Former US President Donald Trump held his first rally on Saturday in Waco, Texas, marking the first campaign rally in his bid for the presidency in 2024. The rally came as Trump faces potential criminal charges, causing concerns of exceeding impunity and inciting his followers.
In an act of defiance, Trump played “Justice for All,” a song featuring a choir of detainees involved in the January 6, 2021 Capitol insurrection, violence that occurred as he called on his supporters to stop the transfer of democratic power to Joe Biden. Trump berated the prosecutors, showed the insurrection footage on screens and reiterated his claim of electoral fraud.
Trump’s choice of location for the rally was eyebrow-raising as Waco represents a touchstone for far-right extremists as the site of a 51-day standoff and siege between the law enforcement and Branch Davidians cult, leading to the deaths of 80 cult members and four federal agents. Trump’s campaign denied the timing had anything to do with the anniversary, while Texas Lt Gov Dan Patrick claimed responsibility for suggesting the city as the venue.
The rally featured campaign merchandise, including red and white signs with slogans like “WITCH HUNT” and “I stand with Trump.” Trump continuously spoke of how innocent he was despite probes and allegations against him. Moreover, he deployed violence-invoking language directed at his opponents, inviting protests and warnings from the Democrats who slammed his “reckless” rhetoric for its potential to incite violence.
Other than the ongoing criminal investigations, a grand jury in New York was examining hush money payments made to women who claimed to have had sexual encounters with Trump during the 2016 campaign. The grand jury is expected to meet on Monday.
The former president has spent weeks railing against the probe, describing it as a “witch hunt.” In the previous week, he claimed he would be arrested on a particular Tuesday, but it never happened. In contrast, he continued to shape public perception – a strategy he deployed during the special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation.
Trump has also attracted criticism for his increasingly racist and dehumanizing rhetoric, urging his supporters to protest and launching personal attacks against Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg. On Friday, a powdery substance with a threatening letter was discovered in a mailroom of Bragg’s offices. Even before the discovery, Democrats warned about the potential consequences of Trump’s dangerous rhetoric, describing it as irresponsible and reckless.
Apart from the Manhattan prosecution, Trump is also under investigation for his efforts to overturn the 2020 election results in Georgia and his handling of classified documents. Investigations into his actions on January 6 are also ongoing. Trump’s rally has reignited concerns regarding his rhetoric and may escalate the already fragile political climate.