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Three reasons the MAGA NYC rally was nothing like Jan. 6

Trump appears to be struggling to throw the kind of protest party he's calling for.

A Florida man was arraigned on criminal charges in Manhattan on Tuesday without much incident. Yes, the man was former President Donald Trump, who called his indictment “persecution” and instructed his followers to protest, to little avail. Outspoken Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., showed up to lead a protest but quickly fled, deeming counterprotests loud enough to “cause audible damage.”  

Following initial news of Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg’s indictment of Trump on March 30, Fox News’ Tucker Carlson hosted a guest who advocated for “unrest,” saying, “If that’s what they want, let’s get to it.” Still, there was no security incident to report. At least yet; it’s way too early to declare victory over the threat posed by a former president who incited an insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. But it’s not too soon to assess the factors that will bring that risk picture into focus.

The overwhelming security presence in Manhattan on Tuesday and the media coverage of security preparations sent a message to anyone thinking about violence to think again.

At least three variables shaped Tuesday’s relatively peaceful response to Trump’s court appearance, and they will continue to factor into the security risks in the days and months ahead as we wait for Trump’s next court case in the Manhattan case, and for any developments in the ongoing Fulton County, Georgia, and federal investigations into his alleged behavior.

First, the overwhelming security presence in Manhattan on Tuesday and the media coverage of security preparations sent a message to anyone thinking about violence to think again. The New York area law enforcement community, including over 30,000 sworn NYPD officers, all in full uniform, the FBI’s NY Joint Terrorism Task Force, the U.S. Secret Service, along with myriad state and federal partners, partnered to prevent violence. Ironically, Trump’s early and inaccurate prediction of the timing of his indictment helped law enforcement to get a jump start on their planning.

Whatever combination of behind-the-scenes intelligence collection — including social media monitoring — and physical security measures should be a template for jurisdictions such as Georgia and the federal government for any future Trump arraignments.

Second, the high-profile prosecution of Jan. 6 rioters may be a deterrent to future violence. As Trump’s New York criminal case moves forward, we’ll learn whether the arrests of at least 1,000 Americans for participating in the Capitol riot will have a chilling effect on politically motivated violence. Among those 1,000 defendants were four Oath Keepers who were found guilty of the serious offense of seditious conspiracy. Leaders of the Proud Boys face their own seditious conspiracy charges, and one member has already pleaded guilty to that charge. Of course, while law enforcement may have a better grasp of the violent extremist groups post-Jan. 6, the threat from lone offenders is much more difficult to defend against.

Third, the nature of this Manhattan case may not be the stuff that motivates the MAGA crowd to violence. This case is about hush money payments to adult film actress Stormy Daniels and a second woman, as well as payments made to a former Trump Tower doorman, and the related 34 falsifications of business records to mask one or more other felonies. What it’s not about is the “big lie” — the false conspiracy theory that the 2020 presidential election was stolen from him because of fraud. That’s the dangerous belief that incited Trump followers to believe they had to resort to violence to preserve a fair election process in America. The Georgia case, if it results in indictments, and the federal case on Trump’s attempt to overthrow the 2020 election outcome are about the “big lie” and could therefore press the buttons that activate a more violent response than we saw in Manhattan on Tuesday.

It remains to be seen whether Trump and his GOP cohorts can throw the kind of protest party they’re calling for. But for now, the lack of law-breaking lackeys on arraignment day is reminiscent of the words of T.S. Eliot in his 1925 poem, “The Hollow Men.” Eliot wrote, “This is the way the world ends, not with a bang but a whimper.” Maybe, just maybe, this is the way Trump’s defiance of the rule of law ends, too.