“I think they’re building an army": Trump spews anti-immigrant sentiments at rally in the Bronx

Trump, who faces criminal charges one county over, promised the "largest criminal deportation operation" in history

Published May 23, 2024 9:07PM (EDT)

Former President Donald Trump holds a rally in the historical Democratic district of the South Bronx on May 23, 2024 in New York City.  (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
Former President Donald Trump holds a rally in the historical Democratic district of the South Bronx on May 23, 2024 in New York City. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Donald Trump doubled down on his anti-immigrant rhetoric and slipped into winding, irrelevant rambles at a campaign rally in The Bronx, New York — a county he lost by more than 65% in 2020.

Openers for the event on Thursday evening included Andrew Giuliani, son of Trump election theft co-conspirator Rudy Giuliani, who likened Trump to the New York Yankees, and boldly forecasted that he would carry the historically blue state in November.

Trump, who arrived at 6:30 pm — a half hour after his forecasted start time — emerged to the tune of Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the USA” to greet a crowd of several thousand, notably less than the tens of thousands he planned to address at Madison Square Garden. From the jump, he began sending mixed messages to the city that was his home for more than six decades.

“I spent my life in the city I helped build,” he said, adding that New York is “the city we all love” before going on to bash “filthy encampments” of unhoused people and “mobs of migrants who are fighting our police officers and giving America the middle finger.”

One county over, Trump undergoes a criminal trial for falsifying records in order to conceal hush money payments and interfere in the 2016 election.

The former president then went on to tell the story of the Wollman Rink — an ice skating rink in Central Park — in great detail, drawing a nearly 15-minute anecdote about his role in its construction and seemingly losing the crowd. The rambling tale is emblematic of the increasingly incoherent and disconnected tenor of Donald Trump’s public appearances, which he’s kept to a minimum since his criminal trial began.

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Turning his attention to the upcoming June presidential debate, which his campaign agreed to, Trump decried “Fake Tapper,” complaining about proposed rules.

Promising “MAGAnomics,” Trump falsely claimed that he had the “best economy in history,” including the “best poverty rate, in terms of the positive number,” though the Dow Jones hit record highs in 2024, and President Joe Biden’s childhood tax credit slashed childhood poverty to their lowest numbers in recent memory.

Lamenting the withdrawal of U.S. troops from foreign wars under Biden, Trump suggested to the crowd that he would’ve extracted more gains from the Middle East.

“In the old days, to the victor belong the spoils. We don't do that,” he said. “We bombed the hell out of everyone, then we come back home. It's so sick,” Trump said.

Doubling down on claims that the 2020 election was rigged, Trump blamed Biden’s victory for the supposed deaths of Israeli hostages in Hamas custody. 

“It would’ve never happened if the election weren’t rigged,” Trump said, before bringing up the issue of immigration, one area where Democrats have lost momentum in New York state.

Digging back up a song by a civil rights activist, whose family sent a cease and desist letter to the former president for his perversion of its intended meaning, Trump recited the lyrics, which he interprets as an anti-immigrant rallying cry. His retelling of it, which details a woman who invites a snake into her home and is surprised when it bites him, is widely seen as racist.

“We will immediately begin the largest criminal deportation operation in our country’s history,” Trump said, echoing his promise to deport millions of undocumented immigrants inside the U.S.

To this, the crowd cheered: “Send them back! Send them back!”

“They want to get us from within,” Trump said, “I think they’re building an army.”

In another authoritarian moment, after saying that people "hate it" when he brings up Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, Trump promised to embolden police who go after the “radical left.” 

"I'm going to indemnify all police officers and law enforcement officials throughout the United States to protect them from being destroyed by the radical left for taking strong actions on crime," Trump vowed.

It wouldn’t be a 2024 campaign event without a verbal flub, and Trump delivered, calling the crowd “hard-working patri-isch-tic” before giving up on the sentence and moving on.

Trump, who will face off against his one-time opponent and incumbent President Biden on June 27 in Atlanta, Georgia, capped off his remarks by calling the event “a love fest” despite the hundreds of counter-protesters, including representatives from multiple labor unions, outside the rally carrying banners reading, in both English and Spanish, “The Bronx says no to Trump.”

By Griffin Eckstein

Griffin Eckstein is a News Fellow at Salon. He is a student journalist at New York University, having previously written for the independent student paper Washington Square News, the New York Post, and Morning Brew.

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