Multiple accounts of a meeting President Donald Trump held with evangelical Christian leaders Monday night revealed that the president warned of "violence" from both Democrats and anti-fascist protesters if Republicans fail to retain control of Congress in the midterm elections.
"They will overturn everything that we've done, and they'll do it quickly and violently, and violently," Trump told the leaders, according to NBC News and the New York Times. "There's violence. When you look at antifa, and you look at some of these groups—these are violent people."
Trump was referring to anti-fascist protesters who have counterprotested at white supremacist rallies around the country. While some members of the loosely organized movement have resorted to violence, Democratic leaders have not endorsed the protesters.
On CNN, political analyst Jeffrey Toobin argued that Trump was employing a racist dog-whistle.
"Let's be clear also about what's going on here. The theme here is, 'I'm Donald Trump and I'll protect you from the scary black people,'" Toobin said.
Trump's threats come as numerous polls have shown that Democrats are favored to win control of the House in November.
The president did not elaborate on how or why Democrats would become violent if they were to win control of the House or Senate, but critics condemned his vague threat—especially after Trump himself has explicitly advocated for violence toward his opponents by his own supporters.
This is a man who weaponizes fear. “Do as I say or there will be blood in the streets.” It’s the kind of thing crackpot dictators do.
Trump warns evangelicals of 'violence' if GOP loses in the midtermshttps://t.co/k3WyuqjGVf
— John Henson (@John_Henson) August 28, 2018
Trump said if Dems get the House, “they will overturn everything we've done, quickly and violently ... When you look at some of these groups — these are violent people.”
RIP “good people on both sides.” We hardly knew ye. https://t.co/vwVH3pYOMh
— shauna (@goldengateblond) August 28, 2018
Growing angry at the sight of even a single detractor at his campaign rallies during the 2016 election, Trump advised his supporters to "knock the crap out of" any protesters or hecklers they saw, and frequently ordered security staff to remove anti-Trump attendees, demanding that protesters at a Vermont event be thrown "out into the cold" with their coats confiscated. He also said of one protester at a Las Vegas rally in 2016, "I'd like to punch him in the face, I tell you."
In addition to warning that conservative Christians would face a violent uprising if Republicans lose in the midterms, Trump warned that their religious freedom would immediately come under attack.
"This November 6 election is very much a referendum on not only me, it's a referendum on your religion, it's a referendum on free speech and the First Amendment. It's a referendum on so much," the president told the group in the White House State Dining Room.
Trump illustrated his point by boasting that he had gotten "rid of" the Johnson Amendment, the law that prohibits religious organizations from endorsing political candidates—one that he said had "silenced" Christian leaders.
"But now you're not silenced anymore," the president said.
In fact, Trump has only signed an executive order directing the IRS to not aggressively pursue churches that endorse or oppose candidates; the Johnson Amendment still stands and would require congressional action to be repealed.
The most remarkable part of Trump's closed-door meeting with evangelical leaders is that he spent most of his time bragging that he's gotten rid of the Johnson Amendment, which they, of all people, know he has not gotten rid of. https://t.co/phRTcS0sZW
— Daniel Dale (@ddale8) August 28, 2018