Scores of Republican elected officials and activists have sought to discredit the integrity of federal agencies that have investigated and charged Donald Trump, marking another step away from the GOP’s longtime positioning as the party of law enforcement.

Trump and many of his GOP presidential rivals have argued without evidence that the Justice Department has unfairly targeted the former president, even as some of those candidates also asserted Monday that the federal charges he faces should be taken seriously. Republicans on Capitol Hill and beyond have similarly aimed to portray the Justice Department and the FBI as politically motivated actors, echoing Trump’s claim of the government being weaponized against him under President Biden.

In response to the charges is Trump facing, some allies have hinted at a violent response, putting authorities on high alert as the hours tick down to Trump’s first appearance in federal court in Miami since he was indicted on 37 counts related to classified documents found at his Mar-a-Lago home. In echoes of the lead-up to the violence at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, law enforcement officials are monitoring violent rhetoric in online forums and plans for gatherings by far-right extremists.

At a rally Monday night in West Palm Beach, Fla., Kari Lake, a Trump ally who lost the Arizona governor’s race last fall, said: “They can’t arrest all of us, they can’t indict all of us, they can’t stop all of us, we are so powerful together.”

Last week, Lake hinted at potential violence when she said any pursuit of Trump would have to go through her and “75 million Americans” like her, adding that “most of us are card-carrying members of the [National Rifle Association],” the pro-gun group. She stressed in a Monday appearance on Stephen K. Bannon’s talk show “War Room” that Tuesday’s gatherings should be peaceful.

Some Democrats have criticized Republicans for using such talk as they seek portray themselves as the party of law and order, and call out left-wing protesters as threats to public safety. Broadly, the Republican response reflects a larger turn the party has taken during the Trump era, as the former president has repeatedly castigated institutions that were once more revered in GOP circles, but have now becomes targets for relentless criticism.

The Republican Party has billed itself as the party of law and order for decades, dating back to Richard M. Nixon’s 1968 campaign when he coined that phrase to win over voters after a tumultuous period of antiwar demonstrations, riots and the assassinations of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Sen. Robert F. Kennedy. In many elections that followed, GOP leaders touted their tough-on-crime policies, including Trump, who echoed Nixon’s phrase throughout the 2018 midterms and the 2020 election when he argued that voters would be choosing between “law and order on one side” and “chaos on the other.”

Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) said it is “really damaging” for Republicans to “create a narrative out of thin air that Joe Biden is pulling the strings of prosecutors,” and that the GOP has “largely given up on being the party of law and order.” He added, “I don’t think this is the case for a lot of my Republican colleagues in the Senate, but the grass roots and the mainstream Republican Party today feels pretty anti-law enforcement.”

The efforts to undermine the credibility of the justice system continued Monday on Capitol Hill, where House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) told reporters that “the idea of equal justice is not playing out here.”

McCarthy suggested that Biden had perhaps been more careless than Trump in his handling of sensitive documents by noting that Justice Department officials found documents in Biden’s garage. “A bathroom door locks,” McCarthy said, defending Trump over one of the locations where the former president is alleged to have kept boxes containing sensitive documents at Mar-a-Lago.

Biden said last week that he has “never once, not one single time, suggested to the Justice Department what they should do or not do relative to bringing a charge or not bringing a charge.” His comments have done little to quiet Republican critics.

“The Republican Party is the party of law and order, but it should be law and order for everybody, and it seems like they’re going after only certain people,” said Carol Vyhonsky, a stay-at-home mom from Brevard County, Fla., who attended Lake’s event.

In the months ahead, Trump’s allies are signaling that they intend to use the full force of their investigative powers to probe the conduct of the Justice Department. Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, sent a letter to U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland indicating his intent to examine the FBI’s search of Trump’s Mar-a-Lago home, as he accused the Justice Department of pursuing “a politically motivated prosecution.”

Several Senate Republicans suggested there was a double standard for Trump. Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) said “it seems there’s two systems of justice here: one for President Trump and one for everybody else that has had classified documents.”

There is an ongoing investigation over the handling of classified documents found at a Biden’s former office and the Delaware home.

Trump’s rivals have edged carefully around his indictment, but several are increasingly pointing to the seriousness of the charges. Speaking on Fox News on Monday, Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley claimed that the Justice Department and the FBI “have lost all credibility with the American people” and that she wants to see “a complete overhaul.” But the former South Carolina governor and U.N. ambassador also stepped up her criticisms of the former president, stating that if the indictment is true, “President Trump was incredibly reckless with our national security.”

Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.), another presidential hopeful, called the federal case against Trump a “serious case with serious allegations,” but he also said he believed federal investigators were applying “a double standard.”

“You can’t protect Democrats while targeting and hunting Republicans,” Scott told reporters.

