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Running for the White House from behind bars? It’s been done before — twice

AFP — Could Donald Trump run his presidential re-election campaign from jail? It may sound like a far-fetched scenario for the former US president, who is facing a slew of serious court cases, but it would not be the first time in US history.

In fact, it has happened twice before, in the cases of presidential hopefuls Eugene V. Debs and Lyndon LaRouche.

Potentially following in their footsteps, Trump — who appeared before a judge in Washington on Thursday on charges of trying to subvert the last US election — said that even if he is convicted, he will not end his campaign.

According to experts, nothing in the Constitution prevents it. Here are the stories of the trade union leader and the far-right polemicist who campaigned from their prison cells.

Debs the anti-capitalist

His name may not mean much to the general public these days, but in his day Eugene V. Debs, born in 1855, was a famous political figure whose deeds frequently made headlines.

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And he remains a defining figure for American left-wing activists. Senator Bernie Sanders, one of his admirers, even made a documentary in 1979 on the ardent anti-capitalist and union leader who crisscrossed the country to defend the rights of workers.

Eugene V. Debs in an undated photo. (AP)

Debs was five times the Socialist presidential candidate and it was as such that he ran in 1920 from a cell in Atlanta. He had been sentenced to 10 years in prison, accused of having called, in the summer of 1918, for Americans to resist conscription to WWI.

“I have been accused of obstructing the war. I admit it. Gentlemen, I abhor war,” he told the jury during his trial.

Prisoner Number 9653 ended up winning more than 900,000 votes that year.

His sentence was commuted in 1921 and he was released, but Debs died five years later.

LaRouche the conspiracy theorist

Lyndon LaRouche campaigned for the White House no less than eight times, running in every election from 1976 to 2004.

A far-right polemicist and follower of conspiracy theories who was born in 1922, he began his political career after WWII on the far left before founding the US Labor Party, on whose ticket he ran in 1976.

Later, LaRouche, who died in 2019 at age 96, ran as a Democrat — to the annoyance of the party — and as an independent.

During his life, he evolved toward far-right leanings and was often accused of antisemitism.

Lyndon LaRouche Jr. at a news conference in Arlington, Virginia, February 3, 1994. (AP Photo/Joe Marquette, File)

A climate change skeptic, he defended many conspiracy theories, such as that Britain’s Queen Elizabeth was involved in drug trafficking or that Henry Kissinger was an “agent of influence” for the Soviets.

In the late 1980s, LaRouche was sentenced to 15 years in prison for tax evasion. This did not stop him from running in the 1992 election from federal prison.

He recorded messages on topics like the economy and education, which were broadcast while he was in his cell. He got just over 26,000 votes in the ballot.

Roger Stone, a close associate of Trump, has in the past called LaRouche a “good man” and said he was “very familiar with the extraordinary and prophetic thinking of Lyndon LaRouche.”