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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WHO DOESN’T LOVE A POSITIVE STORY—OR TWO?

“Great journalism really does make a difference in this world: it can even save kids.”

That’s what a civil rights lawyer wrote to Julia Lurie, the day after her major investigation into a psychiatric hospital chain that uses foster children as “cash cows” published, letting her know he was using her findings that same day in a hearing to keep a child out of one of the facilities we investigated.

That’s awesome. As is the fact that Julia, who spent a full year reporting this challenging story, promptly heard from a Senate committee that will use her work in their own investigation of Universal Health Services. There’s no doubt her revelations will continue to have a big impact in the months and years to come.

Like another story about Mother Jones’ real-world impact.

This one, a multiyear investigation, published in 2021, exposed conditions in sugar work camps in the Dominican Republic owned by Central Romana—the conglomerate behind brands like C&H and Domino, whose product ends up in our Hershey bars and other sweets. A year ago, the Biden administration banned sugar imports from Central Romana. And just recently, we learned of a previously undisclosed investigation from the Department of Homeland Security, looking into working conditions at Central Romana. How big of a deal is this?

“This could be the first time a corporation would be held criminally liable for forced labor in their own supply chains,” according to a retired special agent we talked to.

Wow.

And it is only because Mother Jones is funded primarily by donations from readers that we can mount ambitious, yearlong—or more—investigations like these two stories that are making waves.

About that: It’s unfathomably hard in the news business right now, and we came up about $28,000 short during our recent fall fundraising campaign. We simply have to make that up soon to avoid falling further behind than can be made up for, or needing to somehow trim $1 million from our budget, like happened last year.

If you can, please support the reporting you get from Mother Jones—that exists to make a difference, not a profit—with a donation of any amount today. We need more donations than normal to come in from this specific blurb to help close our funding gap before it gets any bigger.

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