PALM BEACH, Fla. (NewsNation) — Former President Donald Trump’s calls for protests ahead of his anticipated indictment in New York have raised questions about whether he, although a leading Republican contender in the 2024 presidential race who retains a devoted following, still has the power to mobilize supporters the way he did before the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.
Many supporters answered that call, gathering with signs and flags in support of Trump in Palm Beach over the weekend. Some supporters told NewsNation that they’ll be back at his Florida estate, Mar-a-Lago, Monday and Tuesday for what they described as a “big rally.”
Trump claimed on his Truth Social platform that he expected to be arrested on Tuesday and exhorted followers to protest, writing, “IT’S TIME!!! WE ARE A NATION IN STEEP DECLINE.”
Law enforcement in New York is continuing to closely monitor online chatter warning of protests and violence if Trump is arrested, with threats varying in specificity and credibility, four officials told The Associated Press. Mainly posted online and in chat groups, the messages have included calls for armed protesters to block law enforcement officers and attempt to stop any potential arrest, the officials said.
The New York Young Republicans Club has announced plans for a protest at an undisclosed location in Manhattan on Monday, and incendiary but isolated posts surfaced on fringe social media platforms from supporters calling for an armed confrontation with law enforcement at Trump’s Florida estate, Mar-a-Lago.
Law enforcement in Palm Beach hasn’t confirmed to NewsNation whether they’ll increase security around Mar-a-Lago.
Supports told NewsNation they’re backing of Trump isn’t changing.
“I mean, you could keep going after him, and the outcomes are all going to be the same, and it’s only going to incite more people to come out and support. And that’s what it’s about. It is the more people we have to show everybody (it) doesn’t matter. We’re still gonna support him, and he’s gonna run, and he’s gonna win,” said Debbie Macchia, a Trump supporter.
Yet, nearly three days after, there were few signs his appeal had inspired his supporters to organize and rally around an event like the Jan. 6 melee.
Ali Alexander, who as an organizer of the “Stop the Steal” movement staged rallies to promote Trump’s baseless claims that Democrats stole the 2020 election from him, warned Trump’s supporters that they would be “jailed or worse” if they protested in New York City.
“You have no liberty or rights there,” he tweeted.
One of Alexander’s allies in the “Stop the Steal” campaign was conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, who amplified the election fraud claims on his “Infowars” show. Alexander posted that he had spoken to Jones and said that neither of them would be protesting this time around.
“We’ve both got enough going on fighting the government,” Alexander wrote. “No billionaire is covering our bills.”
That stands in contrast to the days before the Capitol riot when Trump stoked up supporters when he invited them to Washington for a “big protest” on Jan. 6, tweeting, “Be there, will be wild!” Thousands of Trump supporters stormed the Capitol that day, busting through windows and violently clashing with officers in an ultimately failed effort to stop the congressional certification of President-elect Joe Biden’s victory.
Since then, about 1,000 participants in the melee have been arrested, many racking up steep legal bills and expressing regret and contrition in court for their actions. Some have complained of feeling abandoned by Trump.
Meanwhile, political analysts have questioned whether a possible arrest would increase or potentially jeopardize Trump’s support beyond his base.
“I think the assumption amongst many people looking at this primary right now, is that it’s Donald Trump’s to lose. I don’t believe that getting arrested compromises that significantly. I do think it compromises to be clear, his ability to be elected president. and I think that’s the bigger concern that Republicans have to look at. If the goal is to recapture the White House in 2024, Donald Trump probably is not the vessel through which that happens,” said Lanhee Chen, a Hoover Institute senior fellow at Stanford University.
Trump’s own vice president, Mike Pence, who is expected to challenge Trump for the Republican nomination, castigated Trump in an ABC News interview this weekend as “reckless” for his actions on Jan. 6 and said history would hold him accountable — even as he echoed the former president’s rhetoric that an indictment would be a “politically charged prosecution.”
“I have no doubt that President Trump knows how to take care of himself. And he will. But that doesn’t make it right to have a politically charged prosecution of a former president of the United States of America,” Pence said.
The opening day of the House Republican conference in Orlando was quickly overshadowed by the news of a potential indictment. Speaker Kevin McCarthy and other House Republicans called the possibility outrageous and criticized District Attorney Alvin Bragg for what they called “reckless crime” in New York City.
McCarthy said he has assembled congressional investigators to probe if Bragg used Justice Department grants to pursue the Trump case. But despite the heated rhetoric toward Bragg, Republican leaders stopped short of Trump’s calls for protesters to “take our nation back.”
“I don’t think people should protest this. I think President Trump, when you talk to him, he doesn’t think that either,” McCarthy said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.