MIAMI (CN) – Amid increased tensions with Iran, President Trump sought to shore up support among evangelical voters at a massive Miami church Friday night, led by a self-described apostle who claims his ministry has brought dead babies back to life through a portal to God.
The rally at the King Jesus International Ministry Church came the night after a Trump-ordered air strike killed Iranian Major General Qasem Soleimani and Iraqi commander Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis near a Baghdad airport.
The operation was executed in response to a New Year’s Eve attack on the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, purportedly perpetrated by militia members of the Popular Mobilization Forces, an Iraq-state-sponsored group led in part by Mahdi al-Muhandis.
Trump on Friday night called Soleimani a “terrorist ringleader responsible for gravely wounding and murdering thousands and thousands of people.”
“I don’t know if you know what was happening, but he was planning a very major attack. And we got him,” Trump said at the church event.
Tensions with Iran have been tightening since President Trump withdrew the U.S. from the Iran nuclear treaty. The Defense Department stated earlier Friday that Soleimani orchestrated a Dec. 27 rocket attack that killed an American contractor and other assaults on coalition bases in Iraq.
Trump discussed the Iran crisis briefly at the church rally before turning back to themes of religious freedom. The president told a sprawling crowd that Democrats are conspiring to “shut out God from the public square so they can impose their anti-religious and socialist agenda.”
“Every Democratic candidate running for president is trying to punish believers and silence our churches and pastors. We can smile because we are winning, by so much,” Trump declared.
Some members of the crowd lifted their hands in exaltation as if the speech was a sermon.
Trump carried Florida in 2016, securing enough votes in North and Central Florida to offset heavy Democratic support in Miami-Dade and neighboring Broward and Palm Beach, the state’s three most populous counties.
Friday’s event was held at the church of pastor Guillermo Maldonado, who maintains God helps him carry out supernatural acts in plain view. On an episode of evangelist Sid Roth’s talk show “It’s Supernatural,” Maldonado said that he commands a portal to the divine and can impart his followers with the ability to perform miracles as well.
Maldonado has claimed that after a pregnant woman watched one of his TV sermons, her soon-to-be-born child’s deformities disappeared. He proclaimed that the unborn baby’s missing arms and legs suddenly grew out, nine months into the pregnancy.
He also claims his ministry has raised the dead, and that he restored the ability to walk to more than a dozen wheelchair-bound attendees of a religious conference.
On Friday, Maldonado introduced Trump with a prayer: “I pray for him to defy and challenge giants in the world and defy and challenge enemies in this nation. We pray for the Holy Spirit to invade this place, for the president to experience the presence of the living God.”
Trump reiterated his commitment to repealing the Johnson Amendment, a decades-old tax rule that prohibits non-profit churches and other organizations from endorsing political candidates.
He also decried a recent Tennessee lawsuit over a county school system’s religious activities, including school-directed prayer and posting of Bible verses in school facilities.
“A society without religion cannot prosper. A nation without faith can not endure because justice, goodness and peace cannot prevail without the glory of almighty God,” Trump proclaimed.
One Trump backer loudly screamed, “Screw the media.”
Outside the church, clashes raged on between Trump supporters and protesters.
At one point, a group of Trump supporters rushed and surrounded a protester holding a sign that read, “Fuck Trump and fuck you for supporting him.” Tactical police swarmed in and broke up the melee, but allowed the crowd and the protester to continue hurling insults at each other from a distance. One of the policemen had his hands firmly wrapped around a three-foot long assault rifle pointed at the ground.
A large contingent of protesters gathered outside the gates of El Rey Jesus, chanting, playing bongos and shaking posters, one of which read, “Trump wants war.”
Attendee Trini Espada, a Cuba immigrant who has lived in the U.S. for more than 40 years, said she supports Trump because “he gets things done.”
“He’s the first president in a long time who actually has testicles,” the South Florida resident said. “Democrats don’t like him, so whatever he does, no matter if it’s good or bad, they will speak against him.”
Another voter, who came to the U.S. from Brazil in the late 1990s, said that she’s not bothered by Trump’s comments generalizing Central American migrants as criminals.
“People who come here for a handout are the ones who are complaining. I struggled to thrive here. I had to learn the language and worked hard for what I have now,” the woman said.
According to the Pew Research Center, there are approximately 2.1 million Hispanic registered voters in Florida, an increase of 6.2% since the 2016 presidential election. Hispanics make up more than 16% of Florida’s registered voters, according to the center.
A poll by Florida Atlantic University released in November showed that approval of the president varies widely between Florida Hispanic voter groups. Trump had a 19% approval rating among Puerto Ricans polled, while Cuban-American respondents gave him a 47% approval rating.
Overall, the FAU pollsters said Trump had a 31% approval rating among all polled Hispanics.
Generally, evangelical support for Trump appears to have remained strong throughout his presidency, notwithstanding a few high-profile detractors.
Last month, an op-ed in Christianity Today stirred debate in evangelical circles over whether his pro-life stance, his stacking federal courts with conservative judges and general praise of the evangelical community makes up for perceived moral shortcomings.
“None of the president’s positives can balance the moral and political danger we face under a leader of such grossly immoral character,” minister Mark Galli wrote, advocating for impeachment and removal of Trump from office.
The Pew Research Center’s exit polling data from 2016 suggested that roughly 8 in 10 white voters who identified as evangelical or born-again Christian voted for Trump.