Under increasing pressure from state and federal investigators, former President Trump escalated his violent rhetoric this week, heightening tensions as prosecutors weigh whether to bring criminal charges and sparking sharp criticism from Democrats, who are warning of another Jan. 6.
In several social media posts over the past two days, Trump appeared to threaten Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg (D) with a baseball bat and warned any indictments brought against him may lead to “potential death & destruction” around the country.
The messages were remarkably direct, even for a figure with a long history of promoting violence, and they’ve led to new warnings from Trump’s critics that the former president is aggravating partisan hostilities and inflaming national unrest.
“It’s dangerous, and it’s obviously a sign that the pressure of the moment is getting to him,” said Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), who headed the House select committee that investigated the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol attack.
“I’m hopeful that they won’t take him literally,” Thompson added, referring to Trump’s supporters. “You know, a lot of these people who came to Washington on Jan. 6 came at his invitation, and over time, he weaponized them to attacking the Capitol. And this is that same kind of weaponization — taken to another level.”
The concerns arrive just before Trump is scheduled to stage his first 2024 campaign rally on Saturday in Waco, Texas, exactly 30 years after a deadly standoff between federal law enforcement and the Branch Davidians, an apocalyptic cult led by David Koresh, took place just outside the city. The siege ended with a massive fire that engulfed the sect’s compound, left scores of adherents dead and has since become a rallying cry of those who view the government as an abusive force treading on individual liberties.
Some lawmakers see a connection between Trump’s increasingly violent rhetoric and his choice of Waco to kick-start his campaign.
“That comment, and being [at] the site of fanatic activity long ago in Texas, is really a dangerous combination,” Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-Texas) said Friday in the Capitol. “We saw the harm that it can cause right here in this building. And as usual, it’s only about Donald Trump; it’s not about the safety and security of families in Texas and around the country.”
On Friday, Trump allies also sought to draw attention to the plight of those arrested and charged for violent assaults on Jan. 6, visiting them in a local D.C. jail and claiming their constitutional rights are being violated.
Trump is facing a series of criminal investigations into his conduct, including his role in the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol, his efforts to overturn the 2020 election results and the discovery of classified documents at Mar-a-Lago, his resort-residence in South Florida.
But the Manhattan case is the longest-running, based on a hush money payment to an adult film actress just before the 2016 election, and Bragg has given recent signals that an indictment against Trump might be imminent.
Trump has acknowledged that he reimbursed Michael Cohen, his former lawyer and fixer, for the $130,000 Cohen initially paid to Stormy Daniels in return for her silence about an alleged affair with Trump a decade earlier — an affair Trump denies. But his defense team has said the payment was made to preserve his marriage, not for purposes related to his political campaign.
Turning to social media late Thursday, Trump escalated already heated attacks toward Bragg, in one case sharing a pair of side-by-side photos: one of the prosecutor, the other with the former president holding a baseball bat.
Hours later — just after 1 a.m. on Friday — Trump posted another message to his Truth Social account, warning of a violent backlash if Bragg brings charges.
“What kind of person can charge another person, in this case a former President of the United States, who got more votes than any sitting President in history, 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.
“Why & who would do such a thing? Only a degenerate psychopath that truely [sic] hates the USA!”
The message drew immediate denunciations from Trump’s critics, most of them Democrats, who voiced concerns that it would serve as a call to violence for some members of Trump’s conservative base, thousands of whom had stormed the Capitol two years ago at his behest.
“Trump has succeeded in turning Lincoln’s GOP into a messianic and dangerous cult of personality,” said Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), who led Trump’s second impeachment after the Jan. 6 attack. “[He] knows how to activate the most violent and unstable elements of his following. And this kind of rhetoric, this serves as incitement to the most rabid and unhinged parts of his base.”
House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) said Friday Trump’s “rhetoric is reckless, reprehensible and irresponsible.”
“It’s dangerous, and if he keeps it up, he’s going to get someone killed,” Jeffries said.
Other Trump critics have gone a step further, suggesting that his comments may have, themselves, violated the law.
“Threatening a prosecutor is a crime in NY. In fact MULTIPLE crimes,” Norm Eisen, counsel for Democrats in Trump’s first impeachment and an author on both, wrote on Twitter.
Eisen pointed to several statutes in particular, including harassment, menacing and stalking.
“And that’s just for starters,” he said.
Across the aisle, Republicans were much less willing to take on the former president, who leads the nascent GOP field vying for the White House in 2024.
Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) deflected questions about Trump’s “death and destruction” remarks, and Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), a close Trump ally, told an NBC reporter that he couldn’t read the comments without his glasses.
Some others took steps to condemn any talk of violence, though without criticizing Trump directly.
“I don’t condone political violence,” said House Majority Leader Steve Scalise (R-La.). “I haven’t seen those statements,” he continued, “but in general, I’ve been very outspoken because it relates just to political violence in general.”
Rebecca Beitsch and Mychael Schnell contributed.