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Trump spreads violent rhetoric by suggesting migrants should fight for sport

Former president Donald Trump expanded his portrayal of migrants as violent with a suggestion that they could be pitted in fights for entertainment.

During a speech to Christian conservatives on Saturday afternoon, and again at a rally in Philadelphia that evening, Trump claimed that he told his friend Dana White, president of the Ultimate Fighting Championship, that he should start a spinoff competition featuring migrants, as part of his riff on restricting immigration.

“Did anyone ever hear of Dana White?” Trump asked during his speech at the Faith and Freedom Coalition’s “Road to Majority” conference in Washington. “ … I said, ‘Dana, I have an idea. Why don’t you set up a migrant league of fighters and have your regular league of fighters, and then you have the champion of your league — these are the greatest fighters in the world — fight the champion of the migrants.’ I think the migrant guy might win, that’s how tough they are. He didn’t like that idea too much.”

At a post-fight news conference in Saudi Arabia later Saturday, White confirmed that Trump made the comments but said they were “a joke.”

“I saw everybody going crazy online. But yeah, he did say it,” White told reporters.

The remarks are part of Trump’s broader pattern of using dehumanizing language when discussing immigrants, which during this election cycle has included broadly portraying migrants as violent criminals and saying that they are “poisoning the blood of our country.”

Trump spoke for nearly an hour and a half at the conference hosted by the evangelical group started by longtime conservative strategist Ralph Reed. He referenced issues championed by the group such as imposing government restrictions on abortion. But the themes of his speech more closely resembled those of his campaign rallies, including immigration and election denialism.

In his speech, the former president continued to claim that undocumented immigrants are violent criminals coming from “prisons and mental institutions.” He also recounted the slaying of Georgia nursing student Laken Riley in February, who police believe was killed by Jose Ibarra — a man who immigration authorities say crossed the U.S. border illegally in 2022. Ibarra has been in custody since the day after Riley’s body was discovered and pleaded not guilty in May.

Trump reiterated his promise to “begin the largest deportation operation in American history,” should he return to the White House. He also warned that undocumented immigrants are “just getting comfortable,” but that “they’re going to start hitting us very hard.”

And in his speech at Temple University in Philadelphia, which was roughly the same duration, Trump acknowledged the presence of family members of Rachel Morin, a Maryland woman who was killed on a run last year. Trump called the man charged in the death, Victor Martinez-Hernandez, of El Salvador, an “animal.”

Most of those arrested at the southern border do not have criminal convictions, according to federal data. Experts say most evidence indicates that having undocumented immigrants in the country does not lead to more crime.

“Fitting that convicted felon Donald Trump spent his time at a religious conference threatening to round up Latinos, bragging about ripping away Americans’ freedoms, and promising to be even more extreme if he regains power,” Sarafina Chitika, a Biden campaign spokesperson, said in a statement after Trump’s speech in Washington.

Steven Cheung, communications director for the Trump campaign, dismissed concerns over the degrading comparisons of migrants.

“These elitists are the same people who stupidly think combat sports is human cockfighting, showing their ignorance to the sweet science of mixed martial arts,” Cheung said in a statement.

At a campaign stop at a cheesesteak restaurant in South Philly, Trump greeted fans and told reporters he had selected a running mate but hadn’t told that person yet. Trump has often teased his vice-presidential decision, which he has said he will announce at the convention. In January he said he had already decided, which campaign aides walked back. The campaign has been vetting multiple candidates.

Trump touched on the issue of abortion earlier in the day during the speech to the Faith and Freedom Coalition, which advocates for abortion bans. He referenced the Supreme Court decision that overturned Roe v. Wade. The second anniversary of that ruling is Monday.

“We’ve gotten abortion out of the federal government and back to the states,” he said, before falsely claiming that “every legal scholar” along with “just about all the Democrats” wanted to see Roe overturned. He referenced issues championed by the group like appointing conservative Supreme Court justices who helped overturn Roe. He also said he believes in exceptions for abortion “for the life of the mother, rape, and incest.”

“You have to go with your heart” on the issue, Trump said, “but you have to also remember you have to get elected.”

Trump at different points in the speech reminded the audience to cast ballots this November, saying: “Vote, Christians!” He also continued to falsely claim that the 2020 election was “rigged.”

“If I knew that there was not going to be corruption, if I knew … everything would be honorable and honest as it should be, I’d stop campaigning,” he said.

The former president also claimed the widely known evangelist Franklin Graham wrote him a letter advising him not to use foul language. “I said to myself, ‘He’s wrong about that,’” Trump said, adding that although he’s trying to pare back on cursing, “sometimes there’s no [other] word to describe it.”

Trump lamented what he claimed was political persecution against Christians by the Biden administration. He cited a Clinton-appointed federal judge’s recent decision to sentence an antiabortion activist, whose lawyer says she’s in declining health, to two years in prison. The activist, Paula “Paulette” Harlow, was among a group of individuals who have been charged with violating federal law by participating in a demonstration that blocked access to an abortion clinic. He also depicted himself as the victim of attacks.

“Together, we stood up to the communists, Marxists and fascists to defend religious liberty like no other president has ever done,” Trump said. “And I have the wounds all over my body. … I take a lot of wounds, I can tell you, more than, I suspect, any president ever.”

Arnsdorf reported from Philadelphia.

This post appeared first on The Washington Post

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