Donald Trump warned evangelical leaders at a private dinner on Monday that his opponents would turn to violence if Republicans lost November's mid-term elections.
In comments recorded at the event in the State Dining Room at the White House and reported in US media yesterday, he referred to the militant left-wing 'anti-fascist' grouping and said: 'It's not a question of like or dislike, it's a question that they will overturn everything that we've done and they will do it quickly and violently. And violently. There is violence. When you look at Antifa – these are violent people.'
He continued: 'The level of hatred, the level of anger is unbelievable. Part of it is because of some of the things I've done for you and for me and for my family, but I've done them.'
The November 6 election, he said, was 'very much a referendum on not only me, it's a referendum on your religion, it's a referendum on free speech and the First Amendment. It's a referendum on so much.'
He urged his hearers to use their influence on his behalf, saying: 'You have tremendous power. You were saying, in this room, you have people who preach to almost 200 million people. Depending on which Sunday we're talking about.'
Trump relied heavily on evangelicals' support for his election in 2016. Their backing has remained solid despite his well-publicised difficulties over payoffs to porn star Stormy Daniels, who has alleged an affair with him, and investigations into his campaign's alleged Russian links. At the dinner on Monday he gave examples of how he had helped evangelicals, claiming to have 'got rid of' the Johnson amendment banning churches taking part in political campaigns – a highly contested claim – and that Americans were again allowed to say 'Merry Christmas', implying they had been forbidden to do so.
He told his audience: 'You have to hopefully get out and get people to support us. If you don't, that will be the beginning of ending everything that you've gotten.'
Trump was presented with a Bible signed by 100 Christian leaders by his spiritual adviser Paula White. The inscription read: 'First Lady and President, you are in our prayers always. Thank you for your courageous and bold stand for religious liberty, and for your timeless service to all Americans. We appreciate the price that you have paid to walk in the high calling. History will record the greatness that you have brought for generations.'
One evangelical leader present, Southern Baptist Convention president JD Greear, said he had attended after careful thought despite being committed to 'decoupling the church from partisan politics'. 'Sometimes we have to step out of our comfort zones for the sake of the gospel. I did not sign the Bible – I was not asked and was not aware it was being given,' he said on Twitter.
In other remarks released officially, Trump paid tribute to John McCain after the death of the long-time senator, having faced withering criticism over his failure to do so previously, saying 'we very much appreciate everything that Senator McCain has done for our country'. He also spoke of his administration's work on religious liberty and the persecution of Christians, on restricting abortion and on its record on increasing employment.