Disgraced and criminally indicted ex-president Donald Trump continues a non-stop escalation of his immigration rhetoric, with baseless accusations that President Joe Biden has waged a “conspiracy to overthrow the United States of America.”

Trump has a long history of trying to turn attack lines back on his rivals in an attempt to diminish their impact. Biden has cast Trump as a threat to democracy, pointing to the former president’s efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 election. Those efforts culminated in the attack on the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021, as his supporters tried to halt the peaceful transition of power.

Trump, who has responded by calling Biden “the real threat to democracy” and alleged without proof that Biden is responsible for the indictments he faces, turned to Biden’s border policies on Saturday, charging that “every day Joe Biden is giving aid and comfort to foreign enemies of the United States.”

Similar false arguments have long been made by people who allege Democrats are promoting illegal immigration to weaken the power of White voters — part of a racist conspiracy, once confined to the far right, claiming there is an intentional push by the U.S. liberal establishment to systematically diminish the influence of white people.

Trump leaned into the fraudulent theory again at his rally later in Virginia, saying of the migrants: “They’re trying to sign them up to get them to vote in the next election.”

“Once again Trump is projecting in an attempt to distract the American people from the fact he killed the fairest and toughest border security bill in decades because he believed it would help his campaign. Sad,” Biden campaign spokesman Ammar Moussa said in a statement.

Much of Trump’s rally speeches have focused on the slew of criminal charges he faces. While the ex-president has successfully harnessed his legal woes into a powerful rallying cry in the primaries, it is unclear how his message of grievance will resonate with the more moderate voters who will likely decide the general election.

“I stand before you not only as your past and hopefully future president, but as a proud political dissident and a public enemy of a rogue regime,” Trump said, railing against what he called an “anti-Democratic machine.”

At several rallies, Trump has played a recording of “Justice for All,” the version of the Star-Spangled Banner that he collaborated on with a group of defendants jailed over their alleged roles in the January 2021 insurrection, whom he refers to as “hostages.”

As he focuses on the general election, Trump has painted an apocalyptic vision of the country under Biden, particularly on the topic of immigration, which was the animating issue of his 2016 campaign and which he has once again seized on as the U.S. has experienced a record influx of migrants at the border.

Trump and Biden both visited the U.S.-Mexico border in March to highlight their contrasting approaches to the issue.

Trump continues conjured misleading images of Biden turning “public schools into migrant camps” and “the USA into a crime-ridden, disease-ridden dumping ground, which is what they’re doing.” He also spoke at length about the murder of Laken Riley, a 22-year-old nursing student whose alleged killer is a Venezuelan man who entered the U.S. illegally and was allowed to stay to pursue his immigration case.

Studies have found native-born U.S. residents are more likely to have been arrested for violent crimes than people in the country illegally, but Trump has seized on several high-profile incidents, including a recent video of a group of migrants brawling with police in Times Square.

“Not one more innocent American life should be lost to migrant crime,” Trump said.

Trump, who repeatedly attacks Biden’s intelligence and mental acuity, has been sensitive to questions of his own sharpness after he mixed up Haley with Nancy Pelosi and Biden with former President Barack Obama at past rallies.

Trump has lately sought to inoculate any questions by insisting he interchanges the names intentionally.

“I do that because you know that makes a point. Do we understand that, right? Because a lot of people say he’s running the country. I don’t personally think so,” Trump said at an appearance in Virginia.

But more than an hour into his free-flowing and irrationally disjointed remarks, he seemed to mix up Obama and Biden again, when he said “Putin, you know, has so little respect for Obama that he’s starting to throw around the ‘nuclear’ word.”

Trump won North Carolina twice but watched his margin of victory shrink. Biden’s reelection campaign already has staff on the ground hoping to flip the state for the first time since 2008.

Virginia, meanwhile, had once been a swing state but for years has trended blue and Trump lost there twice. At a North Carolina rally, supporters stood in a line that snaked through a web of metal barricades and extended hundreds of yards from the arena. License plates from North Carolina, Virginia, and Tennessee filled the parking lot, where Trump flags flew alongside U.S. and Confederate flags on many vehicles.

“We just love Trump,” said, Mary Welborn, who lived in nearby Thomasville and expressed that she was frustrated by the criminal prosecutions and civil judgments against the former president. “The way he’s being treated is insane. No other president has been treated this way,” she said.

Bill Barrow and Jill Colvin

Associated Press

GREENSBORO, North Carolina

Chris Carlson (AP) and Alex Brandon (AP)