It was after the press was ushered out of the room that the controversial comments were apparently made. At a White House dinner for evangelical leaders on Monday, President Trump reportedly said "violence" could come from GOP losses in the midterm elections, NBC News reported. Directed to a number of pastors and other Christian leaders in the State Dining Room, Trump also reportedly emphasized his since-proven-false claim that he had done away with a law that forbade churches from endorsing political candidates.
"This November 6 election is 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," Trump said, according to CNN, citing a recording the outlet obtained from people who were in the room.
"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," said Trump, predicting what he believes will come if people don't vote for GOP candidates. "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."
Antifa, the group that Trump reportedly referred to, is a far-left anti-fascist group that takes on self-described neo-Nazis and white supremacists when they rally in the public square. The president and some Republican figures often try to link Democrats to this group, The Hill reported.
Trump also said to evangelical leaders that there is an "unbelievable" level of "hatred" and anger "for you and for me and for my family," citing his achievements for the Christian community as a partial reason for the bad blood, according to recorded excerpts obtained by NBC News.
Separately, according to NBC News, the law that Trump says he got rid of is the Johnson Amendment, which says churches and charities are absolutely not allowed to have any involvement in any political campaign. The thing is, Trump could not have struck it down — it's not within presidential power to repeal a law.
"Now you're not silenced anymore," said Trump. "It's gone and there's no penalty anymore and if you like somebody or if you don't like somebody you can go out and say, 'This man is going to be great for evangelicals, or for Christianity or for another religion. This person is somebody that I like and I'm going to talk about it on Sunday.'"
The White House posted a YouTube video of Trump's remarks to the evangelical leaders on Monday. While the "violence" comment in question is not on the video, having apparently come after cameras were turned off, Trump does talk about his work for the Christian community, listing his administration's efforts on Title X funding, the embassy opening in Jerusalem and religious liberty initiatives.
"As you know in recent years, the government tried to undermine religious freedom. but the attacks on communities of faith are are over. We've ended it," Trump said. "Unlike some before us, we are protecting your religious liberty."