Former US President Donald Trump staged the first rally of his 2024 presidential campaign in Waco, Texas, using dark and conspiratorial language to excite his base ahead of next year's GOP primaries.
Trump launched Saturday's rally with the song "Justice for All," which featured a choir of men imprisoned for their role on January 6, 2021, the uprising at the United States Capitol singing the national anthem and a recording of Trump saying the Pledge of Allegiance.
Some footage from the uprising was displayed on screens.
In his speech, Trump backed the insurrectionists, declaring they would be "vindicated," He compared the investigations swirling around him to "something straight out of Stalinist Russia's horror films."
"From the beginning, there has been nothing but witch hunts and bogus investigations," he stated.
Prosecutors in Manhattan are investigating Trump for campaign finance crimes related to his alleged hush money payment to an adult film actress before the 2016 election. A special counsel established by the Department of Justice also probes charges that he hoarded top-secret materials and plotted to upset the 2020 presidential election.
Trump stated on Saturday that his "enemies are desperate to stop us" and that "our adversaries have done everything possible to shatter our spirit and undermine our resolve."
"But, they failed," he noted. "They have only strengthened us. And 2024 will be the final and most significant struggle. If you reinstate me to the White House, their rule will end, and America will again be a free nation."
Trump staged his event at the Waco airport grounds on the 30th anniversary of a raid by federal authorities on the Branch Davidians religious group, which resulted in the deaths of 86 people, including four law enforcement officials. Several right-wing radicals view the raid as a defining instance of government overreach, and critics interpreted the rally's timing as a bow to Trump's far-right backers.
Trump's team said the event's location and date had nothing to do with the anniversary of the Waco siege or the siege itself.
The venue, located 27 kilometres (17 miles) from the Branch Davidian property, was chosen due to its proximity to four of the state's largest urban regions — Dallas/Fort Worth, Houston, Austin, and San Antonio — and it's capacity to accommodate a large audience, according to a spokesperson.
Trump made no overt references to Waco's history. Instead, he told the crowd that he said Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick that he wanted to hold his event in a location with overwhelming support, not "one of those 50-50 regions."
According to him, he instructed Patrick, "Let's get right into it."
"But as far as the eye can see," he immediately continued, "the power abuses we are currently experiencing at all levels of government will go down in American history as among the most disgraceful, corrupt, and wicked."
The campaign distributed red-and-white signs to the audience that read "WITCH HUNT" and "I stand with Trump."
'High Wire' Act
Trump does not merely face legal peril. His bid to secure the Republican nominee faces a potential challenge from Florida Governor Ron DeSantis amid indications that his support is waning, at least in early primary battlegrounds like New Hampshire.
Trump stated, "I'm not a huge admirer" of DeSantis and accused him of plotting to cut social security.
Florida had enjoyed incredible prosperity for many years before this man was elected governor.
The former president is attempting to profit from the New York City hush money case by gathering funds and rallying his fans. He delivered an apocalyptic warning on Friday, stating that the country could suffer "death and ruin" if he were charged with a crime.
Last Saturday, he asserted that he would be arrested the following Tuesday in an apparent attempt to preempt an official statement. While this did not occur, Trump has regularly threatened violence, urged his fans to demonstrate, and employed more racist and dehumanizing language in his attacks upon Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg.
But, few followers have obeyed his calls to oppose his likely indictment in the Manhattan case by taking to the streets, and Trump's rising language has repelled at least some members of his party.
"Trump is walking a tightrope without a safety net, signalling that he has nothing to lose and is ready to risk disastrous outcomes to garner support," said Republican strategist Ron Bonjean of Washington, DC.
Democrats have also expressed concern that Trump's statements could spark violence.
"The rhetoric of the twice-impeached former president is reckless, disgusting, and irresponsible. New York's House Democratic Leader Hakeem Jeffries stated, "It's dangerous, and if he continues, he'll kill someone."
At the Waco event, Trump's fans appeared undeterred by the possibility of an indictment.
"It's simply another political hit to prevent him from running and winning this election again," said Eugene Torres, 41, of Corpus Christi, Texas.
Alan Kregel, 56, and his wife travelled from Dallas to see Trump for the first time in person. While he voted for Trump in 2016 and 2020, he said the previous president's "methods and vocabulary" frequently undermined his policies. Yet today, two years after leaving government, he says he supports Trump more than before.
"He is an innocent man who is being persecuted," Kregel added, claiming that an indictment would help Trump win the 2024 election.
Apart from his assaults on law enforcement and DeSantis, most of Trump's address focused on rehashing past grievances and making outlandish assertions about his adversaries.
Trump often asserted that his 2020 election defeat resulted from a massive fraud engineered by the Democrats.
Trump framed the stakes of the upcoming election in apocalyptic terms, claiming that "demonic forces" are attempting to destroy the country, which, if he is not re-elected, is in danger of descending into a "lawless abyss."
American officials and top politicians, including Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, were described as a more significant threat to the United States than China or Russia.
Trump stated, "Either the Deep State will destroy America, or we will destroy the Deep State."