Trump and Waco

Some disturbing symbolism.

This is decidedly not what it will look like at the Waco Regional Airport.

Texas Monthly asks Why Is Donald Trump Kicking Off His 2024 Campaign in Waco?

On Saturday evening, Donald Trump will hold his first official rally of the 2024 campaign cycle. He won’t be doing so in his home state of Florida, however. Nor will he address a crowd of potential swing voters in Michigan, Pennsylvania, or Wisconsin. No, the twice-impeached former president will formally launch his third bid for the office at Waco Regional Airport—less than ten miles northwest of the heart of the city, along a remote stretch of land broken up mostly by a smattering of McLennan County’s finest gas stations, oil-change shops, and self-storage facilities. As presidential campaign kickoff events go, it’s an unlikely spot. 

I lived in Waco many years ago and haven’t been in the city for over twenty-five years, apart from driving through a decade or so ago. Still, I know enough about the place, and about Texas in general, to know that it is highly bizarre to be holding a major event from the Waco Regional Airport.

I am, in fact, hard-pressed to find any explanation for this choice that the obvious: that it is intended as a signal to the far right given the linkage to the confrontation between federal law enforcement and the Branch Davidians thirty years ago.* That he is openly courting support from individuals who would find Waco symbolic in this way is highly disturbing.

Heidi Beirich, cofounder of the Global Project Against Hate and Extremism, noted in an interview with USA Today this week that “Waco is hugely symbolic on the far right,” and that “there’s not really another place in the U.S. that you could pick that would tap into these deep veins of anti-government hatred.” Mary Trump, the former president’s niece and a famously outspoken critic of her uncle, said in a tweet Thursday night that hosting the rally in Waco is “a ploy to remind his cult of the infamous Waco siege of 1993, where an anti-government cult battled the FBI. Scores of people died. He wants the same violent chaos to rescue him from justice.”

The months-long standoff in Waco was a radicalizing event for many in the anti-government movement; Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh, who killed 168 people in 1995, cited “what the U.S. government did to Waco” as part of his motivation for the attack. Trump, meanwhile, has increasingly made common cause with anti-government types since losing his 2020 bid to remain in the government’s highest office. In addition to inspiring an insurrection against that government in an attempt to remain in power, and then portraying those who were convicted of their crimes as wrongfully imprisoned martyrs, Trump’s own beef with the same Justice Department whose ATF and FBI were on the ground at the Branch Davidian compound thirty years ago has escalated since his South Florida beach club was raided last year in an attempt to recover classified documents. He’s declared federal agents to be “vicious monsters,” echoing rhetoric he has used against rank-and-file members of the FBI since even before his presidency ended, when he called them “scum.”

It is extremely difficult to find an explanation for the choice of location save for a very loud dog whistle.

Still, the Trump people have offered an alternative narrative:

Steven Cheung, a spokesperson for the former president, issued a statement earlier this week that suggests, however, that the campaign would like to be able to maintain some deniability about that coincidence. (Unless, of course, Trump himself chooses to call attention to it during the speech, which is always a possibility.) “President Trump is holding his first campaign rally in Waco in the Super Tuesday state of Texas because it is centrally located and close to all four of Texas’ biggest metropolitan areas—Dallas/Ft. Worth, Houston, Austin, and San Antonio—while providing the necessary infrastructure to hold a rally of this magnitude,” the statement read. “This is the ideal location to have as many supporters from across the state and in neighboring states attend this historic rally.”

This is nonsense, to put it mildly. Waco is, indeed, “close” to those metro areas. But “close” is relative:

It’s roughly ninety minutes from both Austin and Dallas, but a good three-hour drive from Houston or San Antonio. Trump could probably get more bang for his buck if he were to come to Austin proper, which would eliminate all travel time for residents of one of those four cities; it would also cut San Antonians’ travel times in half and shave half an hour or so from the drives of most Houstonians. (DFW residents, meanwhile, would have to drive about as far as folks from Houston and San Antonio will in order to get to Waco.)

