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Donald Trump holds first 2024 election rally in Waco, Texas

March 26, 2023

Former US President Donald Trump railed against "phony investigations" and "witch hunts" at a rally in the small Texan city best known for a lethal 1993 siege between law enforcement and followers of an extremist sect.

Donald Trump in Waco with American flags and his hand over his heart
Waco is most famous for the siege on the Branch Davidian compound in 1993Image: Go Nakamura/REUTERS

Donald Trump used his first election rally in Waco, Texas, on Saturday to rail against prosecutors investigating him and try to fire up his base ahead of next year's Republican primary elections. 

At a gathering at Waco's airport, Trump said that the investigations swirling around him were "something straight out of the Stalinist Russia horror show." 

"From the beginning it's been one witch hunt and phony investigation after another," he said. 

Although he faces multiple investigations and court cases, Trump was most likely referring to prosecutors in Manhattan probing campaign finance violations stemming from his alleged payment of hush money to an adult film actress, known as Stormy Daniels, ahead of the 2016 election. 

Last Saturday, without providing any reasoning, Trump said he expected to be arrested in a few days in connection with the case, calling on people to protest if that came to pass. His supposed arrest or indictment on the following Tuesday never materialized.

Trump has been trying to turn the prospect of his prosecution or arrest to his advantage, often referring to the cases in his fundraising appeals.

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., speaks before former President Donald Trump at a campaign rally at Waco Regional Airport Saturday, March 25, 2023, in Waco, Texas.
Marjorie Taylor Greene was one of the Republicans Trump was able to bring along for what he billed as his first major campaign rallyImage: Nathan Howard/AP Photo/picture alliance

Who else was there? 

Other Republicans and celebrities spoke at the event in support of Trump, although he could only recruit Congresspeople based far away from Texas known for being on the far-right fringe of the Republican Party. 

Florida Congressman Matt Gaetz and Georgia Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor-Greene traveled from their East Coast constituencies to speak, while rock musician Ted Nugent also featured. 

Nugent questioned US military aid to Ukraine, repeatedly saying "I want my money back," and called President Volodymyr Zelenskyy a "homosexual weirdo." 

Trump ran over several longstanding grievances during his speech, for instance repeatedly claiming he was the rightful winner of the 2020 election and also saying that "demonic forces" were working to plunge the country into a "lawless abyss" unless he was re-elected in 2024.

"Either the Deep State destroys America or we destroy the Deep State," Trump said at one point.

He also said that some US politicians who have become more critical of him, such as Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, posed a greater threat to the country than Russia or China did.

Donald Trump speaking at the podium at a rally in Waco, Texas, March 25, 2023.
Trump's 'Make America Great Again!' slogan was unchanged from 2016 and 2020, as were the placards saying 'Witch Hunt' carried by his supportersImage: Nathan Howard/AP Photo/picture alliance

Waco a loaded location for American right

The Trump rally in Waco coincides with the city marking the 30th anniversary of a 1993 raid by federal agents against the compound of a radicalized religious sect, the Branch Davidians, that degenerated into a shootout, then a protracted siege, and ultimately a fatal fire. 

In all, 86 people were killed including four law enforcement officers. 

Many on the far-right in American politics still point to the siege as an example of government overreach. Critics said Trump deliberately chose the comparatively small city of around 140,000 people for symbolic purposes. 

Trump's campaign, meanwhile, said that the city was conveniently located between several larger population centers in Texas and had sufficient infrastructure for the event.

Unclear what Trump's nomination chances are

With more than a year still to run before a Republican presidential candidate is likely to emerge, opinions vary on Trump's chances of securing the GOP nomination. Some see him as discredited beyond repair, others as still the candidate with the most widespread name-recognition.

Many pollsters and analysts are focused on Florida Governor Ron DeSantis as perhaps posing the biggest threat to Trump. 

"I'm not a big fan," Trump said of DeSantis at Saturday's rally, accusing him of planning to cut social security. "Florida has been tremendously successful for many years, before this guy became governor." 

Trump also opened the rally by airing a song, "Justice for All." It features a choir of men imprisoned for their role in the January 6, 2021 attempted insurrection at the US Capitol by Trump supporters singing the US national anthem, and a recording of Trump reciting the Pledge of Allegiance. 

John Bolton on Conflict Zone

msh/ar (AP, Reuters)