Trump keeps begging for a "rally behind MAGA" — but his supporters aren't showing up to court

It's not just that Fox News told them entering New York results in instant murder

By Amanda Marcotte

Senior Writer

Published April 24, 2024 5:56AM (EDT)

Former President of the United States Donald J. Trump appears in the hallway of the courthouse to speak to the press on day three of the civil fraud trial in Manhattan, New York, United States on October 4, 2023. (Kyle Mazza/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
Former President of the United States Donald J. Trump appears in the hallway of the courthouse to speak to the press on day three of the civil fraud trial in Manhattan, New York, United States on October 4, 2023. (Kyle Mazza/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

Donald Trump can't decide how he wants his supporters to feel about the scene outside of the Manhattan courtroom where he's being tried on 34 felony indictments for election interference and business fraud. He repeatedly argues that the city he travels through in a daily motorcade to his trial is a war zone. "Violent criminals that are murdering people, killing people" are free to "do whatever they want," he's falsely claimed, blasting District Attorney Alvin Bragg as "lazy on violent crime" because he's supposedly too focused on prosecuting Trump. 

It's all a lie — crime is way down from the pandemic-related spikes — but it's one Trump repeats ad nauseam. And it's constantly reinforced by Fox News, which pushes out a series of misleading stories and images meant to scare their elderly suburbanite audiences into believing that going into the nation's largest city results in instant murder. Nonetheless, Trump keeps pleading with his followers to run through what they've been told is a "bloodbath" in order to, you know, persuade Bragg and presiding Judge Juan Merchan to just give up on this whole trial nonsense. 

On Monday, Trump begged his followers on Truth Social to "RALLY BEHIND MAGA" at courthouses, unsubtly suggesting that they model themselves after the mostly imaginary leftist rioters who "scream, shout, sit, block traffic, enter buildings, not get permits, and basically do whatever they want." When the MAGA hats failed to show, Trump tried to inspire them with a post complaining that it's "SO UNFAIR!!!" that he doesn't get throngs of people like the kind seen at the antiwar protest a few miles north at Columbia University. Other than a few scattered people with pro-Trump signs, the mob he longed for never showed. So he took his pleas to the cameras outside the courthouse Tuesday morning:

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What's especially funny about all this is that Trump can't quite admit that his people just aren't showing up, and keeps on blaming the barricades and the cops. His lies got to the level of childish make-believe on Tuesday afternoon, as he falsely claimed on Truth Social that "Thousands of people were turned away from the Courthouse" while denying that he was "disappointed by the crowds." Of course, by fantasizing about a massive caravan rallied to his defense, he proved he is not satisfied with reality.

No matter what story Trump wants to tell, it's obvious what's happening: MAGA isn't there because they don't want to be.

As the New York Times reported, "A day after Trump issued a call for more supporters to gather outside the Manhattan Criminal Courthouse, the number reached its nadir. The number of identifiable Trump fans across the street in Collect Pond Park on Tuesday sank to the mid-single digits, after hovering at about a dozen for a week."

Trump's lies are about soothing his own ego, of course, but it also reads like a dare: C'mon, MAGA! Cops didn't stop you on Jan. 6! And yet, they keep not showing up to protest Trump's criminal trial, peacefully or otherwise. It's not like anyone is stopping them, either. No matter what story Trump wants to tell, it's obvious what's happening: MAGA isn't there because they don't want to be. 

Perhaps the reason is they really are too scared to go into the city, after imbibing years of lies that New York is a war zone. I'd wager it is mostly because, despite the horror show on Jan. 6, 2021, it turns out that most of MAGA is not actually as gung-ho to risk injury, prison or even death just because Dear Leader commands it. 

One would think, even with the shrinking possibility that Trump could face trial this year for his attempted coup that led to the Capitol insurrection, that he might not blatantly try to order up a rampaging mob like it's a Diet Coke. Nor does it seem likely that causing more violence would help him win the 2024 election. It speaks to his justified fear that the evidence against him is overwhelming that he's grasping at this particular straw. Lucky for him, even people dumb enough to love Donald Trump are still smarter than he is, which is why they aren't rioting in the streets of Manhattan. Even the guy who died by suicide in front of the courthouse wasn't a Trump fan, but a bespoke conspiracy theorist who thought "The Simpsons" are out to destroy the world. 

