Republicans, led by Donald Trump himself, have now officially embraced the use of thuggish and almost certainly illegal tactics of physical intimidation in the 2020 election campaign embodied by the “Trump Train” caravans that have blocked multiple venues over the past weekend, particularly the caravan in Texas that ambushed a Biden-Harris campaign bus along Interstate 35 on Friday, forcing the cancellation of multiple Democratic events.
The FBI acknowledged that it is investigating the incident, which was captured on multiple videos, including a number posted on social media by Trump Train organizers and participants. Trump has furiously denied that there is even an investigation—branding reportage on the matter as “false”—while insisting “these patriots did nothing wrong,” and he has been joined by a chorus of fellow Republicans.
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Trump led the parade of Republicans praising the ambush by the caravan and apparent vehicular assault that ensued, tweeting a video of the event on Saturday with the text, “I LOVE TEXAS!”
The next day, responding to the FBI San Antonio tweet acknowledging that the incident is under investigation—almost certainly because a congressman and two congressional candidates were aboard the bus—Trump tweeted:
In my opinion, these patriots did nothing wrong. Instead, the FBI & Justice should be investigating the terrorists, anarchists, and agitators of ANTIFA, who run around burning down our Democrat run cities and hurting our people!
On Monday, he went even further, claiming that a CNN report on the investigation was wrong: “This story is FALSE. They did nothing wrong. But the ANTIFA Anarchists, Rioters and Looters, who have caused so much harm and destruction in Democrat run cities, are being seriously looked at!”
Trump also boasted about the caravan at campaign events. In Washington, Michigan, he told the audience: “Did you see the way our people were protecting his bus yesterday? Because they’re nice. Saw his bus. They had hundreds of cars. Trump! Trump! Trump! And the American flag.”
There was a series of other Trump Train events around the country over the weekend, though none of the others targeted Democratic campaign vehicles for harassment. In New Jersey, a caravan of pro-Trump vehicles managed to shut down the Mario Cuomo Bridge on the Garden State Parkway. In Indianapolis, a pro-Trump caravan circled the city on Interstate 465, essentially shutting down freeway traffic for hours and jamming streets downtown and elsewhere. It was not clear how, as late-stage campaign strategies go, creating massive traffic problems is intended to sway voters into backing Trump.
Meanwhile, in Louisville, Kentucky, participants in a Trump Train caravan—complete with police escort—were blocked by protesters in a high school parking lot where they had gathered. Police tried to negotiate with the people who had blocked the exit with their vehicles, but they consistently refused.
National Public Radio noted that the drivers involved in the Texas incident have not been condemned by any prominent Texas Republicans, nor by any Trump spokespersons. Instead, a Texas GOP chairman issued a scathing statement Friday that presaged Trump’s defense of the intimidation tactics—as well indulging in anti-Semitic memes suggesting that George Soros finances anti-fascists:
Three Trump supporters have been executed, one in Portland, one in Denver, and one Milwaukee. A leftist mob attempted to storm the house of the McCloskeys, threatened to burn their house down, rape Mrs. McCloskey, and then kill them both.
Where is the liberal corporate media’s concern about that real violence? Additionally, none of what your question implies is accurate. It is more fake news and propaganda.
Prepare to lose…stop bothering me. Maybe Soros can cut y’all another check in 2022.
Republicans on the national scene joined in. At a Florida Trump rally prior to his arrival, Sen. Marco Rubio—who once decried Trump’s indulgence in violent rhetoric—joined in the Trump Train parade: “I saw yesterday a video of these people in Texas,” Rubio said. “Did you see it? All the cars on the road, we love what they did.”
On Twitter, Donald Trump Jr. posted a video encouraging the tactics: “It’d be great if you guys all get together … and give Kamala Harris a nice Trump Train welcome,” he said. “Get out there, have some fun, enjoy it.”
One local Texas GOP official who apparently participated in the Trump Train told The Texas Tribune that the event was simply about supporting Trump: “We decided we would jump on 35 to show support for our president,” she said. “I didn’t see anyone being overly aggressive.”
Yet on Twitter, Narvaiz wrote: “We sent the @JoeBiden @KamalaHarris bus out of Hays! Your kind aren’t welcome here!”
“We don’t want any of the values or policies that the Democratic Party is embracing,” she told the Tribune. “We don’t want any of those in Texas.”
Indeed, on a since-deleted video she posted on Facebook showing the collision between a white van driven by a campaign staffer following the bus closely and a black pro-Trump pickup that rammed it from the right and forced it into another lane, Trump Train organizer Randi Ceh can be heard telling her audience: “Running them out of Texas. It is hilarious.”
San Marcos police promptly sided with the pro-Trump view on who was at fault in the collision: “The at-fault vehicle may be the white SUV and the victim appears to be the black truck,” said a statement from SMPD, KXAN reported.
As the FBI investigation continues, one state official also called for state law enforcement to become involved, the Tribune reported. Democratic state Rep. Terry Canales of Edinburg urged the Texas Department of Public Safety in a letter to open an investigation into the "multi-county, criminal behavior on 1-35" and "use the full weight of its resources to hold these criminals accountable."
Georgetown Law's Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection explains that voter intimidation not only is a crime under federal law—and under every state’s laws—it applies equally to voter intimidation when it’s conducted from vehicles. Its Voter Protection Program explicitly lays out examples of voter intimidation that include:
- Tailgating other vehicles
- Brandishing or intimidating display of firearms
- Swerving aggressively towards pedestrians or other vehicles
- Disrupting voting lines or blocking entrances
- Aggressively revving engines as voters pass
- Aggressively approaching voters’ cars or writing down license plate numbers
- Verbal threats of violence
- Blocking roads to the polls
- Following voters to, from, or within polling places
- Confronting voters while wearing military-style or official-looking uniforms
As Joe Biden observed to reporters Sunday evening: "We've never had anything like this. At least we've never had a president who thinks it's a good thing.”