Bobby Caina Calvan, Associated Press, February 5, 2022
Looking out at a sea of faces at a Texas fairground, most of them white, former President Donald Trump seethed about his legal troubles and blamed them on malicious prosecutors.
“These prosecutors are vicious, horrible people. They’re racists and they’re very sick, they’re mentally sick,” Trump said, before warning his audience: “In reality, they’re not after me. They’re after you.”
He repeated his charge of racism, but skipped over an obvious detail: Those prosecutors are Black.
His diatribe left the clear impression that Trump, who rode the politics of white grievance into the White House, thinks he can’t possibly be treated fairly by Black officials.
The comments carry the echoes of racist messages that have proliferated in recent years –- that Black people and other minorities are taking power, and that they will exact revenge on white people, or at the very least treat white people as they have been treated.
That’s among the fears stoking the white supremacy movement, the so-called “white replacement theory” that people of color will supplant whites in the country’s power dynamics and social structure.
“These are the same justifications that they use for Jim Crow laws and their mistreatment of African Americans. So this is just a rerun of what we’ve seen in our country,” said one Black district attorney, Brian Middleton of Fort Bend County, Texas, which lies southwest of central Houston.
He had never accused his prosecutors of racism before — but then, until the start of the year, one of those attorneys was Cyrus Vance Jr., who is white.
Now he faces an array of Black prosecutors: New York Attorney General Letitia James; Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, Vance’s successor and the first Black person to hold that office; Fani Willis, the Fulton County, Georgia, DA; even Rep. Bennie Thompson, the leader of the congressional investigation into the Jan. 6 insurrection. And critics say Trump’s rhetoric has escalated, perhaps because he recognizes that some among his base are receptive to more overt racism.
“It intensifies that discourse and makes it explicitly racial,” said Casey Kelly, a communications professor at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln who for years has pored over transcripts of Trump’s speeches.
At a recent rally in Arizona, he said — falsely — that white people in New York were being sent to the back of line for antiviral treatments.
And now Trump is using the investigations against him — and the prosecutors behind them — as “evidence of a larger systemic pattern that white people don’t have a place in the future of America and he’s the only one that can fight on their behalf,” Kelly said.
A 2019 study by the Reflective Democracy Campaign found that only 5% of the country’s elected prosecutors were of color. But Black men and women now lead some of the country’s largest prosecutorial offices, including those in New York, Chicago, Dallas and Detroit.
Trump is questioning their legitimacy, said Diana Becton, another Black district attorney who serves in Contra Costa County in the San Francisco Bay area.
“His accusations are certainly not subtle. They’re frightening,” Becton said. “It’s like saying, we are out of our place, that we’re being uppity and we are going to be put back in our place by people who look like him.”