Truth Social Trump fans call for violence amid his attacks on judges


On a recent Tuesday morning, a visibly frustrated Donald Trump sat through a tense hearing in the first-ever criminal trial of a former American president. During a break, he let rip on his social media platform.

New York Justice Juan Merchan, Trump declared on Truth Social, is a “highly conflicted” overseer of a “kangaroo court.” Trump supporters swiftly replied to his post with a blitz of attacks on Merchan. The comments soon turned ugly. Some called for Merchan and other judges hearing cases against Trump to be killed.

“Treason is a hangable offense,” one wrote.

“They should all be executed,” added another.

The April 23 post by Trump and the menacing responses from his followers illustrate the incendiary impact of his broadsides against the judges handling the criminal and civil suits against him. As his presidential campaign intensifies, Trump has baselessly cast the judges and prosecutors in his trials as corrupt puppets of the Biden administration, bent on torpedoing his White House bid.

More: A guilty verdict? Donald Trump and allies are bracing voters for the worst

Trump turns up the heat

The rhetoric is inspiring widespread calls for violence. 

In a review of commenters’ posts on three pro-Trump websites, including the former president’s own Truth Social platform, Reuters documented more than 150 posts since March 1 that called for physical violence against the judges handling three of his highest-profile cases – two state judges in Manhattan and one in Georgia overseeing a criminal case in which Trump is accused of illegally seeking to overturn the state’s 2020 election results.

Those posts were part of a larger pool of hundreds identified by Reuters that used hostile, menacing and, in some cases, racist or sexualized language to attack the judges, but stopped short of explicitly calling for violence.

Experts on extremism say the constant repetition of threatening or menacing language can normalize the idea of violence – and increase the risk of someone carrying it out. Mitchell Silber, a former New York Police Department director of intelligence analysis, compared the Trump supporters now calling for violence against judges to the Capitol rioters who believed they were following Trump’s “marching orders” on Jan. 6, 2021.

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“This is just the 2023-2024 iteration of that phenomenon,” Silber said. “Articulating these ideas is the first step along the pathway of mobilizing to violence.”

Trump spokesperson Steven Cheung did not respond to specific questions about the posts. Trump, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, has a right to criticize “un-Constitutional witch hunts,” Cheung said. He also asserted, without citing examples, that Trump has been the target of calls for “despicable violence” from “Democrats and crazed lunatics.”

On Patriots.Win, an online forum that describes itself as Trump’s “community of choice,” Trump’s attacks on courts and judges regularly spur calls for violence. Merchan “needs to be strangled with piano wire,” one poster wrote. He “deserves garroting in the street,” wrote another.

The Gateway Pundit, a website influential in the pro-Trump community, is also a frequent venue for Trump-inspired violent rhetoric. “These judges and lawyers should HANG for perpetuating these fraud cases,” a commenter wrote on April 16, suggesting the executions would be “an example for future generations of judges and lawyers.”

The FBI and the NYPD declined to comment on whether threatening posts directed at the New York judges were under investigation.

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While Trump himself hasn’t called for violence on judges, his language can signal to followers that judges are no different from partisan rivals worthy of scorn, derision and attack, threatening the legitimacy of the independent judiciary, experts on political violence said.

“Trump is constantly riling up his supporters to be angry on his behalf,” said Lilliana Mason, a John Hopkins University political scientist. “He takes that large group of angry people, he points them in a particular direction, and then the judges get all these death threats.” Cheung had no response to that analysis.

Violent rhetoric, but not outright threats

The posts also illustrate a shift in the way violent language is being expressed online by Trump’s followers. 

In 2021, Reuters documented a wave of threats by Trump supporters targeting U.S. election workers. Legal experts found that many met the legal standard for prosecutable threats, which typically requires language or context that reflects a clear intent to act or instill fear, rather than simply suggesting a frightening outcome.

In contrast, the current barrage of pro-Trump threats generally stop short of that red line. Posters often call for violence – without explicitly stating they intend to commit it themselves. Such language is usually defensible as constitutionally protected free speech. But experts say it can have the same effect as a direct threat: to intimidate and sow fear.

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The judges in both of Trump’s New York cases issued gag orders barring him from attacking judicial staff and, in Merchan’s court, witnesses, jurors and family members of the judge and prosecutors. On April 30, Merchan held Trump in criminal contempt for violating one of those gag orders, fined him $9,000 and warned him that he could be jailed for further infractions. On May 6, Merchan fined Trump an additional $1,000.

His April order noted the “singular power” that Trump’s derisive statements and posts have to inspire his followers, instill fear in his targets and endanger rule of law. The judge warned that he could impose jail time for any additional violations. Trump calls the gag orders “election interference.”

