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Former President Donald Trump speaks at a rally at the Montgomery County Fairgrounds on January 29, 2022, in Conroe, Texas.

Former President Donald Trump speaks at a rally at the Montgomery County Fairgrounds on January 29, 2022, in Conroe, Texas. (Photo by Sergio Flores/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

Critics Say Trump Threat to Unleash Supporters on US Cities 'Should Ring Alarm Bells'

"We can act forcefully to stop his new insurrection and punish his past crimes—or we can sit back and let the comet of autocracy strike," said one critic.

Kenny Stancil

During Saturday night's rally to promote the Big Lie, former President Donald Trump promised to pardon January 6 rioters if he wins in 2024 and warned that the United States would see "the biggest protest we have ever had" if prosecutors investigating his effort to overturn the last election or his tax-evading real estate empire "do anything wrong."

"Trump now calling for his supporters to potentially amass again in huge numbers to help him right any perceived wrongs should ring alarm bells."

"If these radical, vicious, racist prosecutors do anything wrong or illegal, I hope we are going to have in this country the biggest protest we have ever had... in Washington, D.C., in New York, in Atlanta, and elsewhere because our country and our elections are corrupt," Trump told a crowd of his supporters in Conroe, Texas.

The three cities where Trump encouraged his supporters to converge are home to local and federal probes involving the authoritarian demagogue.

As The Hill reported Sunday, "Trump accused New York Attorney General Letitia James (D) of launching a political attack against him. James claimed in a court filing last week that her office discovered evidence of Trump's company using 'fraudulent or misleading' valuations of its golf clubs, skyscrapers, and other property to secure loans and tax benefits."

His mention of Atlanta was an apparent reference to Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis' (D) investigation into whether Trump and others acted criminally when trying to pressure Georgia officials to overturn President Joe Biden's victory in the 2020 election.

Those state-level probes come amid an ongoing investigation of the right-wing insurrection at the Capitol last year, which is being conducted by a U.S. House select committee chaired by Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.). 

In addition to rousing his followers to hit the streets of certain jurisdictions to oppose legitimate probes—all three led by Black officials—Trump said Saturday night that if he wins the 2024 presidential election, he would consider pardoning individuals who participated in the January 6 coup attempt.

"If I run and I win, we will treat those people from January 6 fairly," Trump told the crowd. "We will treat them fairly, and if it requires pardons, we will give them pardons because they are being treated so unfairly."

More than 700 people have been arrested and charged in connection with the Capitol attack that left seven people dead and more than 100 police officers injured.

Trump was widely condemned for preemptively inciting future mayhem in major Democratic-led cities if he is criminally charged and for vowing to turn a blind eye to last year's assault on Congress, with even staunch ally Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) warning that the latter "will make more violence more likely."

According to Walter Shaub, former director of the U.S. Office of Government Ethics and now a senior ethics fellow at the Project on Government Oversight, Trump was implying that "he'll pardon anyone involved in an even bigger, more violent terrorist attack" if he successfully returns to power three years from now—a message "his target audience will absolutely get."

John Dean, who spent three years as an aide to former President Richard Nixon before exposing his role in the Watergate cover-up, called Trump's pledge to pardon January 6 defendants "the stuff of dictators."

"He is defying the rule of law," Dean wrote on Twitter. "Failure to confront a tyrant only encourages bad behavior. If thinking Americans don't understand what Trump is doing and what the criminal justice system must do we are all in big trouble!"

That assessment was shared by numerous observers.

In an opinion piece published Sunday by CNN, columnist Dean Obeidallah wrote that "common sense says Trump now calling for his supporters to potentially amass again in huge numbers to help him right any perceived wrongs should ring alarm bells. That's especially true given Trump's apparent message to his supporters on Saturday that if you commit acts of violence in his name, he will consider pardoning you if he ever becomes president again."

Obeidallah continued:

While the specter of pardons is jaw-dropping, it's fantasy for now given that Trump would first have to win a 2024 presidential campaign that he hasn't even announced. Trump's plea to his supporters to engage in mass protests if he is charged with crimes is potentially more dangerous, since that's a more immediate possibility.

[...]

We all know if Trump is prosecuted for any reason, he will dub it "wrong or illegal." From there, Trump will likely follow the same playbook that led to the January 6 attack by radicalizing his supporters with lies—but this time with lies directed at the criminal prosecution.

