Trump's Call for Protests Muted 03/20 06:13
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Former President Donald Trump's calls for protests ahead
of his anticipated indictment in New York have generated mostly muted reactions
from supporters, with even some of his most ardent loyalists dismissing the
idea as a waste of time or a law enforcement trap.
The ambivalence raises questions about whether Trump, though a leading
Republican contender in the 2024 presidential race who retains a devoted
following, still has the power to mobilize far-right supporters the way he did
more than two years ago before the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection at the U.S.
Capitol. It also suggests that the hundreds of arrests that followed the
Capitol riot, not to mention the convictions and long prison sentences, may
have dampened the desire for repeat mass unrest.
Still, law enforcement in New York is continuing to closely monitor online
chatter warning of protests and violence if Trump is arrested, with threats
varying in specificity and credibility, four officials told The Associated
Press. Mainly posted online and in chat groups, the messages have included
calls for armed protesters to block law enforcement officers and attempt to
stop any potential arrest, the officials said.
The New York Young Republican Club has announced plans for a protest at an
undisclosed location in Manhattan on Monday, and incendiary but isolated posts
surfaced on fringe social media platforms from supporters calling for an armed
confrontation with law enforcement at Trump's Florida estate, Mar-a-Lago.
But nearly two days after Trump claimed on his Truth Social platform that he
expected to be arrested on Tuesday and exhorted followers to protest, there
were few signs his appeal had inspired his supporters to organize and rally
around an event like the Jan. 6 gathering. In fact, a prominent organizer of
rallies that preceded the Capitol riot posted on Twitter that he intended to
remain on the sidelines.
Ali Alexander, who as an organizer of the "Stop the Steal" movement staged
rallies to promote Trump's baseless claims that Democrats stole the 2020
election from him, warned Trump supporters that they would be "jailed or worse"
if they protested in New York City.
"You have no liberty or rights there," he tweeted.
One of Alexander's allies in the "Stop the Steal" campaign was conspiracy
theorist Alex Jones, who amplified the election fraud claims on his Infowars
show. Alexander posted that he had spoken to Jones and said that neither of
them would be protesting this time around.
"We've both got enough going on fighting the government," Alexander wrote.
"No billionaire is covering our bills."
That stands in contrast to the days before the Capitol riot when Trump
stoked up supporters when he invited them to Washington for a "big protest" on
a Jan. 6, tweeting, "Be there, will be wild!" Thousands of Trump supporters
stormed the Capitol that day, busting through windows and violently clashing
with officers in an ultimately failed effort to stop the congressional
certification of Democrat Joe Biden's victory.
Since then, about 1,000 participants have been arrested, many racking up
steep legal bills and expressing regret and contrition in court for their
actions. Some have complained of feeling abandoned by Trump. And conspiracy
theories that the riot was fueled or even set up by undercover law enforcement
informants in the crowd have continued to flourish online, with Trump
supporters citing that angst as a basis for steering clear of a new large-scale
"How many Feds/Fed assets are in place to turn protest against the political
arrest of Pres Trump into violence?" tweeted Rep. Marjorie-Taylor Greene. The
Georgia Republican also invoked a conspiracy theory that an FBI informant had
instigated the Jan. 6 riot.
"Has Ray Epps booked his flight to NY yet?" she tweeted on Sunday.
Epps, an Arizona man, was filmed encouraging others to enter the Capitol.
Conspiracy theorists believe Epps was an FBI informant because he was removed
from a Jan. 6 "wanted" list without being charged. In January, the House
committee that investigated the Capitol attack said the claims about Epps were
John Scott-Railton, a senior researcher at Citizen Lab who has tracked the
"Stop the Steal" movement online, said anxiety over being entrapped by
so-called agent provocateurs feeds a "paranoia that if they go and do violence,
they may get caught and there may be consequences."
"It seems to reduce a lot of people's willingness to make big statements
about being willing to go out" and engage in violence, he said.
A grand jury is investigating hush money payments to women who alleged
sexual encounters with Trump. Prosecutors have not said when their work might
conclude or when charges could come.
The conflicted feelings over how far to support Trump in his fight against
prosecution extends into the political realm. His own vice president, Mike
Pence, who's expected to challenge Trump for the Republican nomination,
castigated Trump in an ABC News interview this weekend as "reckless" for his
actions on Jan. 6 and said history would hold him accountable -- even as he
echoed the former president's rhetoric that an indictment would be a
"politically charged prosecution."
"I have no doubt that President Trump knows how to take care of himself. And
he will. But that doesn't make it right to have a politically charged
prosecution of a former president of the United States of America," Pence said.
The opening day of the House Republican conference in Orlando, Florida, was
quickly overshadowed with the news of a potential indictment. Speaker Kevin
McCarthy and other House Republicans called the possibility outrageous and
criticized District Attorney Alvin Bragg for what they called "reckless crime"
in New York City.
McCarthy said he has assembled congressional investigators to probe if Bragg
used Justice Department grants to pursue the Trump case. But despite the heated
rhetoric toward Bragg, Republican leaders stopped short of Trump's calls for
protesters to "take our nation back."
"I don't think people should protest this. I think President Trump, when you
talk to him, he doesn't think that, either," McCarthy said.