Editor’s Note: Dean Obeidallah, a former attorney, is the host of SiriusXM radio’s daily program “The Dean Obeidallah Show.” Follow him @DeanObeidallah@masto.ai. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his own. View more opinion on CNN.
Former President Donald Trump knows his base better than anyone. He should understand that his words in the past have been followed by acts of violence by some supporters — ranging from incidents at his campaign rallies to the January 6, 2021, attack on the US Capitol.
That is why it’s deeply alarming that on Saturday, Trump called on his supporters to “Protest, take our nation back” if the Manhattan district attorney, Alvin Bragg, charges him with crimes. In the post on his social media site, Truth Social, Trump said he expected to be arrested Tuesday, although his team said afterward it had not received any notification from prosecutors.
Later Saturday, in a follow-up on Truth Social, Trump repeated the message in all caps, writing, “THEY’RE KILLING OUR NATION AS WE SIT BACK & WATCH. WE MUST SAVE AMERICA! PROTEST, PROTEST, PROTEST!!!”
Trump’s latest call for protests instantly conjures up his infamous December 19, 2020, tweet alleging election fraud and announcing, “Big protest in D.C. on January 6th,” adding, “Be there, will be wild!” As federal prosecutors and the January 6 House committee that investigated the attack have laid out, some Trump supporters saw that tweet as a call to arms.
Kelly Meggs, a leader of the Florida chapter of the paramilitary group the Oath Keepers, is just one example. Referencing Trump’s “wild” tweet, Meggs wrote in a Facebook message in late December 2020, “Trump said It’s gonna be wild!!!!!!! It’s gonna be wild!!!!!!! He wants us to make it WILD that’s what he’s saying. He called us all to the Capitol and wants us to make it wild!!! Sir Yes Sir!!! Gentlemen we are heading to DC pack your s***!!”
Meggs has since been convicted — along with Oath Keepers leader Stewart Rhodes — of seditious conspiracy for roles in the January 6 attack.
It isn’t the first time Trump has called for protests if he is charged with a crime. The former president began priming his base back in January 2022 when he told supporters to take to the streets if any prosecutor, anywhere, charges him — not just the Manhattan district attorney. At a campaign-style rally in Texas, Trump said: “If these radical, vicious, racist prosecutors do anything wrong or illegal, I hope we are going to have in this country the biggest protests we have ever had in Washington, DC, in New York, in Atlanta and elsewhere.”
Before the January 6 attack, Trump’s call for “protests” could be seen as an attempt to feed his ego by urging supporters to attend his rallies. In a post-January 6 America, however, it could be viewed as a potential attempt to replicate the insurrection. But this time, the desperate Trump wants his supporters to protect him from being held accountable for potential crimes.
This scenario seems to have played out after the FBI’s August 8 search of Trump’s Mar-a-Lago residence in the investigation of handling classified documents following a court-approved warrant. Trump released a statement shortly afterward that read in part, “These are dark times for our Nation, as my beautiful home, Mar-A-Lago in Palm Beach, Florida, is currently under siege, raided, and occupied by a large group of FBI agents,” slamming what he called the “political persecution.” Two days later he baselessly accused the FBI of potentially planting evidence.
It is not surprising that the FBI was soon subject to an “unprecedented” number of threats against bureau personnel and property. One person — who had in the past repeated the false 2020 election claims on Trump’s social media platform — tried to breach an FBI field office in Cincinnati and was killed in a shootout with police.
The former president also has repeatedly floated pardoning the January 6 attackers should he be reelected — even claiming they deserve an “apology.” Trump’s message is clear: I will have your back if I can get back in the White House.
It’s reassuring to see that Bragg, the Manhattan district attorney, told his staff by email Saturday night, “We do not tolerate attempts to intimidate our office or threaten the rule of law in New York.” While not mentioning Trump by name, he added, “Our law enforcement partners will ensure that any specific or credible threats against the office will be fully investigated and that the proper safeguards are in place so all 1,600 of us have a secure work environment.”
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This email sounds like something you would hear from a prosecutor in a case involving a terrorist leader or mob boss. But that is where we are as a nation given what has happened in the past few years.
If the facts and the law warrant criminal charges, Trump should face an indictment, just as any of us would. And if there is an incitement of violence, criminal charges should also be brought in that regard. No one is above the law — not even Donald J. Trump.