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  • Writer's pictureDonald V. Watkins

Trump’s Attacks on Family Members of Judges Must Stop

By: Donald V. Watkins

Copyrighted and Published on April 2, 2024

IMAGE: Former Alabama Governor George C. Wallace (left) and former president Donald J. Trump (right).

An Editorial Opinion


Nobody wants to say the quiet part out loud.  I will.

Donald Trump’s attacks on the family members of judges are reckless and dangerous.  Sooner or later, these attacks will get somebody hurt or killed, and Trump knows it.


Former Alabama Governor George Wallace used similar rhetoric during his "segregation nowsegregation tomorrowsegregation forever" days in office in the 1960s.  Wallace also labeled political adversaries “punks . . . in diapers.” Trump calls them “dogs”, “pigs”, “rapists”, “criminals”, “lazy”, “fake”, “low IQ”, “mobs”, and “thugs.” 


Attacking judges was one of Wallace’s favorite political tools.   It inflamed the passions of his racist supporters and got plenty of innocent civil rights activists hurt and killed.


However, Wallace never attacked the family members of judges.  Regardless, at least one family member of a federal judge who was under Wallace’s relentless attacks committed suicide.  This family member was the son of Chief U.S. District Judge Frank Johnson in Montgomery, Alabama.


Johnson's legal decisions in the 1950s and 1960s desegregated public schools in Alabama, city buses in Montgomery, eliminated the state poll tax, allowed blacks to serve on juries, and authorized the 1965 civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery. Judge Johnson’s landmark rulings advanced the civil rights of blacks, women, inmates, and the mentally ill in Alabama and throughout America.  In 1974, he singlehandedly stopped Alabama’s widespread application of compulsory sterilization of poor women and women of color.


Wallace called Johnson an “integrating, scallawagging, carpetbagging liar.”  Wallace once declared that Johnson needed “a barbed wire enema.” 


The Ku Klux Klan called Johnson “the most hated man in Alabama,” and white students burned a cross on his lawn.

Judge Johnson and his family received constant death threats.  Johnson’s elderly mother’s house was bombed, but she escaped injury and refused to move.  Johnson and his family required continuous protection by federal agents from 1961 until 1975.

Wallace's attacks, as well as the resulting isolation and ostracism from his attacks, took a terrible toll on Judge Johnson’s family.  His son James Curtis Johnson, who suffered from years of harassment and ostracism, committed suicide in 1975 at age 28.


Donald Trump is implementing an updated and enhanced version of George Wallace’s “attack the judge” strategy.  Trump, however, has expanded this strategy to include direct attacks on the family members of judges.  Trump’s attacks on these family members are intended to subject them to the risk of harm or death from his most violent MAGA cult members.

Frankly, Donald Trump does not care if these family members get hurt or killed in a violent attack from his "patriots," or if they commit suicide to escape his tormenting conduct.


This reckless and dangerous conduct is NOT an exercise of Trump’s right to free speech, as his lawyers have claimed.  Free speech has limits when the speech at issue places the lives of others at risk. 


Trump’s conduct in placing the lives of family members of judges at risk will not stop until he spends time in jail for violating his gag orders.   Nothing short of jail time will break Trump's pattern of reckless and dangerous pretrial conduct.


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