A familiar figure resurfaced at President Donald Trump’s campaign event in Phoenix, Arizona this week: Maurice Symonette, a.k.a. “Michael the Black Man,” could be seen on camera standing just behind the President, signature “Blacks for Trump” sign in hand.
Symonette captured the media’s attention during the 2016 presidential race after the Miami New Times noted that the frequent Trump rally attendee was a member of a defunct, violent black supremacist cult and had a checkered criminal history, including acquittal on two counts of conspiracy to commit murder. Although South Florida media have reported extensively on his ties to the Yahweh ben Yahweh cult and his promotion, via a radio show and multiple websites, of a bizarrely ahistorical and racialized worldview, Symonette always manages to land a prime spot behind Trump at the campaign events he attends.
When TPM first reached Symonette on Wednesday to ask how he snags such prominent seats at Trump rallies, he hung up after a few minutes, saying he was rushing over to an event Vice President Pence was holding with Venezuelan immigrants at a church in Miami’s Doral neighborhood.
Reached again on Friday, Symonette insisted in a meandering 30-minute phone call from the porch of his Miami home that he has no formal relationship with the Trump campaign. He said he uses his own funds to travel to campaign and administration events throughout the southeast.
“I just go on my own, that’s it,” Symonette said, adding that he knows plenty of people to “say hi to” but has no ongoing contact with any Trump staffers.
“I don’t know if they’re on the campaign,” he said of the individuals he greets at campaign events. “’Cause when I go there I make it my business to keep on business, cause what I’m really interested in doing is showing that the white man and the black man are in unity. Because the Bible says if we fight, God is going to kill everybody by fire.”
And the secret to snagging a spot so close to the President? Symonette said he simply arrives early.
“If you get there late you end up in the back, in the audience,” he said. “They’re used to seeing me so I just walk up to the front. And just walk in. I guess they’ve already vetted me or whatever they have to do and I just walk in, that’s it.”
TPM has made repeated efforts to contact multiple members of the Trump 2020 campaign by phone, email and Facebook messenger for comment on Symonette this week but received no response.
Symonette is no stranger to the President himself, though. At one October 2016 rally in Sanford, Florida, Trump took note of the supportive signs his fans were waving for the cameras.
“I love the signs behind me,” Trump yelled. “‘Blacks for Trump.’ I like those signs. ‘Blacks for Trump.’ You watch. You watch. Those signs are great!”
The signs Trump was referring to featured the URL of one of Symonette’s websites, Gods2.com, a poorly-formatted site full of screeds about a “race war” it says Hillary Clinton plans to carry out with the help of the Islamic State and MS-13 gang, and about how, as Symonette argued at length in conversation with TPM, Cherokee Indians bear responsibility for keeping black and white Americans down.
According to Symonette, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ), Confederate Gen. Albert Pike, president of the Confederacy Jefferson Davis, “almost all of the Confederate army,” the founders of the Ku Klux Klan, and segregationist former Birmingham, Alabama Public Safety Commissioner Bull Connor have one thing in common: they were all “full-blooded Cherokees.”
He views Trump, on the other hand, as a “white gentile” who will impose taxes on the Cherokees and an “emancipator” who will provide economic liberation to blacks and to poor whites.
Symonette has long promoted these same fringey ideas on his radio show, YouTube channel and at tea party events. In 2012, he derailed a Rick Santorum campaign event where he was invited to give an introduction by calling Democrats “Nazis” and “slave masters” in disguise.
Born Maurice Woodside, Symonette, who took his father’s name as an adult, came to the Republican Party after years in the obscure Yahweh ben Yahweh cult, which had its headquarters in the gritty Miami neighborhood of Liberty City. As the Miami New Times has chronicled in rich detail, he was charged in 1990 with conspiracy to murder alongside Yahweh’s charismatic leader, Hulon Mitchell Jr., and other cult members. His brother testified that he stuck a sharpened stick into one victim’s eyeball; ultimately Symonette was acquitted. In separate cases, he was hit with charges for grand theft auto; trying to board a Delta flight with a gun; threatening a police officer; and driving a purportedly stolen car with a gun on the front seat, as the Miami New Times has reported.
Symonette brought up his rap sheet unprompted, proclaiming his innocence and lamenting that the press mentions those charges in stories about him.
“That’s why I agree with Trump,” he said of what he sees as unfair treatment by the media. “Because they’re doing him the way they do me.”
Now a singer and promoter, Symonette sees it as his duty to show the press that Trump, who won a meager 8 percent of the black vote, has African-American supporters.
“I sold a few things to get up there and I got up there,” he said of his attendance at the Phoenix rally. “That was a very important rally, that Trump be seen with his brothers, the black man of America.”
Symonette’s presence Tuesday gave the President cover in face of the heavy, sustained backlash he received for his delayed response to the white nationalist violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, remarks that Symonette characterized as “perfect.” He sees the other part of his mission as convincing black Americans that the President is on their side.
“I don’t care about who he is and what he’s about, I’m here because of his policies, that’s it,” Symonette said of the President’s promises to slash regulations and taxes. “Trump gives us liberty. That’s what I’m dealing with and the only thing I’m dealing with.”
As the call wrapped, Symonette offered a Trumpian plea not to write critical news about him.
“I know you’re gonna go write bad stuff about me,” Symonette said, “but remember: Yahweh loves you and so do I.”
Correction: Bull Connor was misidentified in the original version of this story as mayor of Birmingham rather than commissioner of public safety.