Trump's Choice of Waco is Waving the Bloody Shirt to the Far RightRoundup
tags: far right, Waco, Donald Trump, Oklahoma City Bombing
Nicole Hemmer is an associate professor of history and director of the Carolyn T. and Robert M. Rogers Center for the Study of the Presidency at Vanderbilt University. She is the author of “Messengers of the Right: Conservative Media and the Transformation of American Politics” and “Partisans: The Conservative Revolutionaries Who Remade American Politics in the 1990s.”
For a presidential campaign, rally locations often serve double duty: putting the candidate in front of supporters while sending a message about the campaign.
When Barack Obama launched his presidential bid in 2007, he chose to speak at the Old State Capitol in Illinois, the place where Abraham Lincoln launched his political career with his famed “House Divided” speech. When Ronald Reagan wanted to bolster his support among White southern voters in 1980, he traveled to Neshoba County, Mississippi – where three civil rights workers had been murdered in the 1960s – and gave a speech on states’ rights. When Pat Buchanan sought to underscore his connection to the Confederacy in 1992, he made a beeline for Stone Mountain, Georgia, site of a monument to Confederate leaders.
Likewise, Donald Trump’s decision to hold the first rally of his 2024 bid for the White House in Waco, Texas, sends a powerful message about his unfolding presidential campaign. The rally coincides with the 30th anniversary of a siege just outside of Waco between religious extremists, a sect known as the Branch Davidians led by David Koresh, and the federal government. The 51-day standoff began in February 1993 and ended in mid-April with a fire that killed 76 people, including 25 children.
Trump is no stranger to place-based controversy. In June 2020, he chose Tulsa, Oklahoma, as the site to restart his in-person rallies, after pausing them for first few months of the pandemic. The combination of the place — the site of one of the deadliest racist pogroms in US history — and the date — Juneteenth, the day that marks when news of emancipation reached enslaved people in Texas — was quickly called out for the provocation it was. Kamala Harris, who had not yet been selected as Joe Biden’s running mate, recoiled at the choice on Twitter, writing, “This isn’t just a wink to white supremacists — he’s throwing them a welcome home party.” (The Trump campaign moved the rally to the next day.)
Trump clearly knows the power of place. In the case of Waco, it is not just a provocation but a signal, likely to be read by those who have used force on Trump’s behalf as an invitation. For the past three decades, this incident has been a key element of far-right mythology: a rallying cry for armed resistance to the federal government and its representatives. For Trump, whose first term ended with an assault on the US Capitol, the choice to rally in Waco sends a clear message that will energize proponents of far-right extremism among his base.
The Waco siege occurred in the midst of a period of growing far-right, anti-government activism in the United States. The modern movement, marked by military-style training, weapons stockpiles and political violence, emerged in the Mountain West and Pacific Northwest during the 1970s and grew as time went on. Groups such as the Posse Comitatus, Christian Identity, sovereign citizens and Aryan Nations developed radical anti-government philosophies often rooted in White supremacy and armed rebellion, a development historian Kathleen Belew charts in her book “Bring the War Home: The White Power Movement and Paramilitary America.” These groups helped feed parts of the militia movement that, by the early 1990s, had grown to an unprecedented size, according to Belew and others.
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