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As he campaigns, Trump has been leaning into his narrative of Jan. 6


Former President Donald Trump has been leaning into his narrative of January 6 as he campaigns. He uses words like hostages and patriots to refer to people convicted for their roles in the attack on the Capitol. Here he is at a rally earlier this month in Ohio after playing a recording of some of the imprisoned singing the national anthem.


DONALD TRUMP: Well, thank you very much. And you see the spirit from the hostages. And that's what they are - is hostages.

ELLIOTT: Trump also continues to insist that the 2020 election was, quote, "stolen." It was not. Some experts are concerned about how this rhetoric is landing. NPR's domestic extremism correspondent Odette Yousef joins us to explain. Good morning, Odette.


ELLIOTT: How central has January 6 become in Trump's campaign messaging?

YOUSEF: It's been central from Day One. As you mentioned, there was this music recorded by a choir that you referenced. You know, he played that at the very rally that launched his campaign a year ago. It was also clear at that rally because of something else, which is the location where it was held. He launched his campaign in Waco, Texas. And the campaign has said they chose that site because of its proximity to high-population areas in Texas, but that's not something that everyone's buying. You know, Waco holds a unique and deep significance for the far right and especially for those who've come to believe that violence is necessary to achieve their political goals.

ELLIOTT: Waco, because of the standoff there between federal agents in the Branch Davidians religious cults back in 1993 - Odette, though, what does that have to do with January 6?

YOUSEF: Right. So Trump's rally was less than a month before the 30th anniversary of the fire that ended that standoff, killing nearly all members of that community. So how does that connect with January 6? Well, here's Kathleen Belew. She's associate professor of history at Northwestern University.

KATHLEEN BELEW: The Trump campaign is interested in making it part of maybe something like a war on the government that is righteous. Waco is connected to that insofar as Waco, as a site and as a story, is all about this idea that the federal government is tyrannical and has to be restrained by the violent power of the people.

YOUSEF: And we've seen that violence, Debbie. You know, exactly two years after the Branch Davidian fire, a white nationalist named Timothy McVeigh killed 168 people in an attack on a federal building in Oklahoma City. And a big motivator for that attack was the incident in Waco.

ELLIOTT: So things don't exactly add up here because the fact is that Trump lost the popular vote and would actually need to be winning over new voters now to succeed in this year's presidential election. How does all that square out?

YOUSEF: That's right. And the primaries showed us that some people did prefer his opponent, Nikki Haley. But experts told me he may have no choice but to lean into January 6 to keep his base. You know, a major part of his appeal, Debbie, to his base, is that he claims he's always a winner, so he can never admit that he lost in 2020. And the concern from the extremism perspective is that those who are steeped in this lore around government tyranny may see another Trump loss as yet another example of corrupt governance to be resisted with violence.

ELLIOTT: NPR's domestic extremism correspondent Odette Yousef - thank you.

YOUSEF: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

NPR National Correspondent Debbie Elliott can be heard telling stories from her native South. She covers the latest news and politics, and is attuned to the region's rich culture and history.
Odette Yousef
Odette Yousef is a National Security correspondent focusing on extremism.