Former President Donald J. Trump’s federal indictment has sparked a wave of calls for violence and a riot by his supporters to defend him, disturbing observers and raising concerns about a dangerous atmosphere ahead of his court appearance in Miami Tuesday.
In social media posts and public remarks, Trump’s close allies — including a congressman — have described the charge as an act of war, called for revenge, and emphasized the fact that much of his base carries guns. 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 were amplified on right-wing media sites and were met with supportive responses from social media users and cheers from the crowd, which has been conditioned for several years by Trump and his allies to view any efforts to hold him accountable as assaults against him.
Political violence experts warn that attacks against individuals or institutions become more likely when elected officials or prominent media figures are able to issue threats or call for violence with impunity. The pro-Trump mob that attacked the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, was drawn to Washington in part by a Twitter post from Mr. Trump weeks earlier, promising he would be « wild. »
The former president warned the prosecution public Thursday night in posts on his social media platform, attacking the Justice Department and calling the case « THE GREATEST WITCH HUNT OF ALL TIME. »
« An eye for an eye, » Arizona Republican Rep. Andy Biggs wrote in a Twitter post on Friday. His warning came just before special counsel on the case, Jack Smith, spoke to the public for the first time since he took over the investigation into Trump’s retention of classified documents.
On Instagram, the girlfriend of Trump’s eldest son, Kimberly Guilfoyle, posted a photo of the former president with the words « Retribution Is Coming » in all caps.
In Georgia, at the Republican state convention, Kari Lake, who declined to grant Arizona governorship in 2022 and who is an ardent Trump defender, pointed out that many of Trump’s supporters owned guns.
“I have a message tonight for Merrick Garland, Jack Smith and Joe Biden – and for the guys over there in the fake news media, you should listen too, this is for you,” Ms. Lake said. “If you want to get to President Trump, you’re going to have to go through me, and you’re going to have to go through 75 million Americans just like me. And I’ll tell you, most of us are registered members of the NRA »
The crowd cheered.
Ms Lake added: « It’s not a threat, it’s a public service announcement. »
Political violence experts say that while aggressive language from high-profile individuals doesn’t directly result in physical harm, it creates a dangerous atmosphere in which the idea of violence becomes more accepted, especially if such rhetoric is left unchecked.
« So far, politicians who have used this rhetoric to inspire 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 harsher.
On Pete Santilli’s talk show, the conservative provocateur stated that if he were the commander of the Marine Corps, he would order « every single Marine » to grab President Biden, « throw him fucking zip-ties in the back of a fucking pick-up truck. » and « get him out of the White House ».
One of his guests, Lance Migliaccio, said that if he were legal and had access, he would « probably go in and shoot » General Mark A. Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and someone Trump has identified as one of his enemies.
So far, the reactions of Trump supporters have been more intense and vocal than those expressed after Trump was indicted in a separate case by Manhattan District Attorney Alvin L. Bragg in late March.
Shortly before that allegation, Mr. Trump posted an article on Truth Social, his social media platform, which included a photo of himself with a baseball bat to one side and Mr. Bragg in an adjacent photo. Dueling crowds of pro-Trump and anti-Trump protesters appeared in lower Manhattan when Trump was arraigned in April.
In his first public remarks since the latest indictment on seven allegations related to the retention of classified documents and efforts to obstruct justice, Mr. Trump on Saturday attacked those investigating him as engaging in a « mocking persecution. »
The FBI has come under much criticism from far-right Republican lawmakers and supporters of the former president. In the wake of heated partisanship, FBI field offices are reporting all threats related to their personnel or facilities to headquarters in Washington, in an unusual phase. A law enforcement officer familiar with the move said the FBI was trying to get a handle on the number of threats across the country directed at the agency.
Despite all the security precautions taken for Trump’s appearance on Tuesday, security experts said the rhetoric and the resulting threats were unlikely to subside and would likely become more pronounced as the case progresses and the approaching the 2024 elections.
« Rhetoric like this has consequences, » said Timothy J. Heaphy, the lead investigator on the House Select Committee who investigated the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol and Trump’s efforts to stay in the White House after his presidency. “People we interviewed for the Jan. 6 inquiry 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 to them and take them seriously. In this climate, politicians must realize this and be more responsible ».
On Instagram Saturday morning, Mr. Trump posted a video mash-up of himself swinging a golf club on the course and an animation of a golf ball hitting President Biden over the head, superimposed on footage of Mr. Biden falling during a public event in recent days after tripping over something on stage.
It wasn’t the first time right-wing figures have issued calls for war or violence to support the former president, or the first time Mr. Trump has appeared to summon his supporters to mass on his behalf.
In the days leading up to the attack on the Capitol, the idea was prevalent in right-wing circles that a civil war was approaching. Extremist leaders like Stewart Rhodes, the founder of the Oath Keepers militia, and Enrique Tarrio, the president of the Proud Boys, often rallied their groups with incendiary references to the cleansing violence of the American Revolution. Both men were convicted of sedition in connection with the attack on the Capitol.
More generally, on far-right websites, people have shared tactics and techniques for attacking the building and discussed building gallows and trapping lawmakers in tunnels there.
The recent bout of belligerent language in response to Mr. Trump’s indictment echoed what happened among Republican officials and media figures last summer after the FBI raided Mar-a-Lago, the private club and Mr. Trump’s Florida residence, as part of the documents the investigation and takes away about 100 classified records.
« This. Means. War, » The Gateway Pundit, a pro-Trump outlet, wrote at the time, setting the tone for others. Hours later, Joe Kent, a Trump-endorsed House candidate in Washington state, went on a podcast run by Stephen K. Bannon, Trump’s former political adviser, and said, « This shows everyone what many they said about us for a very long time.We are at war.
In fact, just days after the heated argument that followed the search for Mar-a-Lago, an Ohio man armed with a semi-automatic rifle tried to break into the FBI office near Cincinnati and was killed in a shootout with police. local.
Jonathan Swan contributed report.