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Photo diptych with images of Young Thug and Donald Trump.
The arrest of Jeffrey Lamar Williams, known professionally as Young Thug, should put former President Donald Trump on edge.  MSNBC / Getty Images file

Why Young Thug's arrest should ring alarm bells for Trump

If a rapper can catch a RICO charge over song lyrics, shouldn't a president be able to catch a RICO charge over tweets and more?


Like many people, I was surprised to learn last week that the platinum-selling rapper Young Thug was at the center of a sweeping indictment accusing him and 27 others of criminal gang activity.

Young Thug, whose real name is Jeffrey Lamar Williams, co-founded Young Slime Life, a violent street gang founded in Atlanta in 2012, according to prosecutors. The 56-count indictment includes multiple felony charges related to racketeering, drugs and weapons.

To bolster her case against Williams, Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis used some of his lyrics as evidence.

Williams has pleaded not guilty. His attorneys said that he was simply exercising his freedom of speech as an artist and that “the state seeks to insinuate criminal conduct from quotations from song lyrics and social media posts.”

On its face, using song lyrics as corroborating evidence of criminality is a questionable practice with major First Amendment implications. That said, courts have ruled that lyrics are admissible evidence, and Willis clearly thinks they can be used to help prove someone violated the state's Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) statutes.

But what about tweets? 

Remember: Willis’ office is also investigating former President Donald Trump for potential RICO charges stemming from his efforts to overturn his 2020 election loss to Joe Biden in Georgia. And if song lyrics can be used to ensnare a musician in a potential racketeering charge, shouldn’t the ex-president face similar scrutiny for his conspiratorial and menacing tweets? 

Georgia was central in Trump’s failed attempt to overturn the election results and keep himself in power. In January 2021, leaked audio revealed he asked Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to "find" more votes in his favor to help him win.

But along with that, Trump's tweets about Georgia help tell the story of an obsessive loser — one who stopped at nothing to stir a flurry of right-wing anger over nonexistent election fraud, with hopes the outrage would keep him in office for as long as he wished.

Let’s review: 

  • Days after the 2020 election, when Biden had already been declared the projected winner, Trump retweeted a post from Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp about only counting legal ballots. Trump claimed that meant he was victorious. “This is good news, it means I won!” he tweeted. (It didn’t.) 
  • In December 2020, he tweeted that Kemp should “resign from office,” claiming he was an “obstructionist who refuses to admit that we won Georgia, BIG!” (He didn’t.)
  • Trump also retweeted a post that month from right-wing conspiracy theorist and lawyer Lin Wood saying Raffensperger and Kemp “will soon be going to jail” over baseless claims they helped cheat Trump out of being re-elected.
  • Trump posted a tweet in January 2021 falsely alleging there was impropriety with voting machines in Republican strongholds during Georgia's special Senate elections. The tweet claimed that reports were “coming out of the 12th Congressional District of Georgia that Dominion Machines are not working in certain Republican Strongholds for over an hour. Ballots are being left in lock boxes, hopefully they count them.” Those claims were immediately rebuffed by Georgia’s Republican election officials.
  • In another tweet that month, Trump floated a conspiracy theory about a “dump” of fraudulent votes being used to steal the races from Republicans as vote counts showed the GOP was en route to losing at least one Senate seat during the special elections. “Looks like they are setting up a big ‘voter dump’ against the Republican candidates. Waiting to see how many votes they need?” he tweeted. This was a lie, of course, but a lie Trump repeatedly told about states he lost.

And the tweets only tell part of the story of Trump and his team’s Georgia schemes. Reuters reported extensively on the Trump campaign’s effort to scapegoat two Black election workers, falsely alleging they had fraudulently discarded votes for Trump. And all of these acts were in furtherance of a lawless plot to interfere in Georgia’s electoral processes. 

“It does not matter what your notoriety is, what your fame is, if you come to Fulton County, Georgia, and you commit crimes ... you are going to become a target and a focus of this district attorney’s office, and we are going to prosecute you to the fullest extent of the law,” Willis said at a news conference last week about Williams' arrest.

For the country’s sake, I just hope her definition of “gangs” goes beyond groups like YSL. The MAGA gang has proven to be the most dangerous of all.