Would Trump call his supporters to surround courthouses or prosecutor's offices as he did when he called them to Washington, D.C. on January 6 to "stop the steal"? Again, given what happened that day, we cannot dismiss that possibility, nor the possibility that this could lead to violence from some extremists in the Trump base.

Following Trump's ominous remarks Saturday night, Willis asked the FBI to provide enhanced security for her staff and offices in Atlanta.

Describing Trump's speech as "one of the most incendiary and most dangerous" in U.S. history, columnist Will Bunch argued Sunday in The Philadelphia Inquirer that "a shadow ex-president—unpunished so far for his role in an attempted coup on January 6—is rebuilding a cult-like movement in the heartland of America, with all the personal grievance and appeals to Brownshirts-style violence that marked the lowest moments of the 20th century."

Bunch added:

What happened in Conroe, Texas, on Saturday night was not politics. A politician seeking to regain the White House might craft a narrative around Biden's struggles with inflation or with Covid-19 and make a case—no matter how absurd, given Trump's failings on the pandemic and elsewhere—that he could do better for the voters. But increasingly Trump is less a politician and more the leader of a politics-adjacent cult. He does not want to make America great again so much as he wants to keep Donald Trump out of prison, and the most narcissistic POTUS of all time is willing to rip the United States in two to make this happen.

Trump's chief weapons are fear and intimidation. To save American democracy, the people tasked with getting to the bottom of a former president's high crimes and misdemeanors—on Capitol Hill and in those key courthouses—must be ready for the violence that Trump is inciting, and must summon the courage to finish their job. My fear is that Trump's speech in Conroe will live in infamy—but the only reason it happened at all is because we have not held Trump to account for attempting to wreck American democracy on January 6... not yet. Now, Trump has told us in no uncertain terms how he plans to break the nation this time. We can act forcefully to stop his new insurrection and punish his past crimes—or we can sit back and let the comet of autocracy strike.

Glenn Kirschner, a former federal prosecutor and now a legal analyst for NBC, asked if Trump's inflammatory speech Saturday night will "finally move prosecutors to hold him accountable for his crimes?" 

U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland said earlier this month that "the Justice Department remains committed to holding all January 6 perpetrators, at any level, accountable under law—whether they were present that day or were otherwise criminally responsible for the assault on our democracy."

However, Garland has come under fire for his ongoing failure to investigate and take legal action against Trump, with progressive advocates calling for the attorney general's resignation.

The DOJ's failure to prosecute Trump persists even though the stakes are only getting higher.

"Since last year," Asawin Suebsaeng reported Monday for the Daily Beast, "Republicans have increasingly signaled how they plan to exact vengeance on those who've tried to make them and their leader, Donald Trump, pay any price for the coup attempt following the 2020 election."

"Whether the GOP follows through on these promises to try to imprison their political opponents for investigating Republicans' coup d'état attempt is, at best, murky," noted Suebsaeng. "However, the right is already showing that they are more than willing to punish these investigators, if and when they can."

The New York Times reported last week that "the top staff investigator on the House committee scrutinizing the January 6 attack on the Capitol has been fired by the state's new Republican attorney general from his position as the top lawyer for the University of Virginia, from which he was on leave while working on the congressional inquiry."

Citing an unnamed person with direct knowledge of the matter, Suebsaeng wrote that Trump was "delighted" to hear about the abrupt firing, and "he said he wants to see more of this."

In the wake of his speech in Texas, Trump admitted in writing that he wanted former Vice President Mike Pence to invalidate Biden's victory and criticized an ongoing effort by congressional lawmakers to reform the Electoral Count Act of 1887 to remove ambiguities.

"If the Vice President (Mike Pence) had 'absolutely no right' to change the Presidential Election results in the Senate, despite fraud and many other irregularities, how come the Democrats and RINO Republicans, like Wacky Susan Collins, are desperately trying to pass legislation that will not allow the Vice President to change the results of the election?" Trump asked Sunday in a statement that continued to spew disinformation about the 2020 contest he lost.

"Actually, what they are saying, is that Mike Pence did have the right to change the outcome, and they now want to take that right away," said Trump. "Unfortunately, he didn't exercise that power, he could have overturned the Election!"


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