WACO, Texas (AP) — Staring down a possible indictment, a defiant 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 evening 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 January 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, 17 miles from the Branch Davidian compound, 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.
Texas Lt Governor Dan Patrick said before Trump's arrival that he was the one who had suggested Waco as the venue. Any suggestion Trump had picked the city because of the anniversary was "fake news. I picked Waco!" he told the crowd.
Hours before Trump arrived, hundreds of his supporters began streaming into the airport past vendors selling merchandise including Trump flags, bumper stickers and action figures. There were no signs of counter protesters near the long line of Trump supporters waiting to get inside.
Among them was Eugene Torres, 41, who said he was unfazed by the prospect that Trump could be indicted.
"It's just another political attack on him to keep him from running and winning this race again," said Torres, who is from the Texas coast city of Corpus Christi.
Alan Kregel, 56, travelled with his wife from Dallas to see Trump in person for the first time. While he voted for Trump in 2016 and 2020, he said he felt the former president's "methods and vocabulary" often detracted from his policies. But now, two years out of office, he said he is more supportive of Trump than he was before.
"He's an innocent man, just persecuted," said Kregel, arguing an indictment would help Trump win in 2024.
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.
The grand jury investigating the hush money payment is expected to meet again Monday in New York.