Legal expert: Trump sharing image of hog-tied Biden could push NY judge "to control this now"

"This level of attack on a public figure — if I were Judge Merchan, I would be putting that in the pot"

By Tatyana Tandanpolie

Staff Writer

Published April 1, 2024 5:16PM (EDT)

Joe Biden and Donald Trump (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)
Joe Biden and Donald Trump (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)

Legal experts are sounding the alarm over a violent image Donald Trump shared on social media last Friday. The life-sized decal, seen on the back of a Long Island pickup truck decorated with blue-line flags in a clip Trump posted on Truth Social, depicted President Joe Biden kidnapped and tied up, creating an illusion that the president was trapped in the truck bed. 

In a video posted to X, formerly Twitter, Sunday, New York University historian Ruth Ben-Ghiat, whose research spans authoritarianism, fascism and propaganda, warned of the dangers of Trump's recirculation of the image, emphasizing its size.

"Being life-size, this image is allowing Americans to imagine a fate that Biden would have if he were removed in a violent way," Ben-Ghiat said in the clip. "And so it's continuing the coup of January 6."

Ben-Ghiat went on to explain that coups result in "some kind of harm" coming to the overthrown leader, with that person either "being killed" or imprisoned. The image of Biden as a hostage or kidnapping victim is showing "not a democratic transition of power, but a violent one," she said arguing the image needs to be taken "high seriously." She previously flagged the image on X Friday as "an emergency," urging followers to "wake up."

George Washington University Constitutional law professor Catherine Ross also noted that the violent image Trump shared came in the "background" of his online attacks of the daughter of New York Judge Juan Merchan, who's overseeing his upcoming hush-money trial, which is set to start April 15.

After being hit last week with a gag order in the case that bars him from commenting on jurors, witnesses, court staff, the prosecution team and their families but does not protect the judge or the Manhattan district attorney, Trump has vaulted a handful of social media attacks against presiding Judge Juan Merchan's daughter, whose career as a political consultant for Democratic politicians Trump claims presents a conflict for the judge.

The district attorney's office last week urged the judge to "clarify or confirm" the scope of the gag order in light of Trump's attacks, arguing it's provision for court's staff and their families should cover Merchan's daughter. 

"What he posted about Biden is so over the top, we don't have words for it," Ross told Salon Monday, noting that Biden's image in the decal appeared to have a "laser spot" on his forehead. "This level of attack on a public figure — if I were Judge Merchan, I would be putting that in the pot in thinking about how to control this now," she added.