A New York judge has expanded a gag order on former President Donald Trump ahead of his hush money trial, set to begin in less than two weeks. The move by Judge Juan Merchan comes in response to Trump's searing social media attacks against the case, prosecutors, the legal system, and even the judge's daughter, which Merchan warned represented a threat to anyone involved in the case and an attack on the rule of law itself.

In his order issued late Monday, Merchan barred Trump from attacking his family members and those of Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, in addition to the witnesses, prosecutors, court staff members, and their relatives, whom he was previously directed to "refrain" from talking about in a gag order issued last week.

"It is no longer just a mere possibility or a reasonable likelihood that there exists a threat to the integrity of the judicial proceedings. The threat is very real. Admonitions are not enough, nor is reliance on self-restraint," Merchan wrote, emphasizing the severity of the situation.

The judge's ruling marks the latest extraordinary twist in Trump's years-long assault on rules and laws that govern every other politician, business magnate, or American. It also encapsulates a perilous national moment, as it arises from one of four criminal trials the presumptive GOP nominee is facing while running to reclaim the White House.

Trump, who has denied wrongdoing, has sought to whip up a circus atmosphere around the trial, set to begin on April 15, in an attempt to delegitimize the legal system that seeks to hold him accountable. He has also used the case, along with three others in which he faces criminal charges, to deepen his campaign narrative that he is a victim of political persecution.

The revised gag order raises the question of what the judge will do if Trump defies the order. While fines could be a first step to bring the former president into line, the idea of detaining a former president until he is willing to respect the court seems to strain credulity.

Trump's attacks on court staff and their families create a genuine security risk, especially given his proven ability to incite violence with his rhetoric, as demonstrated by the January 6, 2021, attack on the US Capitol by a mob of his supporters.

Temidayo Aganga-Williams, a former senior investigative counsel on the January 6 committee in the last Democratic-run House, emphasized the need for courts to take Trump's threats seriously. "He knows how to call his supporters. He did it with January 6. I think that's what he is doing now ... he's acting very precisely. I think we have to heed that warning now," she said on CNN Monday.

Judge Merchan echoed this sentiment in his order, writing, "The average observer, must now, after hearing defendant's recent attacks, draw the conclusion that if they become involved in these proceedings, even tangentially, they should worry not only for themselves, but for their loved ones as well. Such concerns will undoubtedly interfere with the fair administration of justice and constitutes a direct attack on the Rule of Law itself."

The expanded gag order is the latest in a series of attempts by judges, government officials, and campaign staff to rein in Trump's behavior. As the hush money trial approaches, the focus on the case is set to intensify, testing Merchan's willingness to constrain Trump and prevent his courtroom from being turned into a de-facto political platform for the former president.

With Trump hitting the campaign trail in Michigan and Wisconsin on Tuesday, it remains to be seen how he will respond to the revised gag order and whether he will continue to push the boundaries of what is acceptable behavior for a criminal defendant and presidential candidate.