Trump’s call to protest pending arrest divides GOP
Donald J. Trump’s appeal this weekend to his supporters to protest his expected indictment has divided his right-wing allies, as some fear mass rallies could escalate into violence and lead to the prosecution of his supporters just as the Jan. 6 Capitol riot did just that two years ago.
While some Republicans have echoed Mr Trump’s call to take to the streets, other prominent right-wing voices are calling for caution and for people to stay away, especially from New York, where they note that any potential trouble would result in prosecution of the same official. who should charge Mr. Trump – Manhattan District Attorney Alvin L. Bragg.
“Better to stay at home” informed Jeffrey Clark, the former Justice Department official who came close to being named acting attorney general by Mr Trump in late 2020 as the president sought to undo his election defeat. “Think, rethink and think three times before physically going to protest anywhere in the Big Apple.”
Republican House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, who owes his post in part to Mr Trump’s support, was among those who urged Trump supporters to stay away on Sunday. “I don’t think people should be protesting that, no,” he said at a press conference in Florida, adding, “And I think President Trump, if you talk to him, he doesn’t don’t believe it either.”
Mr. Trump, however, has long measured the strength of his position by the stark measure of the size of the crowds that show up for him, in good times and bad.
When the “Access Hollywood” video first broke in 2016, Mr Trump found solace in the small group of supporters standing in solidarity with Trump signs outside Trump Tower on Fifth Avenue, briefly giving them back visit with a fist pump. And, once he became president, the first mini-drama of his tenure in the White House had to do with his insistent exaggerations about the size of the crowd at his inauguration.
“WE MUST SAVE AMERICA!” Mr. Trump wrote on Truth Social, his social media site, on Saturday. “PROTEST, PROTEST, PROTEST!!!”
Donald Trump’s impending indictment
In some fundraising messages, Mr. Trump has explicitly called for nonviolence. “I ask that you peacefully show your support for our America First movement,” he wrote over the weekend.
But even Mr. Trump’s staunchest supporters are stung by the legal fallout after the Jan. 6 riot on Capitol Hill. The Justice Department said more than 1,000 people had been arrested on charges related to the events that day. And prosecutors have suggested another 1,000 could potentially face charges.
A person close to Mr Trump, who asked not to be identified out of a desire not to anger him, said the former president was likely to be disappointed with the actual outcome of his call to protest. Most people, the person said, felt “bitten” by the arrests after the Jan. 6 riot and Mr. Trump’s lack of financial help.
Jesse Kelly, a right-wing syndicated radio host, said on Monday that ‘what is happening to Trump is beyond injustice’ but still urged Trump supporters to stay away from any protests. .
In a tweet, Mr. Kelly complained that Mr. Trump had no helped with legal bills among those involved on January 6 and in another he included a screenshot of Mr Trump urging people to protest and captioned it, “It’s an abuse of his supporters and I despise him.”
Ali Alexander, who was one of the organizers of the 2020 “Stop the Steal” rallies that preceded the Jan. 6 riot, was among those urging people to stay away from New York. “Caution is a virtue” he wrote on Twitter.
Mr Alexander also noted on his Telegram channel that another organizer of ‘Stop the Steal’ rallies, conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, was not going to rally in support of Mr Trump.
“I spoke to Alex Jones,” Mr. Alexander wrote over the weekend. “He’s not protesting either.”
Some indulged in unsubstantiated conspiracy theories about the trap, claiming that the federal government would somehow infiltrate any protest to encourage violence, or that left-wing agitators would instigate violence or incite crowds to participate. On Sunday, Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene, a Republican from Georgia, warned people against participating in protests for fear that agitators could be found in the crowd.
“How many federal/federal assets are in place to turn the protest against the political arrest of Pres Trump into violence?” Ms Greene, one of Mr Trump’s close allies, asked on Twitter.
Regardless of any arrest-related protests, Mr. Trump scheduled his first major rally of the 2024 campaign for Saturday in Waco, Texas, a chance for his supporters to congregate away from any courthouses. The event will coincide with the 30th anniversary of the murderous federal government headquarters in Waco of a compound run by the religious sect Branch Davidian – an event emblematic of the right-wing anti-government tradition.
The first notable organized protest in New York is on Monday, organized on short notice by the New York Young Republican Club. Gavin Wax, the group’s chairman, said in an interview that it was frustrating to see prominent voices on the right – “Twitter warriors”, he sneered – urging people to avoid the streets.
“It’s a weird, cowardly, powerless position to take – it’s basically surrender,” Mr Wax said. “I understand that there are fears and concerns based on what happened on January 6. But it is ridiculous, pathetic and nihilistic to say that a Tory cannot peacefully protest.”
Mr Wax said his group was taking extra precautions, checking those who responded that they were planning to attend and not releasing the location until people had been checked. He called it a “deliberate decision to sacrifice” size for safety.
On Monday, the New York Police Department started to install barricades outside the Criminal Courts Building in Manhattan.
The question remains open whether the circumstances exist for Mr. Trump to summon a critical mass of protesters to his side as he did after the 2020 election. His message in the post-election period that voting across the country had been tainted by widespread fraud was a narrative he had honed and obsessively repeated for months. The story of the stolen election – despite being a lie – appealed to its supporters who felt cheated by the results; it is unclear whether Mr. Trump’s indictment will have the same resonance.
Mr. Trump was also aided after the election by a large cabal of outside organizers – including Mr. Alexander – who amplified his message during mass “Stop the Steal” protests in cities across the country in November and December 2020. These events, attended by tens of thousands of people, created momentum for Mr. Trump’s January 6 rally near the White House, which preceded the capture of the Capitol.
Protests in Washington before Jan. 6 also gave extremist groups like the Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers militia what amounted to rehearsals to operate in the city’s complex security environment. But there is no indication so far that far-right groups have mobilized this time in response to Mr. Trump’s calls to demonstrate.
Mr. Clark, the former top Justice Department official, was among those who indulged in the theory that left-wing agitators could infiltrate pro-Trump crowds to stir up violence, warning of “ rootless Antifa agitators who cross state lines to advance their Marxist agenda with violence and intimidation.”
Alex Bruesewitz, a Republican strategist allied with Mr. Trump, said in an interview that anyone participating in a protest should be constantly filming: “People have to be vigilant. People have to be smart. People have to register. And he expressed his frustration at those urging people to stay away.
“They’re basically pushing the talking points of Adam Kinzinger and Liz Cheney,” Mr. Bruesewitz said, that “the last time Trump called you to protest he got you arrested and didn’t help you get out of prison. It is a fabrication.
Mr. Bruesewitz, who was subpoenaed by the House Jan. 6 committee last year, said he had spent tens of thousands of dollars in legal costs and always approved of rallies massive.
“If we don’t have the ability to protest against our government,” he said, “we don’t have a country anymore.”
Maggie Haberman contributed report.