The list of Republican officials who have been offering a full-throated counterpoint to Trump and his allies so far has been relatively short, even as the tone of some is shifting toward taking the charges more seriously. Chris Christie, a former U.S. attorney and one of the rare Trump critics in the field, said during a CNN town hall on Monday night that he did not think that Biden has weaponized the Justice Department. “This evidence was pretty damning,” Christie said, stating that it is “a very tight, very detailed, evidence-laden indictment and the conduct in there is awful.”

He said his Republican rivals have, for the most part, not addressed the substance of the indictment because “it’s indefensible and they’re playing games.”

Sen. John Thune (S.D.), the second-highest-ranking Republican in the Senate, described the charges as serious. “You’re talking about national security secrets, classified information and a very detailed indictment,” he said.

He added, “The president, as he should be under our system, will be presumed innocent until proven guilty, and I think it’ll be a very high burden of proof for the Justice Department, for the special prosecutor to make his case.”

Polling from Pew Research Center suggests that the GOP attacks on the FBI and the Justice Department have had an effect. Only 38 percent of Republican and Republican-leaning adults said they viewed the FBI favorably in a survey released in March; and about 40 percent of those respondents viewed the Justice Department favorably. Although Pew’s older data is not comparable to the 2023 survey because of changes in survey mode and the wording of questions, one earlier survey showed that before Trump took office, most Republicans had a positive view of the FBI.

Trump has set the tone for the invective against federal law enforcement agencies. Shortly after the FBI search of Mar-a-Lago last year, he called the FBI and Justice Department “vicious monsters” and scoundrels.

In political speeches over the weekend, he said the FBI and the Justice Department were “corrupt” and alleged that Biden “is trying to jail his leading political opponent” — even though Garland appointed special counsel Jack Smith to take charge of the Mar-a-Lago documents case after Trump announced he was running for president. Garland said the appointment underscored “the Department’s commitment to both independence and accountability in particularly sensitive matters.”

In April, Trump called on the Republican-led Congress to defund the FBI and the Justice Department — a day after he was arraigned in Manhattan on separate charges.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, one of Trump’s top rivals for the Republican presidential nomination, has stated that he would fire FBI Director Christopher A. Wray, a Trump appointee, on his first day in office. DeSantis chided Republican presidents for accepting “the canard that the DOJ and FBI are ‘independent,’” asserting in an interview with Fox News that they are not.

Trump’s effort to undermine the authorities began as far back as 2016, when he accused then-FBI Director James B. Comey and then-Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch of failing to hold Hillary Clinton accountable in the midst of the FBI investigation into her use of a private email server while she was secretary of state.

The shift in the GOP has been building steadily since November 2020, when false claims promoted by Trump or his allies swirled in the aftermath of his defeat. Election officials, particularly in the six battleground states where Trump’s campaign contested his loss most forcefully, were among the first to see the shift — and they blamed Trump’s increasingly threatening rhetoric for the escalation.

Violent threats started pouring in. In one instance in early December 2020, armed activists rallied outside the home of Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, the state’s top election official, as she and her young son decorated their Christmas tree. In another, a voting systems contractor in the Atlanta area was forced into hiding after someone left a noose at his home following unsubstantiated claims that he had helped flip the outcome for Biden.

Then came Trump’s Dec. 19, 2020, tweet: “Big protest in D.C. on January 6th,” he wrote. “Be there, will be wild.” When Jan. 6 came, thousands of pro-Trump protesters swarmed the U.S. Capitol, grinding a joint session of Congress to a halt, delaying the final certification of Biden’s victory and leaving five people dead. Many of those eventually charged for their involvement in the riot said in court that they were inspired by Trump’s rhetoric.

The threats and violent rhetoric did not stop after Jan. 6. A Post examination in 2021 found that public officials in at least 17 states collectively received hundreds of threats to their personal safety or their lives in the months after the riot, with a concentration in the six states where Trump focused his attacks on the election results.

The similarities between that buildup and what’s happening now are hard to ignore, said David Becker, the founder of the Center for Election Innovation & Research. He said he believes the moment could be more threatening than it was in 2020, because Trump and his allies have had two and a half years to organize and continue to undermine faith in elections and other institutions.

Miami is one place on one day, he said, “and we’re concerned about the possibility of violence in several places and several dates.”

The party’s tilt away from law enforcement was evident over the weekend in Columbus, Ga., where the state GOP hosted its annual convention, and where Trump delivered his first speech since news of the indictment broke on Thursday.

In addition to Trump’s remarks there, another GOP presidential candidate, Vivek Ramaswamy, repeated his pledge to defund the FBI if he is elected. Throughout the cavernous convention center, delegates wore T-shirts with slogans such as “Defund the FBI” and “These colors don’t RUN. They RELOAD.” One exhibitor passed out a magnet with a mug shot of Trump against a lineup wall with the caption, “NOT GUILTY.”

Wells reported from West Palm Beach, Fla.

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