Former US president Donald Trump held the first rally of his 2024 presidential campaign in Waco, Texas, on Saturday, during which he played clips of the January 6 insurrection at the US Capitol.
In 1993, Waco was the scene of a 51-day standoff and deadly siege between US law enforcement and the Branch Davidians, which resulted in the deaths of more than 80 members of the religious cult and four federal agents. It has become a touchstone for far-right extremists and militia groups.
Trump opened his rally by playing a song, 'Justice for All', that featured a choir of men imprisoned for their role in the January 6, 2021, insurrection at the US Capitol singing the national anthem, and then a recording of Trump reciting the Pledge of Allegiance.
Trump used his speech to defend the insurrectionists and railed against prosecutors, including those overseeing multiple investigations into the Republican former president.
"You will be vindicated and proud," Trump said. "The thugs and criminals who are corrupting our justice system will be defeated, discredited and totally disgraced."
Trump's rally Saturday at the airport grounds in Waco comes as Trump has berated prosecutors, encouraged protests, and raised the prospect of possible violence should he become the first former president in US history to face criminal charges.
Some of his recent rhetoric, including at the rally, has echoed language he used before the Capitol insurrection by a mob of his supporters seeking to stop the transfer of power to Democrat Joe Biden, who won the presidential election.
Trump declared on Saturday his "enemies are desperate to stop us" and "our opponents have done everything they can to crush our spirit and to break our will".
He added: "But they failed. They've only made us stronger. And 2024 is the final battle, it's going to be the big one. You put me back in the White House, their reign will be over and America will be a free nation once again."
Trump's campaign insisted the location and timing of the event had nothing to do with the Waco siege or anniversary, with a spokesperson saying the site was chosen because it was conveniently situated near four of the state's biggest metropolitan areas and has the infrastructure to handle a sizable crowd.
Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick said before Trump's arrival that he was the one who had suggested Waco as the venue.
Any suggestion Trump had picked the city because of the anniversary was "fake news. I picked Waco!" he told the crowd.
Trump did not make any overt references to Waco's history, telling the crowd he told Patrick he wanted to hold his rally in a place with overwhelming support, not "one of those 50-50 areas," and said he told Patrick, "Let's go right into the heart of it".
"But as far as the eye can see," he immediately added, "the abuses of power that we're currently witnessing at all levels of government will go down as among the most shameful, corrupt, depraved chapters in all of American history".
Audience members were holding red and white signs handed out by the campaign that said "WITCH HUNT" and "I stand with Trump".
Trump repeatedly railed against the investigations on Saturday, declaring "prosecutorial misconduct" in the ongoing criminal investigations, but also decrying past probes, including the release of his tax returns by Democrats in the US House after a prolonged legal battle.
"It probably makes me the most innocent man in the history of our country," Trump said. "Friends of mine say that."
The former president said he's had "bad publicity" but his "poll numbers have gone through the roof".
The rally had already been in the works before it became clear that a grand jury in New York was drawing closer to a possible indictment as it investigates hush money payments made to women who alleged sexual encounters with Trump during the height of his 2016 campaign. Trump denied the women's claims.
The grand jury investigating the hush money payment is expected to meet again Monday in New York.
Trump has spent weeks now railing against the probe and in a post on his social media site on Friday warned of "potential death & destruction in such a false charge" if he's charged with a crime.