New York and Georgia judges in the crosshairs

Reuters examined more than 1,800 posts by Trump on Truth Social from March 1 to April 30. In at least 129 of them, he attacked judges handling his cases in New York, Georgia and other jurisdictions, either in his own words or by re-posting comments or videos.

Much of his anger is focused on Merchan, who is presiding over Trump’s criminal prosecution on charges that he violated New York law by falsifying business records to conceal a sex scandal during his 2016 campaign. Trump also frequently attacks New York Justice Arthur Engoron, who ruled in February during a separate civil trial that Trump committed fraud by inflating his properties’ values on financial documents. Trump has appealed the verdict.

Trump often labels both judges “corrupt” and “conflicted,” and falsely accuses them of taking orders from President Joe Biden. As state judges, they weren’t appointed by the president, who has no authority over them.

Trump’s comments and re-posts on Truth Social often trigger a furious response from his supporters. At least 152 posts on the three pro-Trump websites in March and April urged the beating or killing of Merchan or Engoron in New York or Judge Scott McAfee in Georgia, Reuters found. 

At least 65 of those were on Truth Social, about half in replies to the former president’s posts. The rest were split about evenly between Gateway Pundit and Patriots.Win.

Violent posts stay up, despite Truth Social rules

All three sites have policies discouraging threatening or violent rhetoric. Truth Social’s terms of service forbids users from writing posts that are “filthy, violent, harassing, libelous, slanderous” or “advocate, incite, encourage, or threaten physical harm against another.” A Truth Social spokesperson said the company “works expeditiously to remove posts that violate” those standards. The Gateway Pundit and Patriots.Win didn’t respond to requests for comment.

There was evidence on each site that at least some comments had been removed. However, most of the posts advocating violence stayed up for days or weeks.

Three experts in violent political speech reviewed the posts documented by Reuters, including Jonathan Leader Maynard, a London-based political extremism expert who said many of them echo the “quasi-fascist language” language used by “lone wolf terrorists” to justify their bloodshed.

Politically motivated harassment of judges is not exclusive to the political right. Left-wing activists have protested at the homes of judges who have restricted abortion rights. A California man was accused of traveling to Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s home intending to kill him. Nicholas John Roske has pleaded not guilty to a charge of attempted assassination. Plea negotiations are ongoing, court records show. 

Left wing sites much less violent

A Reuters examination of websites catering to the left revealed dozens of hostile comments attacking the competence and credibility of conservative jurists. The targets include U.S. District Judge Aileen Cannon, a Trump appointee who has issued a number of rulings favorable to the former president in his ongoing federal prosecution in Florida for misappropriating classified documents after leaving office.

On Democratic Underground, a liberal site, posters have attacked Cannon as “corrupt” and suggested she be tried for espionage.

But a review of comments on those sites did not reveal the sort of violent language that Trump supporters use in their online posts, including suggestions that judges be beaten or killed. In February, a Texas woman was sentenced to three years in prison for threatening Judge Cannon

Calls to execute judges picked up in April, when Merchan began hearing Trump’s prosecution for allegedly trying to hide a hush money payment to porn star Stormy Daniels before the 2016 election – the first of four criminal prosecutions Trump faces.

“He should be recused from living,” one Trump supporter wrote of Merchan in an April 14 post on Truth Social. That post and other calls for violence cited in this story were made anonymously.

Hush money Judge Juan Merchan targeted

Merchan, 61, has served on the criminal bench since 2009. He grew up in the New York borough of Queens, also Trump’s boyhood home, and began his career as an assistant district attorney in Manhattan.

In 2022, Merchan presided over a tax fraud conviction for Trump’s business, ordering his company to pay a $1.6 million fine. Last year he sentenced Trump’s longtime chief financial officer, Allen Weisselberg, to five months in jail for tax fraud.

Trump also has directed vitriol at Merchan’s daughter, Loren Merchan, an executive at Authentic, a digital marketing agency that works with Democratic candidates. Trump has said the judge is “conflicted” because of his daughter’s work and should recuse himself.

Pictures of Merchan’s daughter have featured regularly on Truth Social. Some mocked her physical appearance and called for her arrest. On one website, an avowed white supremacist published personal information about both Merchan and his daughter, including home addresses and the judge’s phone number. 

Last June, the New York Advisory Committee on Judicial Ethics ruled that Merchan’s “impartiality cannot reasonably be questioned” based on his daughter’s work for Democratic campaigns.

Courts spokesperson Al Baker said both Merchan and Engoron have “been subjected to threats as have many other judges” and their safety is “the utmost priority.” 

‘Treasonous piece of trash’

Engoron, 74, has been bombarded with invective from Trump and threats from his supporters.

A New York court security officer said in a sworn statement last year that Engoron and his staff had received hundreds of threatening and harassing messages, including some laced with profanity and anti-Semitic insults against the judge, who is Jewish.

