Experts: Trump is trying to “foment civil unrest” — and Republicans are adding “fuel to the fire”

"We know enough about the crowd that shows up for this kind of thing... he's not talking about marching peacefully"

By Areeba Shah

Staff Writer

Published March 20, 2023 3:36PM (EDT)

Former U.S. President Donald Trump speaks at the New Hampshire Republican State Committee's Annual Meeting on January 28, 2023 in Salem, New Hampshire. (Scott Eisen/Getty Images)
Former U.S. President Donald Trump speaks at the New Hampshire Republican State Committee's Annual Meeting on January 28, 2023 in Salem, New Hampshire. (Scott Eisen/Getty Images)

Former President Donald Trump called on his supporters to protest and "TAKE OUR NATION BACK" over the weekend after predicting that he will be arrested on Tuesday as a New York grand jury investigates hush-money payments made to adult film star Stormy Daniels during the 2016 presidential election. 

Trump said in a post on Truth Social Saturday that "illegal leaks" indicate that "the far & away leading Republican candidate & former president of the United States of America, will be arrested." A Trump spokesperson later clarified that there had been no actual "notification" about an imminent arrest and the former president hadn't been involved in any communication from prosecutors.

"His strategy here is to attack the legitimacy of all of the prosecutors as well as the legitimacy of their motive," Catherine Ross, a constitutional law professor at George Washington University, told Salon.

"A lot of evidence" already points to Trump committing crimes in the several ongoing investigations he is facing," Ross added, including the hush money payments to Daniels, Trump's handling of sensitive documents at Mar-a-Lago and his efforts to overturn Georgia's 2020 presidential election.

"He thinks that by calling this political, by getting mobs into the street, he can undermine the legitimacy of the prosecution, he can foment civil unrest," Ross said. 

In another social media post, the former president repeated the message and wrote: "THEY'RE KILLING OUR NATION AS WE SIT BACK & WATCH. WE MUST SAVE AMERICA! PROTEST, PROTEST, PROTEST!!!"' He added that America is "now third world" and "dying," where "American patriots are being arrested and held in captivity like animals."

Trump's extreme rhetoric echoed similar language he used at a Washington rally shortly before the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, when his supporters marched to the Capitol and tried to stop the congressional certification of President Joe Biden's White House victory. 

"We know enough about the crowd that shows up for this kind of thing," Ross said. "When he says 'PROTEST, PROTEST, PROTEST,' and 'take our nation back,' he's not talking about marching peacefully with signs."

House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., called Bragg's investigation into the former president "an outrageous abuse of power by a radical D.A. who lets violent criminals walk as he pursues political vengeance against President Trump." 

McCarthy also said that he would direct relevant committees to "immediately" investigate if federal funds are being used to "subvert our democracy" by interfering in elections with "politically motivated prosecutions".

"Rather than condemning [Trump's] words, speaker McCarthy added fuel to the fire," Leslie Dach, a senior adviser at the Congressional Integrity Project, said during a Monday press briefing. "McCarthy chose to use his power as speaker in an attempt to stop justice from taking place rather than supporting justice and he threatened and intimidated law enforcement and those investigators. This is all part of a larger attack on the rule of law, law enforcement by Speaker McCarthy and the MAGA majority, and it's time for that to end." 

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Norman Eisen, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and CNN legal analyst, compared the language Trump used on Saturday to the tweet he posted prior to the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol. His "Be there, will be wild!" tweet played a key role in fomenting that day's violence, according to the congressional select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack. 

"We have seen this kind of inflamed rhetoric from Trump," Eisen said. "It's calibrated to the level of danger and instead of the House majority acting as a responsible break on that conduct, you have them amplifying it."

District Attorney Alvin Bragg recently offered Trump a chance to testify before the grand jury and reports suggest he could bring charges against the former president this week. Former Trump attorney Michael Cohen testified before the grand jury last week, and Daniels also met with Manhattan prosecutors. Cohen pleaded guilty to federal campaign finance violations in 2018 and was sentenced to three years in prison. He admitted to paying Daniels $130,000 in the leadup to the 2016 election for her to remain silent about an affair she had with Trump.

Cohen later testified that Trump directed him to make the hush money payments and reimbursed him for the payments through the Trump Organization with the company citing it as legal expenses.

Trump has repeatedly denied wrongdoing in connection with the payment and has denied Daniels' claim. If charges are filed against him, it would be the first time in U.S. history a former president is criminally indicted.

"I find nothing about Trump that he says or does should surprise us at this point," Ross said. "But this level of stunning attack on our legal and judicial systems from anyone, much less a former president, currently running for office again, is shocking in the extreme. It is so dangerous, and people should neither disregard it nor assume that it will have no impact."

By Areeba Shah

Areeba Shah is a staff writer at Salon covering news and politics. Previously, she was a research associate at Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington and a reporting fellow for the Pulitzer Center, where she covered how COVID-19 impacted migrant farmworkers in the Midwest.

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Alvin Bragg Donald Trump Furthering Politics Stormy Daniels