Trump says supporters are threatened with jail for refusing to denounce him as he warns they are a ‘sleeping giant’

Former president Donald Trump on Saturday levelled new, outlandish accusations at the Biden administration by claiming that federal authorities are now threatening his supporters with decades in prison unless they agree to say negative things about him.

Mr Trump made the bizarre claim not ten minutes into a subdued, rambling speech to an under-capacity crowd at the Covelli Centre in Youngstown, Ohio. Ostensibly a rally in support of Ohio Senate candidate JD Vance, Mr Trump’s remarks were instead peppered with what is now a familiar litany of grievances, grudges, and complaints about the myriad investigations into his conduct by federal and state prosecutors in Washington, DC, Fulton County, Georgia, and elsewhere.

The twice-impeached ex-president accused those prosecutors and the House January 6 select committee of showing “no shame, no morals, no conscience and absolutely no respect for the citizens of our country” by daring to look into whether he broke any number of US laws by trying to overturn the 2020 election or retaining classified documents at his Florida beach club long after his term in the White House was over.

Mr Trump also cast himself as the victim of unscrupulous actors who have “harassed, investigated, defamed, slandered and persecuted” him “like no other president and probably like no one in American history,” though he neglected to note that no other president has tried to block the inauguration of his successor by inciting a violent mob in hopes of disrupting Congress’ certification of his loss.

“They go to people that know me and they threaten them with jail time unless [they] say something bad about Trump … they take good people in they say you’re going to jail for 10 years — you’re going to jail for five years — unless you say something bad about Trump, in which case you won’t have to go to jail,” he said.

The ex-president also once again hinted at violence if he ever faces any criminal charges as a result of any investigations into his conduct, accusing investigators of being “thugs and tyrants” who are “attacking” his extremist “Make America Great Again” movement by daring to consider whether he has committed any crimes.

“The thugs and tyrants attacking our movement … have no idea of the sleeping giant that they have awoken,” he said.

And most tellingly, he insisted that any Republican majority to take power in 2023 would face immense pressure to fight back against the FBI and Justice Department, no matter what form that resistance takes.

“Republican majorities will have to move quickly to remove the rot in our federal law enforcement agencies,” he said.

Saturday’s rally in front of an amped-up crowd of diehard supporters mirrored many of the president’s previous events, which take on the same characteristics regardless of which city the former president selects to hold court. There were call-outs of Democrats, denouncements of the “far-left education cartel”, and other appeals to the culture war.

One of the most applause-garnering lines of the night came when the ex-president insisted that far-left radicals were “teaching transgender” to American students, the latest attempt by the right to smear teachers as agents of a leftist agenda.

Mr Trump took one portion of the speech to shout-out Maga-aligned Republicans who attended the rally alongside him – obvious guests included Mr Vance and other Ohioans like Congressman Jim Jordan, while a few other Republicans from out of state were also called out from stage, to cheering fans, including Marjorie Taylor Greene.

Ms Greene stood up and waved to the crowd as a jubilant Trump oddly insinuated that the congresswoman would shoot any intruders who came to her house – an apparent reference to the “swatting” of Ms Greene’s house by police.

Others, like Pennsylvania’s GOP gubernatorial nominee Doug Mastriano, were also sitting among Mr Trump’s allies in the guest area. Dr Mehmet Oz, not present for the rally, was nevertheless shouted out by the president several times as well, including once when the president cheered on a local GOP official who had recently lost 150 pounds.

Not all of those gathered in Youngstown on Saturday were Mr Trump’s fans, however; a small group of roughly a dozen protesters camped out a few blocks from the rally, attracting supportive honks as well as angry yells from passing opponents and supporters of the president, respectively.

One, identified to The Independent as Our Revolution volunteer Chucky Dennison, made it into the rally. He was escorted out during Mr Trump’s remarks just seconds after unfurling a banner blaming the president for the closure of an auto plant in Lordstown which the president falsely took credit for “saving” in 2017.

Though Mr Trump’s appearance in Youngstown was billed as a rally for a ticket’s worth of candidates who’ve garnered his endorsement, the thousands of supporters who piled into the Covelli Center didn’t appear to have much interest in anyone but the ex-president. The arena appeared mostly empty for much of the evening, with a large number of rally goers arriving just before Mr Trump was set to speak.

Some attendees skipped the arena entirely, instead choosing to watch the president’s remarks from lawn chairs set up in the nearby parking lot so as to better enjoy the mild late-summer evening.

The majority of rally attendees who spoke to The Independent expressed significant enthusiasm for Mr Trump’s widely-expected 2024 presidential run, while precious few said they felt a similar ardour for Mr Vance. But they nonetheless expressed strong resistance or outright hostility to the possibility of supporting Mr Vance’s opponent, Ohio Representative Tim Ryan.

Though Mr Trump’s rallies have long been a venue for boastful talk about his accomplishments and the state of the country under his leadership, the ex-president spent significant portions of his prepared remarks denigrating the country he once led — and hopes to lead once more — in depressing and derisive terms.

In what has become a set piece to close his political rallies in recent weeks, Mr Trump spoke over swelling musical about the United States being “in decline” and “a failing nation” because — among other reasons — the Biden administration is promoting the adoption of electric vehicles.

He also claimed the US has “allowed Russia to devastate … Ukraine” even though US and Nato-backed Ukrainian forces have been steadily pushing Russian troops from a succession of areas in recent weeks.

As many audience members raised their hands in what appeared to be gestures of prayer more appropriate for a church sanctuary than a political rally, the twice-impeached president spoke of “rampant crime” in a country that has “lost its way” because voters chose not to return him to the White House for a second term.

Mr Trump also claimed — falsely — that the US “no longer has a free press” or a “fair press” while attacking legitimate news outlets as “fake” and “the enemy of the people”.

“We are a nation that no longer has a free press,” he warned, while predicting “World War III” around the corner.

Continuing, Mr Trump claimed the US is “a nation that is no longer respected or listened to around the world” and said the country has “become a joke,” with the clear implication that only his return to the White House could halt the supposed massive slide towards inferiority.

“We will soon be a great nation again,” the disgraced former president promised, if his supporters would continue to back him and his allies.

He left the stage shortly before 9.30 pm local time, leaving supporters to file out into the pleasant summer air; crowds began leaving the venue past local vendors still hawking signs reading “Let’s Go Brandon”, and “Ultra-Maga”.

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