Trump’s Call to Imprison Hillary Clinton Was More Than a Year in the Making

How a T-shirt slogan became a campaign talking point.

Patrick Fallon/ZUMA Press

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At Sunday’s presidential debate, Donald Trump promised to prosecute and imprison his Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton, if he wins the November election. Trump’s comments, which are unprecedented in the history of American presidential campaigns, was quickly denounced by liberals and some conservatives. Republican strategist Stuart Stevens tweeted that the only other politician he’d seen make such a threat “was later convicted of war crimes.”

But Trump’s position, while shocking, was not new. It has been a core plank of his platform since last winter, and a fantasy of many of his supporters for far longer. Here’s a brief history of an authoritarian fever dream that’s moved from the conspiratorial fringe to the center stage of a presidential debate.

Related: How Donald Trump became America’s conspiracy theorist in chief

2015

September: Infowars debuts its “Hillary for Prison” T-shirt. “I’m proud of it,” says Alex Jones.

December: Donald Trump tweets an image of a supporter in a “Hillary for Prison” T-shirt.

2016

June 2: Trump tells a rally in San Jose, California, “Hillary Clinton has to go to jail. She has to go to jail…She’s guilty as hell.”

June 11: An electronic road sign on Interstate 30 outside Dallas is hacked to read “Hillary for Prison.”

July 16: A plane pulling an Infowars-branded “Hillary for Prison” banner flies over Cleveland.

July 18: Colorado Senate candidate Darryl Glenn tells the Republican National Convention, “We know [Clinton] enjoys her pantsuits, but…what she deserves is a bright orange jumpsuit.” Retired Lt. General Michael Flynn urges on the chanting crowd: “Lock her up, that’s right. Yep, that’s right: Lock her up!”

July 19: In his RNC speech, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie puts Clinton on trial. As the crowd shouts, “Lock her up!” he responds, “We’ll get there.”

July 20: “‘Lock her up.’ I love that,” Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi quips during her RNC speech. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker tells attendees, “Hillary Clinton is the ultimate liberal Washington insider. If she were any more on the inside, she’d be in prison.” Google searches for “Hillary for Prison” peak.

“Hillary Jail Stripes” T-shirt: Now for sale on Trump’s campaign website Trump website

July 30: At a town parade in Iowa, children throw water balloons at a “Hillary for Prison” float while a man in a Hillary mask and an orange jumpsuit dances inside a cage.

Early August: Conservative media buzzes with the story of a Mississippi boy who wore a “Hillary for Prison” T-shirt to provoke his liberal teacher.

September: Trump’s campaign website sells “Hillary for Prison” pins—three for $6. The “Hillary Jail Stripes” T-shirt is $20.

October 9: At the second presidential debate, Trump tells Clinton that if he’s elected, he will appoint a special prosecutor and “you would be in jail.”

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Thank you!

We didn't know what to expect when we told you we needed to raise $400,000 before our fiscal year closed on June 30, and we're thrilled to report that our incredible community of readers contributed some $415,000 to help us keep charging as hard as we can during this crazy year.

You just sent an incredible message: that quality journalism doesn't have to answer to advertisers, billionaires, or hedge funds; that newsrooms can eke out an existence thanks primarily to the generosity of its readers. That's so powerful. Especially during what's been called a "media extinction event" when those looking to make a profit from the news pull back, the Mother Jones community steps in.

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