Trump steers allies and opponents on the right to a new enemy: Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg

Everyone from Ron DeSantis to Marjorie Taylor Greene is using the same playbook.

Donald Trump’s hold on the Republican Party might be slipping in polls, but Republican leaders still follow his cues as they respond to breaking news — even when the news is that the former president may be hours away from being indicted.

In a Truth Social post, Trump on Saturday called for protests if he is indicted and named a new boogeyman in his legal troubles: Alvin Bragg, the Manhattan district attorney, who the former president called “CORRUPT,” “HIGHLY POLITICAL” and “FUNDED BY GEORGE SOROS.”

The investigation constitutes an “outrageous abuse of power by a radical DA,” House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) tweeted. “The radical Manhattan DA has made no secret his priority is pursuing his far-left agenda,” tweeted Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel, adding that “major crimes are up 22% in NYC but he is outrageously using his office for political vengeance,” echoing Trump’s criticism on Truth Social that “THE SOROS BACKED D.A. ALLOWS MURDERERS & OTHER VIOLENT CRIMINALS TO FREELY ROAM THE SIDEWAKS OF N.Y.”

The following morning, Mike Pence — a potential rival to Trump in 2024 — called out Bragg, and New York crime, on ABC’s “This Week”: “At the time when there’s a crime wave in New York City, the fact that the Manhattan DA thinks that indicting President Trump is his top priority I think just tells you everything you need to know about the radical left.” Even Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who had criticized Trump in the very same press conference, recycled those same talking points, saying Bragg is a “Soros-funded prosecutor” using his office to “impose a political agenda on society at the expense of the rule of law and public safety.”

Trump’s attack, and its echo across the Republican Party, had a familiar ring. While onlookers and media continue to cast doubt on Trump’s hold over his party, Republicans are still quick to take up the cause of the former president — even if it means casting doubt on law enforcement or the justice system, two systems conservatives in the past defended with fervor. The Republican Party’s echoing of Trump meanwhile gives tacit permission to the more extreme pro-Trump wing of the party to call for action and even use violent language about Bragg online, national security experts told Grid.

“The strategy is to use the threat of violence to change outcomes,” said Rachel Kleinfeld, a security expert and senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. “The intimidation is very real. I’ve spoken with individuals associated with the 2020 election who really thought they were in danger of losing their lives from Trump-created mobs.”

Attacking Bragg has allowed top politicians to deflect from discussing the looming potential that a former president could be indicted at any hour.

Violent language against Bragg started to surface. Users on Twitter and pro-Trump message boards started expressing hatred and using violent language targeting Bragg online, according to an analysis by Advance Democracy, which conducts public-interest research.

One Truth Social user wrote that they would “celebrate someone taking out that criminal DA.”

“Trump’s calls to ‘protest’ in response to his reported impending arrest have led to threats of violence against government officials and law enforcement,” said Daniel Jones, founder of Advance Democracy.

“Coded dog whistles”

While Washington officials gave measured responses to the news of Trump’s potential indictment on Twitter and cable news, widely read pro-Trump accounts online didn’t necessarily follow suit. In addition to attacking Bragg, some high-profile users on Twitter and sites that focus on the right warned violence and war are afoot.

“Antifa and BLM thugs are gathering their Trump attire as we speak and preparing to riot and cause destruction. … Because it’s what Soros pays them to do,” tweeted Juanita Broaddrick, who posts as @atensnut and has 726,800 followers. As of Tuesday, the tweet had more than 18,000 likes.

In a few cases, Republican lawmakers and party leaders explicitly asked for nonviolence if the former president is indicted. While gathered with Republican lawmakers at a retreat in Orlando, Florida, the next day, McCarthy also downplayed Trump’s remarks and urged “calmness” if there is an indictment.

But Trump’s presidency was marred by incidents during which ardent supporters veered to the right of the Republican Party, said Jacob Ware, a counterterrorism expert and fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.

“There’s an ongoing path here, where President Trump makes coded dog whistles to his supporters, who take that language and move forward to more violent actions,” said Ware. “So those of us working on the security and counterterrorism side of this are on very high alert this week.”

These moments have not always resulted in riots or widespread violence, Ware noted. Extremist violence has been carried out by lone actors, like the armed man who tried to storm an Ohio FBI office in August of 2022, after posting threats on Truth Social about the FBI search at Mar-a-Lago. And as the Jan. 6, 2021, rioters’ calls to “hang Mike Pence” showed, Democrats are not the only potential targets of violence — Republican politicians, law enforcement and election officials have faced threats, too.

An unlikely boogeyman?

Bragg, a Harvard Law School alumni with a yearslong history in law enforcement in New York, would be an unlikely target if it weren’t for his office’s investigation into Trump.

He has not always appeared gung ho about investigating the former president. When Bragg took office as district attorney in early 2022, he reportedly expressed doubts about the ongoing investigation into whether Trump made hush money payments related to his romantic life during the 2016 election.

A year later, Bragg’s office appears to have plowed ahead: Prosecutors recently asked Trump to come testify in front of a grand jury, an indication that he could be indicted soon in the case.

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