NEW YORK, NEW YORK — Trump devotees, counterprotestors, right-wing provocateurs, cops, and reporters mingled outside the courthouse on Tuesday where Donald Trump will become the first former president to face criminal charges.
The ratio of journalists to protestors fluctuated around one to one.
But those present not to report, but to register their disapproval with President Trump facing criminal accountability, came from a mixture of backgrounds and offered a range of reasons for being there.
Some were basically real-life versions of online trolls, self-consciously silly and mildly contemptuous of attempts to discern why they were present.
One woman who identified herself as “transsexual barney” told TPM that she believed Trump was “guilty of misdemeanors” but that the charges were “totally Trumped up.”
Michael Picard, clad in homemade American flag overalls and a MAGA hat, told TPM that he had donned the garb because “if you don’t have an American flag overalls, you don’t support President Trump.” He said he had spent all night sewing them.
Many of the pro-Trump protesters were present for an event put on by the New York Young Republicans Club, a group that’s made itself known in recent years for its self-consciously bombastic support for Trump and equal love of press attention. The group’s leadership, including president Gavin Wax, club vice president Nathan Berger, and Vish Burra, a club member and Chief of Operations to Rep. George Santos (R-NY), were all in attendance.
Santos himself made an unexpected appearance early on, greeted by a massive scrum of press whose very sound drowned out most of what he had to say. The same fate befell Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA), who even with the help of a megaphone provided by Burra was unable to make herself heard over the shouts of MAGA supporters and counterprotestors.
The NYPD divided the protest, located in lower Manhattan’s Collect Pond park, so that pro-Trump demonstrators would not mix with counterprotestors. At various points, individual protestors would seep to one side or the other before NYPD officers led them away, usually accompanied by loud swearing.
On the pro-Trump side, there were a small but notable number of people who seemed to be trying to project an aura of danger.
TPM tried to speak with two of them, young men wearing masks, one of which featured a skull, the other of which read “MAGA.” They declined an interview. Another man wearing a “FUCK BIDEN” shirt, cutoff jeans, and smoking a long cigarette also declined to be interviewed.
Supporters of the New Federal State of China, the joint effort by Stephen K. Bannon and indicted Chinese exile Guo Wengui to replace the Beijing government, were in attendance, as were members of “Blacks for Trump.”
But several Trump supporters in the crowd told TPM that they decided to come to Manhattan out of a belief that the first president to ever be indicted faced an unfair double standard.
One Pennsylvania couple who identified themselves as Nicole and Jamie, both 47, told TPM that they mostly consumed news from Bannon’s Real America News Network and accounts they follow on Twitter.
“There was plenty of time to do this before he was running for president,” Jamie said. Nicole added that she had been supporting Trump “since he came down the escalator,” and that the Bragg prosecution made her feel like the country had a “two-tier justice system.”
To Kevin, 43, of Maryland, the case seemed like the latest example of endless persecution. “When’s enough is enough?” he asked. “I guess never.”
“I come from a conservative family, I grew up in the early ’80s,” he said. “So this is a different time from where I came, and all that. I have two kids, and I want them to grow up in a time like I grew up in — and that’s where I’m at with everything.”
Michael Austin, 59, of Manhattan, showed up carrying two signs; one read “FAGS FOR TRUMP” in large print, and another featured an incomprehensible pun involving “BUILD BACK BETTER” and “BIDEN/BRAGG.”
Austin told TPM that he was reclaiming the anti-gay slur.
“That’s what I was called when I was growing up, so I’m owning the moniker,” he said. “I’m a fag for Trump.”
“If the judge puts a gag order on him, that would be an absolute violation of his First Amendment rights,” Austin added.
Al, 62, from nearby Philadelphia, told TPM that he regarded the indictment as “an attack on me or anyone.”
“If you can erroneously use the law to go against somebody, that’s a problem, and that should be a problem for everybody,” he said, adding that he likely wouldn’t travel to attend potentially future indictments because Georgia and D.C. were too far.
Others had more inscrutable motives for appearing.
Daniel Christmann, a failed New York Senate candidate who pleaded guilty to charges relating to his storming of the Capitol building on January 6, appeared alongside a woman who identified herself to TPM as “bagel Karen.” She was wearing a pink T-shirt which read “Women for Trump,” and had “Pussy Riot” scrawled on top in what looked like magic marker.
But Christmann, Karen, and an infant in a stroller accompanying them did not offer a clear reason for being there.
“Being in pre-trial confinement is pretty isolating, it’s nice to see people once in a while,” Christmann deadpanned. “The right wing…all they’re doing is worshipping Trump.”
“Trump hasn’t done anything for my January 6 boyfriend,” the self-identified bagel Karen added.