WACO, Texas (AP) — Staring down a possible indictment, a defiant former United States (US) President Donald Trump is hoping to put on a show of force Saturday at the first rally of his 2024 presidential campaign, held in a city made famous by deadly resistance against law enforcement.
Trump’s supporters began lining up the day before doors opened on the airport grounds in Waco, which will mark the 30th anniversary of the Waco massacre next month. In 1993, an attempted raid by law enforcement of a compound belonging to the Branch Davidians, a religious cult, resulted in a shootout that led to a 51-day siege, ending in a blaze that left dozens dead.
The rally comes as Trump has berated prosecutors, encouraged protests and raised the prospect of possible violence should he become the first former president in US history to face criminal charges. Some of his recent rhetoric has echoed language he used before the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection at the US Capitol by a mob of his supporters seeking to stop the transfer of power to Democrat Joe Biden, who won the presidential election.
“What kind of person can charge another person, in this case a former President of the United States ... and leading candidate (by far!) for the Republican Party nomination, with a Crime, when it is known by all that NO Crime has been committed, & also known that potential death & destruction in such a false charge could be catastrophic for our Country?” Trump wrote on his social media site early Friday.
Trump’s campaign insisted the location and timing of the event had nothing to do with the Waco siege or anniversary. A spokesperson said the site was chosen because it was conveniently situated near four of the state’s biggest metropolitan areas — Dallas/Fort Worth, Houston, Austin and San Antonio — and has the infrastructure to handle a sizable crowd.
The rally had already been in the works before it became clear that a grand jury in New York was drawing closer to a possible indictment as it investigates hush money payments made to women who alleged sexual encounters with Trump during the height of his 2016 campaign. Trump has denied the women’s claims.
But the timing will give Trump an opportunity to demonstrate his continued popularity with the GOP base and to portray himself as the victim of a politically motivated “witch hunt” as he campaigns for a second term in the White House.
The grand jury investigating the hush money payment is expected to meet again Monday in New York.
Trump has spent weeks now railing against the probe. In a move that seemed designed to preempt a formal announcement, he claimed last Saturday that he would be arrested the following Tuesday. While that did not happen, Trump has used the days since to try to shape public perception — echoing a strategy he has used before, including during special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation.
Trump has also launched a series of increasingly personal attacks against Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, calling him “a danger to our Country” and using increasingly racist and dehumanising rhetoric.
Trump has also allegedly invoked violence. Last Saturday, he called on his supporters to “PROTEST, TAKE OUR NATION BACK!” And on Thursday, he bemoaned, “OUR COUNTRY IS BEING DESTROYED, AS THEY TELL US TO BE PEACEFUL!”
Trump is also facing an investigation in Georgia over his efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 election as well as federal investigations into his handling of classified documents and possible obstruction, as well as his efforts on January 6.
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