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President reportedly heard urging ministers to sway voters and alluding to leftwing violence in leaked audio

In a private meeting with Christian ministers, Donald Trump warned of violence if Republicans do not maintain control of Congress in the midterm elections, according to an audio recording of the meeting obtained by the New York Times.

At a state dinner for evangelical Christian ministers on Monday night at the White House, Trump urged religious leaders to use the power of their pulpits to make sure that all of your people vote in November, the New York Times reported.

Youre one election away from losing everything youve got, Trump reportedly told them.

If Republicans lose Congress, they will end everything immediately, the president said, seemingly referring to Congressional Democrats.

He went on: They will overturn everything that weve done and theyll do it quickly and violently. And violently. Theres violence. When you look at antifa, and you look at some of these groups, these are violent people.

The Times reported that these additional remarks did not make clear whom he was talking about.

A White House spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request to clarify whether the president was referring to congressional Democrats as violent people, or to comment on what connection the president was alleging between establishment Democratic lawmakers and young anti-fascist protesters.

Trumps comments appear to echo the rhetoric of political advertisements from the rightwing National Rifle Association. In a much-criticized video advertisement last year, the gun rights group used footage from street protests to paint the entire American left, and all Americans who oppose president Trump, as violent thugs who bully and terrorize the law-abiding. The ads incendiary rhetoric was sharply criticized, with one critic calling it a whisper shy of a call for full civil war.

Over the past two years, as emboldened neo-Nazi and white supremacist groups have staged public rallies and marches across the United States, black-clad anti-fascist protesters, or antifa, have shown up to demonstrate against them. Anti-fascist protesters argue that the best way to prevent American neo-Nazis from growing more powerful is to make them afraid to meet or demonstrate in public.

White supremacists and neo-Nazis exchange insults with anti-fascist protesters at last years rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. Photograph: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Many of the rightwing groups that antifa demonstrators show up to protest are self-described fascists. But the tactics of direct street protest and physical confrontation remain controversial among many Americans, Democrats and Republicans alike.

The protest behavior of antifa has become a favorite topic for Republicans looking to deflect attention from the activities of violent white supremacist extremists who greeted Trumps presidency as a victory, and who advocate publicly for a whites-only nation.

During the violent neo-Nazi rallies in Charlottesville, Virginia, last August, white supremacists attacked black residents and protesting local ministers, and clashed with anti-fascist protesters in the streets. Afterwards, Trump repeatedly condemned both sides for the violence.

Local Charlottesville residents who had showed up to protest the white supremacists, and found themselves as the targets of violence while police officers stood by, had a different opinion.

Antifa saved my life twice on Saturday, the Rev Seth Wispelway, a local minister from Charlottesville, told Slate in the wake of last Augusts violence.

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