How Trump’s 2024 presidential bid is dominated by extremist rhetoric

Former President Trump’s speech in Waco, Texas, sparked concerns over the signal it sent to right-wing extremists and a base that continues to believe the 2020 election was stolen. UC San Diego professor Barbara F. Walter and The Atlantic’s executive editor Adrienne LaFrance join Laura Barrón-López to discuss the extremist rhetoric that dominates Trump’s 2024 message.

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  • Amna Nawaz:

    Former President Trump's speech in Waco sparked concerns over the signal it sent to right-wing extremists and a base that continues to believe the 2020 election was stolen.

    Laura Barrón-López takes a deeper look at how the former president's 2024 message is dominated by extremist rhetoric.

  • Laura Barrón-López:

    Trump's anti-government rhetoric is part of a larger pattern by the former president and his allies to discredit and attack federal law enforcement and government institutions. Such threats could again result in violence, experts warn.

    Barbara F. Walter is a professor at U.C. San Diego and expert in violent extremism. And Adrienne LaFrance, the executive editor of "The Atlantic." Her latest piece, "The New Anarchy," delves into the history of political violence in America.

    Barbara and Adrienne, thank you so much for joining us.

    Barbara, I want to start with you.

    Trump just held his first big 2024 rally in Waco, Texas. What's the significance of holding it there?

    Barbara F. Walter, Author, "How Civil Wars Start": Oh, well, this is the 30 year anniversary of the big siege that happened there, which, for many in the far right, especially those groups that are anti-federal government, they see this as the perfect example of government overreach, everything that's wrong with the federal government.

    And, of course, Trump right now is facing an indictment by the federal government, which, to him, is the biggest threat to his future presidency, to his candidacy, to his life in some ways. So he is in a fight for his life, and the federal government is his enemy. Waco is the symbol to the far right of government overreach.

  • Laura Barrón-López:

    And, Adrienne in your piece titled "New Anarchy," you explore years of political violence, some by militia groups in America and abroad.

    And you focus heavily on violent clashes in Portland in 2020, you report, that were instigated by right-wing extremists. Do you think that those clashes in 2020 in Portland are a warning that they could potentially happen on a larger scale nationally?

    Adrienne LaFrance, Executive Editor, "The Atlantic": I think that, when you talk to people in Portland, you hear some who would say that what happened there was really unique to Portland and not necessarily replicable.

    But when you look at it sort of broadly, the sense that right-wing extremists can find a city that may be left-leaning, or disproportionately represented by left-leaning folks, and go there and sort of draw them out into violence, which is what happened in Portland, certainly, you can imagine that happening in other blue cities surrounded by red exurbs.

    And so I think, more than that, though, it's less about replicating what happened in Portland and more just the sense that political violence is, by pretty much every measure, worsening in America, and paying attention to sort of the how that trend line is going and what we should be doing about it.

  • Laura Barrón-López:

    And, Barbara, talking about the potential ideologies that are underneath and what's pushing that political violence, Trump's rhetoric during his Waco speech was seen by some historians as a dog whistle to white nationalists.

  • Donald Trump:

    We will build new monuments to our great American heroes. We won't tear him down. We will clean them up.


  • Donald Trump:

    Clean out homeless camps from our inner cities, get rid of ugly buildings that are hurting those cities and other places, and return to the magnificent, classical style of Western civilization.

    We will support baby bonuses — so many people like that — for the new baby boom that will be coming. We need babies.

  • Laura Barrón-López:

    Barbara, what's the message there? And who is that for?

  • Barbara F. Walter:

    The message is that America is, a country of white Christians. And, in fact, sometimes, he will go further. It's white male Christians.

    He will talk about how that is the America, that it's always been that way and should always be that way. When he talks about this baby boom, he is talking about white babies that need to be born in order to ensure that whites will remain a majority in this country, which, as of today, they will not.

    The only way to prevent whites from becoming a minority in this country is for white people to have more babies. And that's what he's calling for.

