How Trump’s using a possible arrest to rile his base

How Trump’s using a possible arrest to rile his base

Trump supporters gather in front of Trump Tower during the St. Patrick’s Day Parade up 5th Ave. on March 17, 2023 in New York City. | John Lamparski/Getty Images

The former president told his followers to “protest” ahead of a likely indictment, summoning the specter of January 6.

Former President Donald Trump on Saturday alleged via his Truth Media platform that he will be arrested on Tuesday, calling for his followers to “PROTEST” and “TAKE OUR NATION BACK” in an echo of the capitol riots of January 6, 2021.

Trump’s all-caps post at 7:26 Saturday morning puzzled some close to his campaign, according to the New York Times. Though prosecutors in the office of Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg have indicated that an indictment is forthcoming, Trump allies aren’t clear where the Tuesday deadline came from. But the call to arms does come ahead of a Saturday, March 25 rally in Waco, Texas — the first in Trump’s 2024 campaign — and contrasts with his posting on mainstream social media sites YouTube and Facebook.

Trump is likely facing indictment by a Manhattan grand jury for allegedly paying hush money in 2016 to porn actress Stormy Daniels to cover up an affair. According to former Trump attorney Michael Cohen, Cohen paid Daniels $130,000, for which Trump’s business, the Trump Organization, later reimbursed him; an indictment from the Manhattan District Attorney’s office would focus on the attempt to cover up the payment by falsifying records.

Trump’s social media presence was significantly curtailed after the January 6, 2021 riots; Trump and far-right mouthpieces called at the time for the former president’s followers to take action as Congress certified President Joe Biden as the winner of the 2020 elections. Trump’s social media presence in particular was seen as a catalyst for the violence on that day, and Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube suspended Trump’s account in the following days and weeks.

Twitter head Elon Musk reinstated Trump’s account shortly after October 27 of last year, when he assumed control of the social media company, though Trump has yet to post there. YouTube and Meta, Facebook’s parent company, have both readmitted Trump to their sites; on Friday, his team cross-posted a video to YouTube and Facebook — a clip from CNN, early in the morning of his 2016 victory — announcing, “I’M BACK.”

YouTube’s Twitter account explained the company’s rationale for reinstating Trump’s account, saying that YouTube had “carefully evaluated the continued risk of real-world violence, while balancing the chance for voters to hear equally from major national candidates in the run up to an election.” YouTube ended Trump’s suspension from the platform on Friday. Meta released a statement January 25 saying that the company would reinstate Trump’s Facebook and Instagram accounts, with enhanced “guardrails” on Trump’s content, including limiting posts that reference election denial or QAnon claims.

Trump, his companies, and his associates have faced many legal problems over the years; Cohen went to prison for his role in the hush money scandal, and Trump Organization CFO Allen Weisselberg was sentenced to five months in prison for benefiting from tax evasion efforts by the Trump Organization. Other investigations, both at the federal and state level are ongoing.

Bragg’s attempt at an indictment now, resting on the hush money, is somewhat peculiar, as Vox’s Andrew Prokop explained in January. Bragg took office after Cyrus Vance, Jr., who picked up the charges against Trump based on the hush money violating campaign finance law after the Southern District of New York dropped the charges. Bragg was initially skeptical about moving forward with the case when he took office in 2022, leading to the departure of two prosecutors in his office and a wave of criticism about being too lenient on Trump.

Bragg’s case has picked up steam in the past two months, although it’s still not clear how it will be argued or, as Prokop notes, how strong that case actually is:

This seems to pose the possibility that the hush money case is a bit of a reach, a “zombie” legal theory being resurrected now that Bragg has seemingly realized he’ll benefit more politically from being seen as trying to take Trump down — though we can’t say for sure without understanding more about his evidence and legal reasoning.

That, of course, didn’t stop Trump from using the possibility of an indictment in his favor. As Vox’s Ian Millhiser pointed out in a piece dissecting the various legal cases against Trump and related entities, “while the Justice Department will ordinarily be very tight-lipped about an ongoing investigation (and responsible state-level prosecutors will also not be especially forthcoming), Trump will not. And he is likely to tell lies and half-truths to mislead the public and rile up his supporters.”

On Truth Social, Trump followed his complaint about the alleged arrest and demand for his followers to protest with a simple request: “If you are doing poorly, as so many of you are, do not send anything. If you are doing well, which was made possible through the great policies of the Trump Administration, send your contribution to”

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