Former President Donald J. Trump on Saturday laid out his indictment by prosecutors and his bid for the White House as part of the “final battle” with the “corrupt” forces he says are destroying the country.
The apocalyptic language appeared in Trump's first public appearance since the 38-count federal charges against him and a personal aide were opened — and in a state where he may soon face additional charges for his efforts to pressure Georgia election officials to overturn his 2020 election. lost the election there. It was Trump's second indictment in less than three months.
“This is the final battle,” Trump said in an address to several thousand activists, delegates and members of the media who gathered in Columbus, Georgia, in a brick building that was once an iron factory that produced mortars, guns and cannon. for Confederate Soldiers in the Civil War.
Mr. Trump spoke of threats to the nation. But his increased language also suggests something more fundamental in increasing danger: his own freedom.
“Either the Communists win and destroy America, or we destroy the Communists,” said the former president in Georgia, apparently referring to the Democrats. He made similar statements about the “Deep State”, using a derogatory term he uses for US intelligence agencies and more broadly for any federal government bureaucrat he perceives as a political opponent. He lambasted “globalists”, “warmongers” in government and a “sick political class that hates our country”.
Trump also described the Justice Department as a “sick den that needs to be cleaned out urgently,” calling special counsel, Jack Smith, “crazy” and an “open Trump hater.”
And he attacked under the name Fani Willis, the district attorney of Fulton County, Ga., who weighed criminal charges against Mr. Trump, calling him “a mad Marxist” and accusing him of ignoring violent crimes and instead spending all of his time “working to get Trump.”
Mr. Trump occasionally makes threatening speeches with humor, stating at one point, “Every time I fly over the blue state, I get a subpoena.”
The crowd cheered and laughed, and when he mentioned Democrats, the hall filled with boos and jeers. At the mention of Hillary Clinton, a woman started chanting “Lock him up!”
Trump's address at the GOP state convention in Georgia and another in the evening at the party's state convention in North Carolina had been planned before he was indicted on Thursday for his role in mishandling classified documents. But his emergence quickly fed into a wide-ranging public backlash, in which he likened prosecutors to his political enemies and urged his followers to see his indictment as an attack on them.
“In the end, they're not after me, they're after you, and I'm just getting in their way,” Trump said in Greensboro, NC, late Saturday. “The baseless indictment against me by the armed Biden administration's Department of Justice will be considered one of the most egregious abuses of power in our country's history.”
While many politicians may consider dropping the presidential campaign after receiving disastrous charges and facing possible prison terms, Trump has always viewed his political candidacy and mass following as his best defense against his legal troubles.
On Saturday, in an interview with Political, the former president went so far as to say he would stay in the election even if he were to be convicted in federal court. “I will never leave,” he vowed. (It's unclear whether the case will be resolved before the 2024 election.)
Mr. Trump and his advisers are acutely aware that the Republican base is overwhelmingly behind him in his legal battle and reflexively reject any facts that prosecutors produce. The Trump campaign has exploited that dynamic and put their opponents in the presidential primary in a lose-lose situation: Either they reluctantly defend and applaud the front-runner or they suffer the wrath of millions of voters.
The Columbus convention crowd that Trump greeted were very friendly: It was convention. While this is ostensibly a convention for the Georgian Republican Party, the casual observer might be forgiven for mistaking it for the Georgian Trump Party.
Trump's name, slogans and lies about the 2020 election are proudly displayed by party activists. Woman wearing a bejeweled Trump hat. Men wearing hats saying “God, Guns and Trump”. References to the 2020 election were everywhere: T-shirts read “Trump wins”, and emblazoned on delegates' chests and backs were stickers slapping the voting machines.
Like several other states across the country, the Republican Party in Georgia has been taken over by a far-right that is fiercely pro-Trump.
Georgia's Republican governor, Brian Kemp, was loathed by the former president for refusing to help his bid to overturn the 2020 election. Mr. Kemp was forced to build his own political operation independent of the state party that hated him. The governor was absent at his party's convention. Georgia's secretary of state, Brad Raffensperger, was also not pressured by Trump via a recorded call to “find” him enough votes to overturn the state's 2020 election results.
In the unsealed indictment, federal prosecutors revealed for the first time how Trump keeps possession of some of the country's most sensitive secrets, flaunting them to visitors. The papers Trump kept included plans to retaliate for foreign attacks and details of America's nuclear program, according to the indictment. One image shows boxes stacked next to the toilet in the Mar-a-Lago bathroom.
“Secret,” he boasted in a recorded conversation, according to the indictment. “This is classified information. Look, look at this.”
Trump was joined on his private plane on Saturday by a small group of his closest advisers, including his core political aides. He was also joined by Marjorie Taylor Greene, a right-wing congresswoman from Georgia, and by Representative Richard Hudson of North Carolina, chair of the Republican National Congressional Committee.
Several people close to Trump and his team have privately admitted the facts in the case were damaging. But they don't believe the indictments will have any more impact on Republican voters than other scandals that have done little to change public opinion.
Tom LoSapio, a retired sales manager from North Carolina, said the charges were “inappropriate” and only made him want to support the former president more strongly.
“I think he was tricked,” said Mr. LoSapio, 68, at the North Carolina state party convention. “I think he got the raw end of the deal. And I think we need to rally around him and get him back to being president of the United States.”
Mr Trump, who was already said to have been furious Thursday night in the first hours after he was notified of the charges, was furious when the charges were opened and shared with him on Friday, according to a person who spoke to him. Still, at his club in Bedminster, NJ, Trump made time for a game of golf Friday, where he was joined for a round by a congressman from Miami, where he is scheduled to appear in court Tuesday. Cable coverage includes helicopter shots of Mr Trump walking down the fairway.
Mr Trump returned from the golf course in time to watch Mr Smith, the special counsel who filed the charges, speak on television. The indictment is filled with information from people who worked with him, and Trump has become suspicious of some of his aides who may disclose certain details to special counsel, people he spoke with said Friday. He was especially focused on photos of documents scattered across the storage room floor at Mar-a-Lago, according to other people he spoke to.
While many prominent Republicans lined up behind Mr Trump when he revealed he was being indicted Thursday, party strategists are concerned about how the charges will shape his potential election battle with President Biden.
The last two midterm elections and Trump's own defeat in 2020 show that his aggressive approach to politics — and the accumulation of charges against him, including his indictment in April by a Manhattan grand jury — have turned off independent voters and swing.
Michael Caputo, a former Trump senior adviser who is now an executive at Americano Media, the new conservative Hispanic media outlet, said the allegations were “almost convincing” that Trump would win the Republican nomination in 2024.
But they could have the opposite effect in the general election contest with Mr. Biden, he said, even as he rejects the accusations as part of a Democratic conspiracy.
“This will be the new ‘Russian collusion hoax,'” Caputo said, recalling a phrase Republicans used in deriding investigations into whether Trump's 2016 campaign conspired with Russian officials and whether he was obstructing justice. “It doesn't matter if it's true or not.”
Neil Vigdor And Shane Goldmacher reporting contribution.