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How Trump’s Attacks on Prosecutors Build on History of Using Racist Language and Stereotypes

Donald Trump’s aggressive response to his fourth criminal indictment in five months follows a strategy he has long used against legal and political opponents: relentless attacks, often infused with language that is either overtly racist or is coded in ways that appeal to racists.

The early Republican presidential front-runner has used terms such as “animal” and “rabid” to describe Black district attorneys. He has accused Black prosecutors of being “racist.” He has made unsupported claims about their personal lives. And on his social media platform, Truth Social, Trump has deployed terms that rhyme with racial slurs as some of his supporters post racist screeds about the same targets.

The rhetoric is a reminder of Trump’s tendency to use coded racial messaging as a signal to supporters, an approach he has deployed over several decades as he evolved from a New York City real estate tycoon to a reality television star and, eventually, the president. Even if he doesn’t explicitly employ racial slurs, his language recalls America’s history of portraying Black people as not fully human.

“He’s taking that historical racialized language that was offensive and insulting, and the subordinating of Black persons, applying it in a contemporary space and really bubbling up that history,” said Bev-Freda Jackson, a professor in the school of public affairs at American University.

While this is a well-worn strategy for Trump, his latest comments come at a particularly sensitive moment. On a personal level, a bond agreement signed on Monday by Trump’s lawyers and Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis imposes restrictions on his communications, including those issued through social media. And more broadly, experts worry Trump’s broadsides will worsen online vitriol and inspire violence.


He wrote online that Willis was a “rabid partisan.” He ran an ad that claimed without evidence that she hid a relationship with a gang member she was prosecuting — an ad she called “derogatory and false” in an email to staff obtained by The Associated Press. He lobbed accusations that Willis, the first Black woman to hold her role, was “racist” and using the indictment as a “con job.”

After the indictment was filed, Trump sent an email highlighting parts of Willis’ background. Under a heading titled “A family steeped in hate,” Trump’s email notes her father’s identity as a former Black Panther and criminal defense attorney, as well as Willis’ stated pride in her Black heritage and Swahili first name, which means “prosperous.” Willis has been open about her father’s history and her heritage.


He has slammed Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, who is Black, as a “Soros backed animal” even though George Soros, the Hungarian American and Jewish billionaire who conservatives frequently invoke as a boogeyman, doesn’t know and didn’t directly donate to Bragg, according to a Soros spokesman. The former president also claimed Bragg was a “degenerate psychopath” who “hates the USA.”

In a message last September on Truth Social, Trump referred to New York Attorney General Letitia James, who is Black, as “Racist A.G. Letitia ‘Peekaboo’ James.” The nickname is similar to a term used to insult Black people.


Since the Georgia indictment, racist stereotypes about Willis have surged online. {snip}

Last week, Trump posted online that prosecutors instead should have gone after those who “rigged the election.”

“They only went after those that fought to find the riggers!” he said.

The close resemblance of “riggers” to a racial slur garnered attention from internet users on a pro-Trump online forum, who used the term in dozens of racist messages calling for people to be killed or hanged after seeing Trump’s post .

The term has appeared several times on far-right forums since the 2020 election, sometimes with the same racist context.

Asked what Trump meant by the term, Cheung defined a rigger as “a person who rigs an event or system.”