And I would note those distance estimates are largely to the outskirts of those regions. I seem to recall taking almost two hours from where I lived in Austin to visit friends in Waco. Depending on where one lives in the DFW area might have an hour (or perhaps quite a bit more) added to the trip. The central locale argument is simply ridiculous, especially in such a smaller metro area.

There is just no good reason to have this rather significant event in Waco, TX, especially at the airport.

It is my nature not to be alarmist, but it is also hard to deny the rather obvious courting of the far right by Trump given the events of January 6, 2021, not to mention rhetorical fusilades like “I am your retribution” as he recently declared at CPAC.

And, I would note, it does not matter what Trump believes (if, in fact, he believes in anything other than self-aggrandizement), what matters is that he is willing to encourage and mobilize whatever elements of society he deems useful in his quest to return to power.

This reality should not be ignored.

——

*I was in grad school in Austin at the time, so between relative proximity to the event in real-time and the fact that I had lived in the Waco area during parts of middle and high school, those events will always be quite vivid in my mind. That they took place three decades ago checks out mathematically, but they feel in some ways more proximate to me.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2024, US Politics, , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is a Professor of Political Science and a College of Arts and Sciences Dean. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter

Comments

  1. Rick DeMent says:

    … he is willing to encourage and mobilize whatever elements of society he deems useful in his quest to return to power.

    Well sure but the entire GOP is willing to try and extort concessions from the Democrats by threatening the full faith and credit of the United States by playing chicken on the debt ceiling so whatever they think Trump is cooking up is pretty much on brand.

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  2. JohnMc says:

    Was going to point out that Waco also fairly convenient to Oklahoma City but the original article made the connection. And, agreed, we’re close to the secret militias and the Turner Diary.

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  3. Gustopher says:

    Although I hate to bring up the whole cult thing, I think Trump would like a cult. He’s certainly trying to tap into cult shit with this — it’s not just government overreach and persecution of innocent people that he is referencing, it’s the cult (an entirely non-innocent cult of child molesters, if memory serves). There’s lots of government overreach, but not so many cults violently crushed.

    If this registers with the less fringe parts of the Republican base, I wonder if they will back away, or whether this will be yet another thing they are willing to accept in exchange for promises of a minor reduction in the top marginal tax rate and a crowd of people who will laugh at their racist jokes.

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  4. gVOR08 says:

    @Gustopher:

    If this registers with the less fringe parts of the Republican base, I wonder if they will back away, or whether this will be yet another thing they are willing to accept in exchange for promises of a minor reduction in the top marginal tax rate

    I trust that was a rhetorical question. And the worst of it is the MAGA base don’t know this is all about marginal rates for the wealthy.

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  5. Thomm says:

    Just remember: it isn’t a cult and there is no such thing as stochastic terrorism.

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  6. CSK says:

    The Branch Davidians are thrilled that Trump is going to Waco. One of their pastors exulted that Trump “is God’s battering ram.”

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  7. MarkedMan says:

    This has all the stank of Reagan’s phony rationalizations for why he kicked off his campaign in Philadelphia, MS and talk about “state’s rights” which was just code for “I will help you keep the blacks in their place”. The sad thing is that there are still otherwise intelligent people who can’t bring themselves to see the obvious. I seem to remember at least one poster here (I don’t recall who), who rationalized that the location somehow made political sense for other reasons because it was centrally located, and in any case the rally wasn’t technically in Philadelphia. The reality is that it was in the closest town with a venue capable of holding the rally, and if you are curious as to the convenience of the venue, look up Philadelphia on the map and zoom out… and out… and out until you finally see a town that would actually have made sense to hold a rally in.

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  8. Argon says:

    Huh. I’m kinda surprised it wasn’t planned to be held at a lawn care service or an adult novelty shop. Or while riding down an escalator. You know, classy places like that.

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  9. Gustopher says:

    @gVOR08: I think there’s a big section of the Republican voting population that is lunatic-tolerant, where they think that they can enjoy the support of the lunatic fringe while keeping them corralled into a few areas that the lunatic-tolerant wing doesn’t care about. They’ve had many opportunities for a rude awakening, but they keep hitting the snooze button.

