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Georgia GOP convention welcomes Trump despite federal indictment

Over a thousand state party loyalists, who have bolstered the former president's claims that the 2020 election was rigged against him, gathered at the event on Friday in anticipation of Trump's arrival Saturday.

COLUMBUS, Ga. (CN) — Supporters and allies of Donald Trump showed up in full force at the Georgia GOP convention Friday, despite the former president's announcement just hours before that he was indicted for alleged mishandling of classified documents at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida.

Trump is set to speak at the convention on Saturday, as his first speech since the indictment and first campaign stop in Georgia since announcing his comeback bid.

He is expected to mock the state's criminal investigation surrounding him and his allies and their attempts to reverse his defeat to Joe Biden in Georgia's 2020 elections. The Fulton County prosecutor, Fani Willis, who is leading the probe, said she will be announcing indictments in August based on findings produced by a special grand jury.

Chairman of Georgia's Republican Party, David Shafer, is also a target of potential criminal prosecution for his role in the organization of a slate of fake GOP electors to certify a false victory for Trump. Several of the false electors recently struck immunity deals with Fulton County prosecutors, narrowing the scrutiny on Shafer and those who were not part of the deal.

During the convention, state GOP delegates will elect a new party leader, as Schafer decided not to seek another term as the party's top state leader.

An ultra-conservative faction known as the Georgia Republican Assembly, who has emphasized loyalty to Trump, dominated the event, as they recently won control of local GOP organizations in at least a dozen counties across the state, including several in metro Atlanta.

They have proposed a rule change that will be voted on during the convention that would give the state party's roughly 1,500 delegates the power to prevent a political candidate from qualifying to run as a Republican if they're deemed to be insufficiently conservative or a party "traitor."

Another rule proposal seeks to block any LGBTQ+ members from holding any leadership positions within the party in order to uphold its "belief in God" and the "traditional family."

Kandis Taylor, one of its most prominent loyalists who refused to concede after her "Jesus, guns and babies" campaign lost to Governor Brian Kemp last year and referred to globes as a round-earth conspiracy in an interview last month, opened the convention stage Friday with a prayer, standing before a red, white and blue-drenched crowd.

The faction's activists have boasted the former president's election fraud conspiracies and vilified Kemp, Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger and other Republicans who rejected Trump’s demands to illegally overturn his 2020 election defeat.

Kemp, who defeated Trump's endorsed candidate David Perdue by 52 points last year, and Raffensberger were both absent from the convention, as well as Attorney General Chris Carr. Although Kemp announced he would be skipping the event long before organizers announced Trump's appearance, his absence illustrates the party's current polarization between more moderate Republicans and those devoted to Trump.

After Trump narrowly lost Georgia in the 2020 race, he pressured Kemp and Raffensperger to call a special legislative session to overturn his defeat. And despite three separate tallies of roughly 5 million ballots, failed court challenges and affirmation from state and federal elections officials of President Biden's win, Trump has continued to publicly attack and blame Kemp for his loss.

"I don't care how you feel about Trump, that's what they'll do to any one of us who is deemed as a threat," said U.S. Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene about the federal prosecution against the former president.

Greene, who has falsely stated that "Trump won Georgia," urged Republican activists on Friday to come together and stop fighting with one another and attacked the FBI, who she said is controlling Washington.

Presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy also spoke out against what most GOP activists decried as a politically motivated and weaponized Justice Department. The 37-year-old entrepreneur drew a standing ovation on Friday, vowing to replace "wokeism" with "American ideals."

"God is real, there are two genders, fossil fuels are a necessity for human development, and capitalism is the best known system to lift people out of poverty," said Ramaswamy. "That's what it means to be an American."

He also said that if he is elected, he will strive to raise the voting age, and that those between the ages of 18 and 25 will only be able to vote if they serve in the U.S. military, police force or pass the citizenship test.

Other speakers include election conspiracy theorist Garland Favorito, whose dismissed lawsuit claiming counterfeit ballots tainted the 2020 election was revived in part by a federal appeals court last month, and former Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson, who is supposed to address a Saturday morning breakfast. However, amid the news of Trump's indictment on Thursday, Hutchinson said in statement that Trump should end his campaign for reelection.

“With the news that Donald Trump has been indicted for the second time, our country finds itself in a position that weakens our democracy,” his statement read. “Donald Trump’s actions—from his willful disregard for the Constitution to his disrespect for the rule of law—should not define our nation or the Republican Party.”

Kari Lake, who also falsely claimed that the 2020 election was "stolen" and refused to concede her defeat in last year’s race for Arizona governor, will be delivering the keynote address to a sold-out banquet Friday night.

Former Vice President Mike Pence, who announced Wednesday that he is running against Trump for the Republican primary, was originally scheduled to deliver the address, but reportedly canceled and was swapped for Lake.

The southern college town of Columbus is gearing up for heightened security in preparation of Trump's arrival Saturday. His speech is expected to take place around 2:30 p.m., but his appearance will be brief as he's also reportedly traveling to Greensboro, North Carolina, that same day for the North Carolina Republican State Convention.

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