retribution Is Coming” in capital letters.
In Georgia, at the Republican state convention, Kari Lake, who refused to concede in the 2022 Arizona governor election and who is a staunch defender of Mr. Trump, stressed that many of Mr. Trump’s supporters owned guns.
“I have a message tonight for Merrick Garland and Jack Smith and Joe Biden – and the guys out there in the fake news media, you should listen too, this one is for you,” Ms Lake said. “If you want to get to President Trump, you have to go through me, and you will have to go through 75 million Americans just like me. And I’m going to tell you, most of us are card-carrying members of the NRA”
The crowd cheered.
Ms Lake added: “That’s not a threat, that’s a public service announcement.”
Experts on political violence say that even if aggressive language by high-profile individuals does not directly result in bodily harm, it creates a dangerous atmosphere in which the idea of violence is more accepted, especially if such rhetoric is left unchecked.
“So far, the politicians who have used this rhetoric to incite people to violence have not been held accountable,” said Mary McCord, a former senior Justice Department official who has studied the links between extremist rhetoric and violence. “Until that happens, there’s little deterrent to using this kind of language.”
The language used by some right-wing media figures was grittier.
On Pete Santilli’s talk show, the conservative provocateur declared that if he were the commander of the Marine Corps, he would order “every Marine” to grab President Biden, “throw him in goddamn zippers in the back of a goddamn pickup.” truck” and “get him out of the White House.”
One of his guests, Lance Migliaccio, said that if it was legal and he had access, he “would probably walk in and shoot” Gen. Mark A. Milley, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and one whom Mr. Trump has identified as one of his enemies.
Until now, the reactions of Mr. Trump’s supporters have been more intense and explicit than the reactions after Mr. Trump was indicted in a separate case by Manhattan District Attorney Alvin L. Bragg in late March.
Shortly before that indictment, Mr. Trump posted an article on Truth Social, his social media platform, with a picture of himself holding a baseball bat on one side and Mr. Bragg in a picture next to it. Dueling crowds of pro-Trump and anti-Trump protesters appeared in lower Manhattan when Mr. Trump was indicted there in April.
On Saturday, in his first public remarks since the last seven indictments related to holding secret documents and attempting to obstruct justice, Trump attacked those investigating him as involved in “demented prosecution”.
The FBI has been the target of much criticism from far-right Republican lawmakers and supporters of the former president. In the wake of the heated partisanship, FBI field offices are reporting all threats to their personnel or facilities to Washington headquarters, in an unusual step. A law enforcement official familiar with the move said the FBI was trying to get a handle on the number of threats across the country directed against the agency.
Despite all the security measures put in place ahead of Mr Trump’s appearance on Tuesday, security experts said the rhetoric and threats to it are unlikely to abate and are likely to become more outspoken as the case progresses and the 2024 election approaches.
“Rhetoric like this has consequences,” says Timothy J. Heaphy, the lead investigator for the select House committee investigating the January 6 attack on the Capitol and Trump’s attempts to stay in the White House after his presidency . “People we interviewed for the Jan. 6 survey said they came to the Capitol because politicians and the president told them to be there. Politicians think that when they say things it’s just rhetoric, but people listen and take it seriously. In this climate, politicians need to realize this and take more responsibility.”
On Instagram Saturday morning, Trump posted a mash-up video of himself swinging a golf club on the course and an animation of a golf ball hitting President Biden in the head, supplemented by footage of Mr Biden falling at a public event. in recent days after tripping over something on stage.
It wasn’t the first time legal figures have called for war or violence to support the former president, or the first time Trump has appeared to call on his supporters to rally on his behalf.
In the days leading up to the attack on the Capitol, there was widespread perception in right-wing circles that civil war was imminent. Extremist leaders such as Stewart Rhodes, founder of the Oath Keepers militia, and Enrique Tarrio, president of the Proud Boys, often rallied their groups with incendiary references to the purging violence of the American Revolution. Both men have been convicted of sedition in connection with the Capitol bombing.
More broadly, people on far-right websites shared tactics and techniques for attacking the building and discussed building gallows and imprisoning lawmakers in tunnels there.
The recent spate of bellicose language that came in response to Mr Trump’s indictment echoed what happened last summer among Republican officials and media figures after the FBI raided Mar-a-Lago, Mr Trump’s private club and residence in Florida. searched as part of the documents investigation and dragging away about 100 classified documents.
“This. Means. War,” wrote The Gateway Pundit, a pro-Trump outlet at the time, setting the tone for others. Hours later, Joe Kent, a Trump-backed Washington state candidate, went on a podcast by Stephen K. Bannon, Mr. Trump’s former political adviser, stating, “This just shows everyone what many of us have been saying for a very long time. We are at war.”
Indeed, within days of the heated language that followed the Mar-a-Lago search, an Ohio man armed with a semi-automatic rifle attempted to breach the FBI field office near Cincinnati and was killed. in a shootout with the local police.
Jonathan Swan reporting contributed.