The 14th Amendment disqualification trial against former President Donald Trump continued Tuesday in Colorado, where a group of voters are trying to keep him off the 2024 ballot based on the Constitution’s post-Civil War “insurrectionist ban.”
An expert on right-wing extremism dissected Trump’s history of fomenting unrest and testified that Trump’s speech on January 6, 2021, was unmistakably interpreted by his most militant supporters as “a call to violence.” This is a key part of the challengers’ argument that Trump “engaged” in the insurrection and is therefore ineligible for office.
The battle over Trump’s spot on the ballot has heated up. While the trial played out in Colorado, Trump filed a lawsuit to shut down a similar case in Michigan. And a major hearing is set for Thursday in Minnesota in another anti-Trump candidacy challenge.
The 14th Amendment says US officials who take an oath to uphold the Constitution are disqualified from office if they “engaged in insurrection” or aided the country’s enemies. But the Constitution doesn’t say how to enforce the ban, and it has only been applied twice since the 19th century, which is why many experts view these challenges as a legal long shot.
Here are the latest highlights from the Colorado trial and beyond:
‘A call to violence’ on January 6
Peter Simi, a sociology professor at Chapman University who studies extremism, testified about Trump’s history of embracing of far-right brawler groups like the Proud Boys, albeit with enough wiggle room for plausible deniability.
Trump was often “using language with a wink and a nod,” Simi said, but members of these extremist groups consistently interpreted his comments as a “clarion call” toward “anger, resentment and mobilization.” This ramped up in summer 2020 as Trump claimed he was being cheated in the presidential election, Simi said.
Eric Olson, an attorney for the Colorado challengers, played clips from Trump’s January 6 speech, where he urged supporters to march to the Capitol and “fight like hell” so they could “save” the country (Though, at times, he also said they should do so peacefully.)
Right-wing extremists understood those words as “a call to violence,” Simi said, adding, “within far-right extremist culture, fighting is meant to be taken literally … especially within the context as it’s laid out, that these threats are imminent, and that you’re going to lose your country. Then, fighting would be understood as requiring violent action.”
The relationship between Trump and far-right extremists is “unprecedented,” Simi said.
“Far-right extremists really were galvanized by his candidacy starting in 2015,” Simi said. “And a relationship really emerged between Donald Trump and far-right extremists, with far-right extremists really seeing him as speaking their language, and really addressing many of their key grievances.”
Democrats also wanted to ‘fight’
Trump lawyer Scott Gessler pushed back against Simi during cross-examination, pointing out that Democrats used some of the same incendiary language as Trump.
He played a montage of Democrats saying they would “fight” or “fight like hell.”
He also zeroed in on a 2018 remark by President Joe Biden, where he said he wished he could “take (Trump) behind the gym and beat the hell out of him” like they were in high school.
The three-minute montage featured clips from Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, 2016 Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Sen. Bernie Sanders, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, Rep. Jamie Raskin and top Democrats.
14th Amendment scholar to testify next
The anti-Trump challengers said they’ll feature additional expert testimony from one of the preeminent scholars on the history of the 14th Amendment, Gerard Magliocca. He supports Trump’s disqualification and testified at a similar proceeding last year against GOP Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia. That challenge did not result in her removal from the ballot.
After the challengers wrap, it’ll be Trump’s turn to put on his case.
Trump isn’t attending the proceedings and isn’t testifying. But at least one Republican congressman plans to take the stand: Texas Rep. Troy Nehls posted Tuesday on social media that he will participate in the “sham trial” because “I was at the doors on January 6, face to face with protestors, and I know firsthand there was NO INSURRECTION.”
Trump sues to stop Michigan ballot challenge
Hoping to fend off another major 14th Amendment challenge, Trump sued to shut down a related lawsuit in Michigan.
A liberal-leaning advocacy group filed a lawsuit there in September, seeking a court order prohibiting Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson from placing Trump’s name on the 2024 presidential ballot in the state.
Trump filed a separate lawsuit in the Michigan Court of Claims on Monday, asking a judge to find that Benson doesn’t have the power under state law to block Trump from the ballot based on 14th Amendment grounds.
“Despite President Trump’s tremendous popularity, there are people who want to deny Michigan voters the opportunity to express their choice by voting for him,” Trump’s lawyers wrote. “To accomplish this, they want the Secretary of State to violate her duties and exercise powers she does not have to keep President Trump’s name off of the ballot.”
CNN has reached out to the Trump campaign for comment, as well as Free Speech for People, the group that filed the candidacy challenges in Michigan and Minnesota.
CNN’s Devan Cole and Avery Lotz contributed to this report.
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