There are two main reasons MAGA continues to ignore Trump's cries for crowds to mob the courthouse on his behalf. First of all, they don't think it would really change anything. Second, they don't see what's in it for them. Trump, who is unable to think about anyone but himself for even a second, hasn't bothered to persuade his followers that it would somehow benefit them to take such serious risks. 

Lucky for him, even people dumb enough to love Donald Trump are still smarter than he is, which is why they aren't rioting in the streets of Manhattan.

On the second point, it's crucial to remember that while MAGA has cult-like properties and Trump is its leader, it isn't actually a cult of personality in the true sense. Fundamentally, it's a fascist movement focused on restoring an imagined past based on white supremacy and male dominance. Trump is the vehicle for his followers' grievances, not the other way around. His anger over losing the 2020 election resonated with them not because they pitied him, but because they pity themselves. They wanted to win that election too, and when he offered them a chance to steal it, they went for it, to protect their own egos more than his. 

With the first of his four criminal cases, it's not really clear how demanding Trump's "right" to commit fraud and lie about adultery serves the larger goals of MAGA. Plus, a lot of Trump's appeal to his base is the aura of impunity he's woven around himself. They've been led to believe he's got near-magical abilities to wriggle out of legal trouble, so why should they doubt he can do it again? And why stick their own necks out to help? 

As hard as it may be to believe, even Trump voters have some rationality and understanding of cause and effect. As a rule, even people who are enthusiastic about political violence aren't willy-nilly about such a serious undertaking. They want to know how the proposed act of violence will work to advance their political goals. Anti-abortion terrorists wanted to marginalize providers and scare other doctors out of the work. People who commit hate crimes are trying to drive people they hate out of their community. Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols believed that bombing the Oklahoma Federal Building would draw attention and support for their white supremacist, far-right views. Decades later, Trump is winking at their terrorism publicly, so they weren't entirely wrong in their theory of the case, even as they were deeply evil.

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Trump is not good at logistics or long-term planning. The only reason January 6 got as close as it did to working is that right-wing lawyers like John Eastman and Kenneth Chesebro — both of whom have also been charged in Georgia for their roles in attempting to overturn the election — did all of the planning for him. They used social media and circulated memos to spread the word through MAGA that shutting down the election certification would give Trump and Republicans space to void the election and declare him president. It didn't work, but it was a plan.

Trump doesn't have other people plotting illegal ways to derail his trial. As such, it's not even clear to his followers what he expects of them. If they riot, perhaps they shut down the courtroom for a day, but then what? The trial will just resume when things have quieted down, perhaps at another location. Or perhaps Trump wants them to show up in en masse to scare the jury a little. But that is just as likely to backfire since the message sent to the jury would be that Trump is so guilty he is resorting to intimidation because he can't win honestly. Either way, Trump hasn't communicated, even through his wink-and-nod method, how he thinks his followers could change the outcome here. So they're staying put. 

The good news is that it all suggests Trump is not a Svengali-type leader who can materialize a violent mob out of nothing. He really does need other people to draft his battle plans, recruit his foot soldiers, and communicate his wishes for him. Right now, he has no one to do that for him because, again, what's it in for them? People like Eastman and Chesebro were in on the coup because they're devoted fascists, not because of some great love of Trump. So they're not going to risk even more indictments to get him out of this particular pickle. 

The bad news is that we still don't know how much enthusiasm still exists in MAGA world for effective political violence. On one hand, Republican leaders have grown even more aggressive about promoting political violence. On the other hand, some polling data shows that the wind is starting to seep out of the MAGA sails, especially as their leader continues to fall apart mentally under the pressure of prosecution. Security officials would be wise to assume we're not out of the woods yet and continue to have heightened vigilance against domestic terrorist threats. But if MAGA lashes out, they will not be doing it for Trump. They'll be doing it for themselves. 

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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