Really, it was all a bit of an anti-climax. Hundreds of pro- and anti-Trump protesters had gathered outside the Manhattan criminal court, and the crowds were expected to go wild as the former president arrived and was taken into the custody.
But in the event, few knew Donald Trump had arrived until he was already in the building and under arrest.
It made for a slightly underwhelming scene as the two opposing crowds – separated by metal barriers – were filled with whispers, rather than chants.
Snippets of information were passed from person to person at about 1.30pm. A Trump-supporting woman reported that her boss’s friend, who manages a restaurant in New Jersey, believed the ex-president had arrived and was in court.
But another woman had a CNN livestream on her phone which showed Trump’s car was still en route to the court. It turned out the screen had frozen, however, and eventually a general consensus emerged: Trump was in court, and had been arraigned on more than 30 charges relating to hush money payments to an adult film star.
The anti-Trump protesters, many of whom had had been dancing, singing and chanting since about 9.30am that morning, let out a loud cheer. Someone had been giving out whistles, and they were blown in jubilation.
“Lock him up!”, a play on the chant that Trump supporters aimed at Hillary Clinton through the 2016 election and beyond, could be heard around Collect Pond Park, a former open sewer where the public had been contained by police.
On the Trump side of the barricade, the mood was quiet. No one wailed, no one fell to their knees, there was just a low murmur as mumbles and expletives were uttered from underneath a sea of red Maga hats.
They had been more animated in the morning, although the center-piece of the protest – an appearance by Marjorie Taylor Greene, the QAnon-dabbling, hard-right Republican conspiracy theorist – had descended into farce almost immediately.
Some anti-Trumpers had infiltrated the Trump side, and launched a highly successful attempt to silence the Georgia congresswoman. Greene, escorted by security, was armed with a megaphone, but could be barely be heard above the sound of whistling and shouting. From about 10 yards away it was possible to make out the words “Alvin Bragg”, the name of the Manhattan district attorney who has brought the case against Trump, but the rest was just noise.
After about three minutes, Greene upped and left, a mere head bobbing up and down between tv cameras, microphones and cap-clad-heads. Journalists – there were hundreds outside the court, from around the world – chased her out, and the show was over.
In the crowd, Dion Ciri, a Trump supporter, was waving a large flag that said: “Trump or death.” He kept having to explain what the sign meant.
“It’s not my death,” he said. “It might be your death, it might be democracy’s death, but it’s not my death.”
Pamela Menera and Rosa Carrado were standing on a bench, and had been straining, unsuccessfully, to hear Greene. When it came to Trump being charged, they weren’t happy.
“I think it’s horrible. I think it’s a tremendous miscarriage of justice,” Menera said.
“We’re going to lose our country. And we’re losing it now. We don’t have a fair judicial system.”
Menera and Carrado said they were activists with Pro-life Ministries, an anti-abortion Christian organization. Morals and faith were important in politics, Menera said, although she seemed unbothered by the sex scandal that led to Trump’s arrest: his then-fixer, Michael Cohen, paid $130,000 to Stormy Daniels, an adult film star, so that she would not go public with claims that she slept with Trump while he was married to his current wife.
“My belief is that I don’t judge another man. I’m not the moral police,” Menera said. “I believe that God is the ultimate judge.”
Over in the anti-Trump section, the mood had been understandably more jubilant. Tuesday was one of the warmest of the year so far, and people were roaming around in T-shirts and sunglasses.
A woman was holding up a huge hand painted sign which said “Black folks will save us” and “Finally, Trump arrested”. Someone had a bell, and was not afraid to use it. Another person was handing out signs that said: “Witches know this is not a witch-hunt” – a riposte to Trump’s perpetual refrain.
“This is a moment of accountability that says that, you know, everybody is the same, that you don’t get a pass just because you’ve got enough money to buy your pass. Or just because you’ve developed enough sycophants to storm the Capitol,” said Karen Irwin, who was wearing a “Trump’s a dick” T-shirt.
“He’ll never see the inside of a jail cell. But at least there is some modicum of us pretending like there’s equal application of the law.”
Across the street from Collect Pond Park, that application was taking place, as Trump was charged with 34 counts of falsifying business records in the first degree, in relation to the hush money payments in the 2016 election.
As Trump was in court, pleading not guilty to the charges, his supporters had started to drift away from their protest area. The more buttoned-down supporters – the types who will wear a hat but can’t be bothered carrying a flag, seemed to leave first, leaving behind an assortment of kooks and weirdos who contributed to a slightly surreal atmosphere.
One woman kept saying the United Nations building, about three miles to the north, was the “Synagogue of Satan”. A man tried, in vain, to get a rather convoluted chant about gender pronouns going.
There was a guy in a banana suit, and another in a witch’s hat, and the Naked Cowboy, a well-known New York City fixture who plays the guitar to tourists in Times Square while wearing underpants, also showed up. He sang a song in support of Trump, which had lyrics about building a wall.
It wasn’t exactly the scene Trump had promised. The former president had said “death and destruction” would follow his arrest, not tropical fruit and Y-fronts.
But Trump, as he frequently says, is not a normal politician. Perhaps this atypical, chaotic, blundering show of support was, ultimately, appropriate.
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