WACO, Texas -- Donald Trump, facing a potential indictment, held the first rally of his 2024 presidential campaign Saturday in Waco, a city made famous by deadly resistance against law enforcement.
Trump opened his rally by playing "Justice for All," a song that features a choir of men imprisoned for their role in the Jan. 6, 2021, riot at the U.S. Capitol singing the national anthem and a recording of Trump reciting the Pledge of Allegiance. Some footage from the deadly attack was shown on screens.
Trump, in a speech brimming with resentments, defended the rioters and berated prosecutors overseeing multiple investigations of the Republican former president.
"You will be vindicated and proud," Trump said. "The thugs and criminals who are corrupting our justice system will be defeated, discredited and totally disgraced."
Some of his recent rhetoric, including at the rally, has echoed language he used before the Capitol riot by a mob of his supporters seeking to stop the transfer of power to Democrat Joe Biden, who won the presidential election.
Trump declared Saturday that his "enemies are desperate to stop us" and "our opponents have done everything they can to crush our spirit and to break our will."
He added: "But they failed. They've only made us stronger."
His choice of Waco as a venue comes amid the 30th anniversary of the 51-day standoff and siege between U.S. law enforcement and the Branch Davidians that resulted in the deaths of more than 80 cult members and four federal agents.
The city has become a touchstone for far-right extremists and militia groups. Trump's campaign insisted that the location and timing of the event had nothing to do with the Waco siege or anniversary.
A spokesperson said the site, 17 miles from the Branch Davidian compound, was chosen because it was conveniently situated near four of the state's biggest metropolitan areas -- Dallas/Fort Worth, Houston, Austin and San Antonio -- and has the infrastructure to handle a sizable crowd.
Before Trump's arrival, Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick said he was the one who had suggested Waco as the rally's venue.
Any suggestion that Trump had picked the city because of the anniversary was "fake news. I picked Waco!" he told the crowd.
Trump did not make any direct references in his speech to Waco's history, telling the crowd that he told Patrick he wanted to hold his rally in a place with overwhelming support, not "one of those 50-50 areas."
Audience members were holding red and white signs handed out by the campaign that read "WITCH HUNT" and "I stand with Trump."
Trump repeatedly railed Saturday against the investigations, declaring "prosecutorial misconduct" in the ongoing criminal investigations but also decrying past probes, including the release of his tax returns by Democrats in the U.S. House after a prolonged legal battle.
"It probably makes me the most innocent man in the history of our country," Trump said. "Friends of mine say that."
The former president said he's had "bad publicity," but his "poll numbers have gone through the roof."
Hours before Trump arrived, hundreds of his supporters began streaming into the airport. There were no signs of counterprotesters near the long line of Trump backers waiting to get inside.
The rally was in the works before it became clear that a grand jury in New York was drawing closer to a possible indictment as it investigates hush money payments made during the height of his 2016 campaign to women who claimed they had sexual affairs with Trump. He has denied the women's claims.
The grand jury investigating the hush money payment is expected to meet again Monday in New York.
Trump has spent weeks now railing against the probe and in a post on his Truth Social platform warned Friday of "potential death & destruction in such a false charge" if he's charged with a crime.
Trump has urged his supporters to protest, and he has launched ever more personal attacks against Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg.
In addition to the Manhattan case, Trump is also facing an investigation in Georgia over his efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 election as well as federal investigations into his handling of classified documents and possible obstruction, as well as his efforts on Jan. 6, 2021.
Information for this article was contributed by Paul Weber, Michael R. Sisak and Sagar Meghani of The Associated Press.