Donald Trump may be facing a possible arrest in New York, and posting increasingly menacing statements about “death and destruction” on his social media website, but at a Trump campaign rally on a sunny afternoon in Waco, Texas, it was business as usual.
Thousands of the former president’s supporters wandered through Trump merchandise tents, where they bought t-shirts emblazoned with “God, guns and Trump” and “Trump won”.
Then they packed onto the asphalt tarmac of the local airport hours before Mr Trump’s expected arrival.
They waited in the heat as songs by Abba, Frank Sinatra and Bon Jovi blared on the loudspeakers and cheered as a litany of familiar Trump supporters took turns warming-up the crowd.
Rock star Ted Nugent played what was billed as a “fire-breathing” rendition of the US national anthem on his electric guitar, interrupted by an obscenity-laced diatribe that included attacks on the “jack-booted thugs” in the federal government who he said have been wrongfully imprisoning Trump supporters who stormed the US Capitol on 6 January, 2021.
Congressman Matt Gaetz of Florida and Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene of Florida also had their moment on the stage, lobbing pointed attacks on New York City District Attorney Alvin Bragg, who will decide in the days ahead whether to indict Mr Trump on charges related to hush-money payments to adult film star Stormy Daniels.
“This attack is an egregious weaponisation of our justice system designed to influence the 2024 presidential race,” Greene said.
“This is nothing but a witch hunt against President Trump, and he is completely innocent.”
The crowd – which the Trump campaign has estimated will reach 15,000 – offered some boos when Mr Bragg’s name was mentioned, but few seemed all that concerned by the New York investigation.
“I don’t listen to the negative stuff,” said Debbie Harvey of Midlothian, Texas, a town near Dallas. “I’m praying that he doesn’t get indicted. God still answers prayers.”
“There doesn’t seem to be much to it,” said Brian Novie, who lives in nearby Copperas Cove. “And now they seem to be struggling with whether to prosecute at all.”
Novie and his friend Richard Tarner, who like Harvey were attending their first Trump rally, bought commemorative t-shirts that read “Trump in Texas: I was there – where were you?” They said that, even with what is likely to be a range of choices in the 2024 Republican primaries, they were sticking with Mr Trump.
“He’s proven he can get things done,” Tarner said, noting that Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, Mr Trump’s most formidable rival, had yet to demonstrate that he could perform on the national stage.
In the run-up to the Waco rally, a number of media outlets and Trump critics had questioned why the former president was holding his first mega-rally of the 2024 campaign in Waco, where 30 years earlier federal and state authorities engaged in an armed standoff with the Branch Davidian religious cult that ended with the death of 86 people.
It was an incident that helped fuel an anti-government movement in the US, as terms like Nugent’s “jack-booted thugs” were frequently used to describe federal law officers.
Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick told the crowd that such connections were an expletive and “fake news“.
“I picked Waco,” he said. “The president called me several weeks ago and said: ‘I’m coming to Texas. I want you to pick a great town.’
The president’s plane is scheduled to land by early evening in the kind of dramatic airfield arrival he made a signature of his campaigns in 2016 and 2020. Three years ago, however, he was flying on Air Force One. Now he is back to travelling on his personal jet.