    Sure, the lunatics are threatening to blow up the economy, but assuming the lunatic-tolerant wing even knows that they believe the lunatics won’t have the power. And sure, Trump might be courting the lunatics, but he’s just playing them.

    There is definitely some line that will cause them to back away. If Donald Trump’s Waco performance was dropping his pants, taking a shit, then sitting on a folding chair while masturbating and smearing shit all over himself, he would lose 20-30% of his followers. (The rest will believe it is a brilliant commentary on Meatball Ron eating pudding with his fingers, and that he is really sticking it to the libs like DeSantis)

    I think the line is much closer than that, and that it’s being seen as putting the lunatics in a position of equality with the rest of the base.

    Of course, I may be willfully naive, desperately holding onto a belief that they are bad people but not that bad.

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  10. Scott F. says:

    Sincere question: what else could Trump do but push the extremism further?

    He has no path back to respectability. His current level of extremism won‘t be enough to quiet the talk about DeSantis. If he has no way to moderate or to stand still, he‘s got to ratchet things further toward radicalism to avoid irrelevance. And if Trump becomes irrelevant, then he loses his mob. And if Trump loses his mob, then he loses whatever shield he imagines his followers provide him from the law.

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  11. CSK says:

    He’s supposed to take the stage in two minutes. Will he keep the crown waiting for an hour, as is his wont?

  12. James Joyner says:

    Ted Nugent is the opening act.

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  13. Mu Yixiao says:

    @CSK:

    Will he keep the crown waiting for an hour, as is his wont?

    I expect that His Majesty Charles the Third, by the Grace of God, of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and of His other Realms and Territories King, Head of the Commonwealth, Defender of the Faith… has better things to do with his time than wait on an idiot to spout bullshit in Waco.

  14. CSK says:

    @James Joyner:
    He promises a “fireworks” version of the national anthem.
    @Mu Yixiao:
    You made me laugh out loud.

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  15. Mu Yixiao says:

    @CSK:

    Mission Accomplished.

  16. Liberal Capitalist says:

    He thought it was Wacko.

    He was expecting to meet Yacko and Dot.

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  17. dazedandconfused says:
  18. CSK says:

    Ted Nugent described Zelenskyy as “a homosexual weirdo.”

  19. @Thomm: I may write about the cult thing again, but to be clear, I never said there weren’t cult-like elements to some of Trump’s support. I have said that you can’t simply ascribe all GOP voting for Trump as being like a cult. Or, more specifically, that Trump’s success, such as it is, cannot simply be reduced to “cult” as some commenters have insisted is the case.

  20. Raoul says:

    Among his many crimes, David Koresh was a serial pedophilist, so why is it that right wing Republicans subscribe to the martyrdom of a genuinely demented self proclaimed messiah-god responsible for the deaths of 4 New Orleans police officers not to to mention the whole suicide-murder cult phenomenon.

  21. steve says:

    Because they have this thing for demented, messiah-gods. Koresh just wasn’t orange.

    Steve

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  22. Jay L Gischer says:

    Well,

    The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity

    Just before that Yeats wrote “the ceremony of innocence is drowned”, which definitely fits listening to Trump.

    And a summary of QAnon beliefs reads like the Book of Revelations. Yikes!

    Nevertheless I push back on the “it’s a cult”, too. There are two main reasons:

    1. I’ve seen cults pretty close up. Lost a friend or two to them. The Trump thing lacks a few elements. Leadership, and isolation. The agent of isolation in the Trump case appears to be The Algorithm, not any human agency. Trump does not lead the cult in any meaningful way. He tells them what they want to hear. This is not how cult leaders operate. They are more “the Truth is a Sword” types.

    2. “It’s a cult” does not provide, to me, any meaningful explanation of behavior nor any clue as to a way forward. There are explanations to this, and they suggest ways forward. (This is also the case with the groups I would describe as cults, which does include the Branch Davidians)

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