Editor’s Note: Dean Obeidallah, a former attorney, is the host of SiriusXM radio’s daily program “The Dean Obeidallah Show” and a columnist for The Daily Beast. Follow him @DeanObeidallah. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his own. View more opinion on CNN.
Former President Donald Trump gave his first public speech this weekend since President Joe Biden warned Americans in a televised address that “Trump and the MAGA Republicans represent an extremism that threatens the very foundations of our republic.” And how did Trump respond? By proving Biden 100% correct.
At his rally Saturday in Pennsylvania, Trump was not content to serve up more lies about the 2020 election that he lost. He did far worse: He used his platform to demonize the FBI, Justice Department and the federal magistrate who signed the warrant authorizing the August 8 search of his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida. These are among the officials seeking the return of classified material and other government documents that Trump took with him when he left the White House.
Trump’s remarks are even more alarming given the unprecedented spike in threats against the FBI since the search of Mar-a-Lago. These threats have been so concerning that federal prosecutors recently asked a federal judge to redact the names of FBI agents and any others who provided relevant information to the bureau before publicly releasing an affidavit submitted in support of the search warrant.
The heated rhetoric is meant to engage – and could enrage – his base. Let’s not forget that a Trump supporter incensed over Mar-a-Lago the search waged an armed attack on an FBI office in Ohio and died in a subsequent confrontation with the police. There have also been antisemitic threats directed at the federal magistrate who approved the search warrant.
All that notwithstanding, Trump stirred more anger toward law enforcement, prosecutors and our judiciary in Saturday night’s speech – and even used dehumanizing language to describe them. “The FBI and the Justice Department have become vicious monsters, controlled by radical-left scoundrels, lawyers and the media, who tell them what to do,” the ex-President said.
Trump then falsely declared that the search was “one of the most shocking abuses of power by any administration in American history,” painting a fallacious picture of what was widely considered a measured and reasonable undertaking.
Trump also claimed indignantly that the FBI agents “did a deep and ugly search of the room of my 16-year-old son.” Now, we don’t know if his son’s room was, in fact, searched, but the latest documents released by the court noted that nearly 50 folders marked as classified and recovered during the search were empty. It would seem well within reason for the FBI to exercise its due diligence and examine his son’s room while searching Mar-a-Lago for highly sensitive documents. Framing such a search as “deep and ugly” seems designed to inflame passions.
Trump’s effort to rile up his base was also evident in his vilification of the judge who approved the search warrant. Trump declared that the entire search was based on a “phony pretext from a highly political magistrate who they hand-picked late in the evening just days before the break-in.” In fact, the judge ended up with the case entirely by chance. And legal experts have said there is nothing to suggest that he handled the case in an untoward way.
And as the speech went on, Trump made the attacks personal, telling his supporters: “They’re trying to silence me, and more importantly, they’re trying to silence you.”
No, the FBI isn’t trying to silence Trump’s supporters – it is investigating potential crimes that Trump or others may have committed in connection with the handling of classified and unclassified documents that belong to us – not him. The former President has insisted he declassified all the documents seized in the FBI’s search of Mar-a-Lago.
Trump knows his base better than anyone. He understands that a subset of his MAGA supporters have shown themselves willing to commit violence in his name. Some of those who were arrested over the attack on the US Capitol on January 6, 2021, have explained to prosecutors that their actions were an answer to Trump’s call, at a speech before they stormed the building, to “fight like hell.” That was the sentiment shared by Trump supporter Stephen Ayres, who told the January 6 committee in July that Trump had called him to Washington on January 6. “We basically were just following what he said,” Ayres testified.
Trump knows all of this. He nevertheless is following the same playbook as he did after the 2020 election that preceded the January 6 attack, but this time with repeated dangerous attacks upon our law enforcement and judiciary.
Before January 6, one could dismiss Trump’s words as heated political rhetoric. But in a post-January 6 America, we ignore Trump’s words at our own peril – and that of our democracy. Biden raised alarm bells in his speech on Thursday about the threat posed by Trump and some members of the MAGA movement. “History tells us that blind loyalty to a single leader and a willingness to engage in political violence is fatal to democracy,” the President said.
Biden is right. The only question is whether it will take another January 6-style attack before enough Americans understand the real threat that Trump poses to our democratic republic.