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The Guardian - US
The Guardian - US
Alice Herman

Trump warns of enemies ‘within our country’ to Christian media gathering

a man stands on stage
Donald Trump arrives to address the National Religious Broadcasters convention in Nashville, Tennessee, on Thursday. Photograph: Jon Cherry/Getty Images

Donald Trump told a warmly receptive gathering of religious broadcasters on Thursday that “it’s the people from within our country that are more dangerous than the people outside”, in his latest effort to mobilize Christian fundamentalists who have swung dramatically behind him in recent years.

Trump’s speech in Nashville, Tennessee, to the National Religious Broadcasters presidential forum gala offered him a chance to pitch himself to hundreds of Christian media figures whose approval – and willingness to carry his message on air – could drive huge turnout in November.

“The greatest threat is not from the outside of our country – I really believe it is from within,” said Trump, whose fire-and-brimstone speech focused largely on his political enemies. “It’s the people from within our country that are more dangerous than the people outside.”

The former president’s relationship with the religious right has shifted since his unlikely bid for the presidency in 2016, when his campaign was met with deep skepticism from conservative Christian leaders who had initially thrown their support behind Ted Cruz.

Trump has since consolidated support among Christian fundamentalists. In 2016, in exchange for the support of prominent conservative pastors, he offered them a direct hand in policymaking through an evangelical advisory board, giving rightwing Christian religious leaders unprecedented access to the White House.

“In my first term I fought for Christians harder than any president has ever done before,” said Trump. “And I will fight even harder for Christians with four more years in the White House.”

In his speech, Trump promised to create a new taskforce to counter “anti-Christian bias” by investigating “discrimination, harassment and persecution against Christians in America”. He vowed to appoint more conservative judges, reminded the audience of his decision to break with decades of international consensus and move the US embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, and assured them a future Trump administration would take particular aim at transgender people – for example, by endorsing policies to restrict access to gender-affirming healthcare.

The event brought together key figures in the former president’s coalition, from the president of the Heritage Foundation to the hard-right former head of the Alliance Defending Freedom, Michael Harris.

A non-profit and tax-exempt organization, National Religious Broadcasters (NRB) is prohibited from campaigning directly for any candidate for public office, a fact that its president, Troy Miller, mentioned during his opening remarks. Trump was nevertheless the star of the show, with speakers lavishing him with praise in an atmosphere similar to one of his campaign rallies.

“Appearing on a stage before Donald Trump is like opening for the king himself, George Strait,” said the Heritage Foundation’s president, Kevin Roberts, to laughter and applause. “If you do well, everyone will be very nice. If you do poorly, no one will remember anyway.”

The event spotlighted the Heritage Foundation’s Project 2025, a “presidential transition project” that envisions reshaping the executive branch to maximize the president’s power. Many fear Trump’s first acts should he win office would be to enact revenge on his political enemies, deport immigrants en masse and roll back legal protections for LGBTQ+ people.

It also highlighted the central role that Christian fundamentalism would play in Trump’s second term in office, with Miller declaring: “One of the most dangerous falsehoods spread today is the separation of church and state.”

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