  • Laura Barrón-López:

    Adrienne, your piece, as well as Barbara's work, talks about how rhetoric like that can lead to political violence.

    And you specifically explore political violence in Italy across the 17 — across the '70s and '80s known as the Years of Lead. And then you also mentioned lynchings of Black people in response to Reconstruction.

    One of your conclusions you write is — quote — "Sometimes, violence ends not because it is overcome, but because it has achieved its goal."

    You appear to essentially be saying that some cataclysmic event like an assassination of a politician is what could ultimately end this political violence. Why?

  • Adrienne LaFrance:

    Well, something I have heard from people over and over in my reporting was that, in fact, we haven't yet reached a point that has led to enough Americans to take this problem seriously, and that perhaps, as horrific as it is to contemplate, that it'll take something worse.

    Some of the examples that came up were the Oklahoma City bombing, which was one of the horrific events that eventually sort of tamped down or at least pushed underground some of the militia movement of the '80s and the — the 1980s and 1990s.

    But, again, I mean, we would never wish for such an event anyway. And there is some question of what sort of cataclysm would even — quote, unquote — "work," because, you look at January 6, and after that event, many people said, well, this certainly will bring the decent Republicans to their senses, they will stand up and sort of right the ship and say what their party actually stands for and condemn violence.

    And that certainly hasn't happened. And so there's a real question as to what it might take to help the country come to its senses in this moment.

  • Laura Barrón-López:

    Barbara, on attacks on law enforcement officials and top officials, we have seen that Trump has been attacking in his Waco speech, as well as in recent days, has been attacking the Manhattan district attorney, Alvin Bragg.

    And some House Republicans have also been attacking the Manhattan district attorney, saying that they're going to investigate him. This is the district attorney that's investigating the hush money payments during the 2016 campaign. And Bragg has been subject to death threats.

    Are you concerned that — right now about the potential for political violence?

  • Barbara F. Walter:

    I'm actually feeling a bit optimistic right now. But this could change pretty quickly. And I will tell you why.

    I'm optimistic because, in the months and the weeks leading up to January 6, 2021, Trump was on Twitter aggressively tweeting. He had almost 90 million followers. He had this enormous bullhorn from which he could get his message out, he could foment anger. He could basically play to the fears and the anger that were out there with a subset of Americans.

    Today, he has only about two million active users of his own social media platform. That's a significantly smaller reach. Bullies and wannabe autocrats need a bullhorn. Social — big social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook and YouTube provide a great tool for them.

    Trump hasn't had that. He doesn't have it right now. He hasn't been willing to move over to Twitter, for example, even though Elon Musk has allowed him to go back there. And he hasn't done that, because he doesn't want to lose the revenue that he's getting from subscribers to his own platform.

    But he's going to realize that having this smaller reach is hurting him, and he's going to move over there. And when he moves over there, he suddenly is going to have his bullhorn back.

  • Laura Barrón-López:

    Adrienne, you try to diagnose a solution, potentially, for the political violence in your piece. You say that the solution to avoid the constant violence is that Americans have to confront their underlying ideologies and confront where it first takes root, which is in the mind of citizens.

    How does that happen right now, when, across red states, there's an effort to censor history, to censor Black history, to censor LGBTQ history?

  • Adrienne LaFrance:

    So, two things we see different today relative to other — the many other periods in American history where we have experienced political violence, are the social Web, as you just mentioned, and this incredible scale of these platforms, where you can have extremists thoughts sort of spread in an instant.

    And the other is the success of the election denial movement. And I think addressing both of those things is crucial. And that requires the American people to really prioritize ending political violence and vote accordingly.

    I think that goes to your question as well about this active attempt in many states and among many leaders to suppress the teaching of history, for example, and to fight that as well.

  • Laura Barrón-López:

    Adrienne LaFrance, Barbara Walter, thank you so much for your time.

  • Adrienne LaFrance:

    Thank you.

  • Barbara F. Walter:

    My pleasure.

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