In a closed-door meeting with evangelical leaders, President Trump on Monday warned of “violence” from the left if Democrats retake control of Congress in November, according to multiple reports.
The comments, which mark an escalation of Trump’s rhetoric, come amid deepening investigations into the president’s associates as well as a midterm battle that is entering its crucial final months.
“They will overturn everything that we’ve done, and they’ll do it quickly and violently, and violently,” Trump told the assembled leaders at the White House dinner, according to reports Tuesday by NBC News and the New York Times. “There’s violence. When you look at antifa, and you look at some of these groups — these are violent people.”
Black-clad “antifa,” or anti-fascist, protesters made headlines last year when they allegedly attacked another group of demonstrators in Berkeley, Calif. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) denounced the violence at the time, saying in a statement that “the violent actions of people calling themselves antifa in Berkeley this weekend deserve unequivocal condemnation, and the perpetrators should be arrested and prosecuted.”
At Monday’s dinner with the Christian leaders, Trump described the November election in dire terms.
“You’re one election away from losing everything that you’ve got,” he said, according to NBC News.
During the 2016 campaign, Trump himself appeared to encourage violence in remarks at some of his rallies. After one protester interrupted a Trump speech in Las Vegas in February 2016, the candidate declared: “I’d like to punch him in the face, I tell you.”
At another event that month in Iowa, Trump referred to a recent incident in which a protester lobbed a tomato at the stage and told the crowd, “If you see somebody with a tomato, knock the crap out of them.”
The following month, at a rally in Michigan, Trump told audience members he would cover their legal costs if they were sued for any violence against protesters.
“Get him out. Try not to hurt him. If you do, I’ll defend you in court, don’t worry about it,” Trump said.
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said last year that Trump “in no way, form or fashion has ever promoted or encouraged violence.”
Trump also erroneously claimed Monday that he had done away with the Johnson Amendment, which he described to the evangelical leaders as a “disaster for you,” according to the NBC report.
The provision bars religious institutions and other tax-exempt organizations from endorsing political candidates. A repeal of the Johnson Amendment was ultimately not included in last year’s Republican tax bill. While Trump signed an executive order aimed at making it easier for churches to take part in politics, an act of Congress would be required to repeal the provision itself.
John Wagner and Sarah Pulliam Bailey contributed to this report.