NEW YORK (AP) — Conservative media figures leaped to Donald Trump’s defense with apocalyptic language Thursday, claiming the former president was being unfairly persecuted by a Manhattan grand jury’s indictment and predicting his 2024 bid for the White House would get a boost from his perceived martyrdom.
“This is totally unacceptable and a disgrace to this country,” said Fox News Channel host Jesse Watters.
“This is repulsive,” said Fox’s Sean Hannity, three days after he interviewed Trump on his show. “This is a disgusting political hit job the likes of which we have never seen in this country anymore.”
“It’s insane,” said Newsmax’s Eric Bolling.
The actual charges in the grand jury indictment against Trump have not been made public. The Manhattan district attorney’s office has investigated payments made during the 2016 presidential election to silence claims of an extramarital affair.
For conservative-oriented media, Thursday’s fury represented a rapid turnaround. Trump had recently complained of being looked over by Fox, by far the most popular media outlet for conservatives, and had not appeared there for an interview in months before Hannity spoke to him earlier this week.
“This is a horrible night for the republic, but politically it’s a great night for Donald Trump,” commentator Pete Hegseth said, predicting that mug shots of the former president would be proudly displayed in college dorm rooms and on T-shirts.
Hannity had a live studio audience Thursday evening that frequently shouted and clapped as he and his guests railed against the Manhattan district attorney, Alvin Bragg. Fox and Newsmax aired wall-to-wall coverage, and guests seemed to compete for who could use the most heated language. U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham used an unbleeped obscenity to talk about the charges.
“The Democrat party has now dragged the country into tyranny!” commentator Mark Levin shouted.
Several conspiratorial commentators suggested to viewers that unnamed authorities would come after them when they were done with Trump.
“Somebody’s going to do something stupid,” disc jockey Adam Carolla said to Fox’s Tucker Carlson, “and then the storm troopers are going to come in.”
“They want you to strike out. Why?” asked Glenn Beck. “Because then they can close the cage.”
Beck, let go by Fox in 2013 by the late CEO Roger Ailes, appeared on Carlson’s show to suggest that the U.S. would be at war with China, Russia and Iran by 2025 and that the country’s currency would collapse.
Several commentators ridiculed or dismissed the charges against Trump, even though they have yet to be publicly outlined. “This attorney general will be defending his law license before this is over,” commentator Chris Swecker told Fox’s Laura Ingraham.
Former Trump aide Sebastian Gorka, on Newsmax, said the Secret Service had a duty to protect the former president and not let him appear for an arraignment in Manhattan.
“The extremists are out there,” he said, “and they want to hurt this man.”
A headline on Fox’s screen under Carlson said that “Trump’s Indictment is a Turning Point for America.” Another said, “Third-World Banana Republic.”
“American politics (has been) thrown into complete chaos, perhaps permanently,” Carlson said.
Meanwhile, Newsmax stationed reporter Mike Carter outside of Trump Plaza, who called it “pretty much a normal Thursday night” except for reporters hanging around and “a few folks that are excited about what happened tonight.”
Online, the Drudge Report topped its home page with a picture of handcuffs.
The lead headline on Breitbart.com was “The Longest Witch Hunt: Trump Indicted.” Another headline asked “Next: Mugshot — and Handcuffs?” over a picture of Trump with a clenched fist.
If Trump turns himself in next week as expected, experts anticipate a carefully choreographed and relatively quick process and release without bail. A former president isn’t likely to be paraded in cuffs across a sidewalk or through a crowded courthouse hallway.
Many right-wing sites were slow to respond to the story late Thursday, said Howard Polskin, who chronicles conservative media on his own website, “The Righting.”
“Most of the stories I saw were essentially plain-vanilla reporting that an indictment was handed down,” Polskin said, adding he expected that to change through the weekend.