The hostile communications spiked after Trump attacked Engoron and his clerk on Truth Social, the statement said. “Resign now, you dirty, treasonous piece of trash snake,” said one voicemail left at his chambers. “We are coming to remove you permanently.”

A Democrat, Engoron was elected in 2015 to the state Supreme Court and has been a judge for two decades. He has drawn the former president’s rage after repeatedly ruling against him in a civil business fraud suit filed by state Attorney General Letitia James. Engoron ultimately ordered Trump to pay a $454 million fine in that case.

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The judge issued a gag order last October after Trump shared on social media a photo of Engoron’s law clerk posing with U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, a Democrat, and falsely described her as “Schumer’s girlfriend.” Engoron barred Trump from making any statements disparaging court staff.

The judge fined Trump twice for violating the order. “The threat of, and actual, violence resulting from heated political rhetoric is well-documented,” Engoron wrote in November.

Engoron received a fake bomb threat at his home in January, and someone sent an envelope containing white powder to his chambers the following month.

In a March 22 post on Truth Social, Trump labeled him a “Corrupt, Radical Left Judge in New York, a Trump hater [at] the highest level.” Calls by his supporters for the judge’s death came quick. 

One poster on Truth Social said Engoron should be hanged. Another wanted him executed. Online rage thundered for days, accompanied by appeals for violence. “He should be skinned alive, bobbed in a vat of alcohol, then dipped in honey before being staked to an anthill,” read a March 25 post about Engoron on Patriots.Win.

‘Rogue judges’

The threats aren’t limited to New York. As state courts in Colorado, Illinois and Georgia have taken up Trump-related cases, at least four judges in those states have faced threats or harassment, according to interviews with court and law enforcement and officials and a review of social media posts. 

Georgia Judge McAfee, presiding in an election interference case against Trump, is among the targets. Fulton County prosecutors charged Trump with illegally pressuring officials to overturn the state’s 2020 presidential election.

McAfee has received less attention from Trump than the New York judges. Trump has repeatedly denounced Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis, who brought the case, but has refrained from criticizing McAfee by name.

More: Georgia appeals court agrees to consider Trump effort to oust Fulton County DA Fani Willis

But after the judge denied his motion to dismiss Willis over her romantic relationship with a fellow prosecutor, Trump posted two Fox News videos from one of his spokespeople and a legal analyst assailing the decision.

Trump backers quickly turned on McAfee.

“Judge McAfee should be hanged,” one commented on Gateway Pundit.

After a subsequent decision again denying Trump’s request for a dismissal, more violent comments followed. “These people need gutting like we do fish,” one unidentified commenter wrote beneath another Gateway Pundit post about McAfee’s decision.

In a survey of nearly 400 mostly state judges by the National Judicial College, an education group, nearly eight out of 10 agreed that it is becoming more dangerous to be a judge. The survey, completed in 2022 and made available to Reuters ahead of publication, found that more than 70% of respondents had received harassing or menacing communications.

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New Mexico Judge Francis Mathew told Reuters he received dozens of threatening messages after ruling that Couy Griffin, an Otero County commissioner who founded Cowboys for Trump, a political advocacy group, was ineligible to hold public office because he participated in the 2021 Capitol riot.

On the day of his ruling in September 2022, Mathew received one email calling for his execution and another that included his home address.

Griffin said in an interview that he and his family also have received threats and that he never called for violence against Mathew. “As far as threats and stuff goes, that’s something that’s out of my control,” he said.

Although Trump has not criticized him on social media, Mathew blames Trump for “orchestrating” the deluge of threats targeting judges. “Trump’s behavior is teaching people that they can do these things,” Mathew said. Cheung, Trump’s spokesperson, did not respond to that claim.

More: Supreme Court lets stand a ban against Cowboys for Trump co-founder using 14th Amendment

‘A face only a fist could love’

Much of the violent rhetoric documented by Reuters illustrates a phenomenon identified by social scientists: Online communities catering to specific political views can create an echo chamber, where participants spur each other to increasingly extreme posts.

In pro-Trump forums, when someone “pushes the norm of what is considered acceptable speech” by posting a call to execute judges or other public officials, “and no one questions it, then the norm of what is acceptable may shift,” said Cathy Buerger, who studies inflammatory rhetoric at the nonpartisan Dangerous Speech Project in Washington.

That pattern emerged in a series of Gateway Pundit comments posted April 2. In response to an article criticizing “far-left judge Juan Merchan,” one reader referred to a photo of the jurist by saying, “A face only a fist could love.”

“Or a steel toed boot,” another reader replied.

“Or an aluminum bat,” a third wrote.

Another poster upped the ante: “Colt Combat Commander 45” – a popular semi-automatic handgun.

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