Staring down a possible indictment, a defiant Donald Trump is hoping to put on a show of force at the first rally of his 2024 presidential campaign, held in a city made famous by deadly resistance against law enforcement.
Die-hard fans of Donald Trump have flocked to the ex-president's election rally in Waco, Texas state, brimming with defiance as their favoured candidate faced overlapping threats of criminal indictment.
Several thousand Trump supporters lined up outside the Waco Regional Airport waiting to go through security and enter the event, with the first speaker scheduled for 2 pm CDT (1900 GMT).
The crowd, many wearing Trump T-shirts and hats, broke into applause when Republican lawmaker Marjorie Taylor Greene, one of Trump's most vocal supporters in Congress, walked into the venue.
Fifty-seven-year-old Laurie Hansen said Trump was "the best president ever."
"He's the only one who can bring our country back," she said. "We are at a precipice. It's time to put our foot down and say, 'No more.'"
Like others at the rally, Hansen dismissed talk that Trump might be prosecuted over allegations he violated campaign finance laws for paying hush money to an adult film actress, or hoarded top-secret documents, or masterminded a plot seeking to overturn the 2020 election.
"They're all political witch hunts," said Hansen, a sales coordinator who drove three hours from Sherman, Texas. "We all know that."
First major rally of 2024 race
The rally is happening in Waco as the city marks the 30th anniversary of a raid by federal agents on the Branch Davidians religious sect there that resulted in 86 deaths, including four law-enforcement officers.
Many right-wing extremists see the raid as a seminal moment of government overreach, and critics saw the rally's timing as a nod to Trump's far-right supporters.
In an email, a Trump campaign spokesperson said Waco was chosen for what the former president has billed as his first major rally of the 2024 presidential race because it is situated between several major population centers and has the infrastructure to host a large event.
Trump, who is seeking to solidify support for the Republican nomination in 2024, faces growing legal peril from a series of ongoing criminal investigations, including the hush money case, which is being weighed by prosecutors in Manhattan.
The former president has sought to paint the New York case as politically motivated, raised money off it and used it to rally supporters to his side. On Friday, he issued an apocalyptic warning, saying the country faced potential "death & destruction" if he was charged with a crime.
"Trump is walking on a high wire without a net, telegraphing that he has nothing to lose and is willing to risk dangerous outcomes to rally support," said Ron Bonjean, a Republican strategist in Washington.
In addition to prosecutors, Trump is likely to target Ron DeSantis for criticism. The Florida governor has yet to declare his candidacy for the Republican nomination but has drawn Trump's ire nonetheless.
Trump rallies typically draw thousands of enthusiastic supporters keen to see him in person. Trump continued to hold rallies even after he left office, delivering his trademark rambling and inflammatory oratory that draws rapturous applause from rallygoers.