Trump threats will only backfire on him — they prove Jack Smith's entire case

Republicans struggle to pretend Trump's an innocent angel while he begs his followers to commit violence

By Amanda Marcotte

Senior Writer

Published July 24, 2023 6:00AM (EDT)

Former President Donald Trump speaks at a rally at the Canyon Moon Ranch festival grounds on January 15, 2022 in Florence, Arizona.  (Mario Tama/Getty Images)
Former President Donald Trump speaks at a rally at the Canyon Moon Ranch festival grounds on January 15, 2022 in Florence, Arizona. (Mario Tama/Getty Images)

Last week, Donald Trump let loose with one of his tantrums disguised as a fundraising appeal on Truth Social, this time claiming that special prosecutor Jack Smith had sent him a letter indicating he's the target of a Justice Department investigation, this time related to Trump's attempted coup that resulted in the insurrection on January 6, 2021. Such letters are often preliminary to indictments. Most legal experts say it's a near-certainty in this case. Recent reporting suggests that Trump will likely face indictments for conspiracy to defraud the government and obstruction of an official proceeding. He may also be charged with conspiracy to deny people their civil rights, utilizing a law first passed to empower federal authorities to deal with the Klu Klux Klan. 

Considering that his last round of indictments involved the Espionage Act, it's wild that these potential indictments are even more serious. Most experts believe Smith wouldn't do this if he didn't have the evidence for a conviction, and the possible charges are serious enough to put Trump away for the rest of his life. As the hearings of the House Select Committee on the January 6 attack showed, there's substantial evidence Trump knowingly led a conspiracy, and no doubt the grand jury investigation Smith is leading uncovered more.  All of which suggests Trump's regular meltdowns on social media aren't just fundraising gambits, but sincere displays of panic from a man who has no doubt been long worried if all his criming would eventually catch up to him. 

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Trump isn't just whining in his usual all-caps style, however. He's also escalating his violent threats, in an impotent bid to scare federal prosecutors into backing down. On Tuesday, Trump gave an interview on an Iowa-based talk show where, mob-style, he issued a "warning" that was actually a threat. When asked about the possibility of going to jail, the former president said, "I think it's a very dangerous thing to even talk about, because we do have a tremendously passionate group of voters, much more passion than they had in 2020 and much more passion than they had in 2016."

Then on Thursday, Trump posted a video on his Truth Social account that was even less subtle. In it, ominous music plays over a shot of Trump's eyes glaring, as his voiceover says, "If you f**k around with us, if you do something bad to us, we are going to do things to you that have never been done before."

On Sunday, he went hard on Truth Social, winding up his supporters with unsubtly violent language. "IT WILL ONLY GET WORSE. WE MUST STOP THESE "MONSTERS" FROM FURTHER DESTROYING OUR COUNTRY!" he raved in one post. He also repeatedly reposted threatening memes sent by his often QAnon-drunk followers. 

This is part of a larger pattern of Trump trying, with intermittent success, to replicate the events of January 6 by inciting his followers to violence. He posted photos suggesting he'd like to beat District Attorney Alvin Bragg, who is prosecuting him for fraud in New York, with a baseball bat. He implicitly celebrated the 30th anniversary of the Branch Davidians' self-immolation in Waco, TX, with a rally that also valorized the January 6 riot. He posted former president Barack Obama's address, which led to a follower allegedly trying to assassinate Obama. He shared information about prosecutors' families, another obvious threat. He posted threatening rhetoric after the feds searched Mar-a-Lago for missing classified documents, which led to one follower dying in an attack on an FBI office.

Being bad at terrorism is no defense, especially for someone who keeps trying to instigate political violence. 

Trump loves hiding behind his security guards while telling his idiot followers to commit acts of violence for him. He does it more often than most people eat breakfast. This is why legal experts so often pity Trump's defense lawyers, even though they are making a fortune off his campaign donors. This stuff isn't just dangerous and a bad look. It also nukes what was Trump's strongest defense in any January 6 case. No longer can he argue that he wasn't trying to kick off a riot when he told his followers to "march" on the Capitol, and they just did that on their own. Instead, Trump is handing prosecutors a pattern of behavior they can point to. 

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Trump's repeated efforts to make another January 6 happen don't just make it harder to argue his innocence in a court of law. It also makes a lot harder for Republicans who, foolishly, are still trying to defend Trump in the court of public opinion. Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., squealed that this is only happening because "Trump went up in the polls." This is the same McCarthy who, in the immediate aftermath of the insurrection, correctly stated that Trump "bears responsibility for Wednesday's attack on Congress by mob rioters." Other Republicans followed suit in pretending this is all ridiculous. House Minority Leader Steve Scalise, R-La., for instance, complained about a "double standard."

These kinds of B.S. defenses depend on pretending that Trump didn't attempt a coup or incite an insurrection as if it was all just some weird coincidence. Gov. Ron DeSantis, R-Fla., offered a good example of how silly this gets, lamely saying on CNN that Trump "should have come out more forcefully" in telling rioters to go home on January 6. The clear implication is that the rioters were just acting on their own accord and Trump's only sin was in moving too slowly in response. In reality, Trump sent those rioters to the Capitol as part of a larger plot to block President Joe Biden's election certification so that a group of fake electors — some of whom are facing charges of their own — could come in and steal the election for him. The "Trump didn't want that riot" play is stupid on its face but becomes even more so every time Trump makes another threat.

Unsubtly begging his followers to use violence to block a legal proceeding is the standard operating procedure for Trump. Sure, it doesn't work most of the time. Mostly, his followers ignore his repeated entreaties that they go to prison in an ineffective bid to keep him out of it. Even when he can get his followers to act out violently, they've so far not achieved their goals, thankfully. Trump keeps returning to the well of violent threats because he's mean and not very bright, so can't accept that his favorite move just isn't working for him. But being bad at terrorism is no defense, especially for someone who keeps trying to instigate political violence. 

"Stop saying I'm violent or I'll send people to murder your family" is an unpersuasive argument, of course. That Trump keeps going there, however, is a sign he is as desperate as he is stupid. He knows that he can't win the case on the merits, so his efforts are focused on trying to stop any case from going forward. The good news is that Smith is not going to be intimidated. The man has prosecuted violent gang members and war criminals. A coward like Trump is not going to rattle the nerves of the special prosecutor who has taken him on so forcefully. 

By Amanda Marcotte

Amanda Marcotte is a senior politics writer at Salon and the author of "Troll Nation: How The Right Became Trump-Worshipping Monsters Set On Rat-F*cking Liberals, America, and Truth Itself." Follow her on Twitter @AmandaMarcotte and sign up for her biweekly politics newsletter, Standing Room Only.

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