Having largely avoided public appearances since departing the White House, former President Donald Trump returned to the political stage on Saturday, delivering remarks touching on subjects ranging from his extended Facebook ban to the coronavirus pandemic.
Trump, who has teased a potential 2024 bid, vowed to “take back our country,” predicting Republicans would hold North Carolina’s open Senate seat in 2022 and that voters would reject President Joe Biden at the polls in 2024.
“We are going to take back our country and take it back at a level that is very good for our country and our citizens. We cannot let bad things happen to our country, and bad, bad things are happening to us perhaps like never before,” he said, later adding he was “confident that the people of North Carolina will decisively reject Joe Biden and the radical Democrats.”
The former president, whose direct communication with supporters via social media during his candidacy was a key component of his 2016 victory, added he was “not too interested” in returning to Facebook, which extended his ban from the platform for two more years.
“[Facebook CEO Mark] Zuckerberg, that is another beauty. They say they may allow me back [onto the platform] in two years, but I’m not too interested in that,” he said. “It is so unfair. It is not just me, [but] they are [also] shutting down the voice of a much more powerful and a larger group.”
Facebook, along with other social media platforms, such as Twitter and Youtube, first suspended the then-president in the wake of the Jan. 6 siege of Capitol Hill, arguing Trump had incited an insurrection.
Trump was impeached on the charge of inciting an insurrection in the House of Representatives, but he was acquitted in the Senate. He had previously been impeached on two Ukraine-related charges in 2019 before being acquitted in the Senate.
Prior to his deplatforming, Trump’s social media posts about COVID-19 were often hit with warning labels or deleted, with Big Tech fact-checkers saying the posts spread misinformation.
Trump has held firm on many of his claims about the coronavirus, which he has termed the “China virus” due to the disease’s initial discovery in China, saying the nation should pay “reparations” to the United States for the damage that COVID-19 has caused.
“We demand reparations from the Communist Party of China,” he said in Greenville on Saturday. “China must pay. They must pay.”
Trump was one of the early proponents of the Wuhan lab leak hypothesis, or the idea that COVID-19 emerged after a leak at the Wuhan Institute of Virology rather than naturally. Once considered fringe, the theory has become mainstream in recent weeks, with Biden demanding the intelligence community “redouble” efforts to uncover whether the virus originated in a lab or in nature.
Dr. Robert Redfield, the head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention under Trump, recently said he believes the “most likely” origin for COVID-19 is a Wuhan lab escape; in March, he said one of the biggest problems “that affected our success in this pandemic was not being allowed into China” in the early days of the outbreak.
Despite initially laughing off the possibility that COVID-19 escaped from a lab, Dr. Anthony Fauci, Biden’s chief medical adviser, now says he is unsure about the disease’s origin.
“No, actually. … No, I’m not convinced about that. I think that we should continue to investigate what went on in China until we find out to the best of our ability exactly what happened,” he said when asked by Politifact last month about whether he was still confident that COVID-19 emerged naturally. “Certainly, the people who’ve investigated it say it likely was the emergence from an animal reservoir that then infected individuals, but it could’ve been something else, and we need to find that out.”
Fauci, who served in both the Trump and Biden administrations, has attracted controversy ever since both Buzzfeed and the Washington Post published thousands of pages of emails on Tuesday that many on the Right say show he was participating in a cover-up. While Democrats have defended Fauci, with Biden insisting he remains “very confident” in his chief medical adviser, many Republican officials have called for the doctor to be fired or even prosecuted.
“After seeing the emails, our Country is fortunate I didn’t do what Dr. Fauci wanted me to do,” Trump said in a statement on Tuesday, adding that some of his decisions in the early days of the pandemic, such as closing the border and restricting air travel to heavily infected countries, resulted in him being “given credit, even by ‘Tony,’ for saving hundreds of thousands of lives.”