When Donald Trump was elected president of the United States in 2016, Republicans didn’t know their leader was indirectly responsible for leaving an elderly woman without a fresh water supply. They also didn’t know that when a filmmaker began investigating why this had happened, he was detained by police.
Documentarian Anthony Baxter had already ruffled Trump’s feathers four years earlier. In 2012, when the future president was nothing more than a billionaire businessman who hosted The Apprentice USA, the BBC broadcast You’ve Been Trumped, which told the world about Trump’s plans to build a lavish golf resort slap bang in the middle of “priceless” sand dunes on the coast of Aberdeen. It was during its construction that Molly Forbes’s water pipe was accidentally damaged by Trump’s workers. Acknowledging their error, they promised to replace it with “the best system there is”. That should have been that.
Five years on, as Trump announced his presidential bid, Baxter made a startling discovery during a phone chat with Forbes: they still hadn’t fixed the water pipe. In that time, Forbes had to collect water in buckets from a nearby spring so she could cook, bathe, fill her toilet tank or simply have a drink. In case of emergency, she had to ensure she had stacks of bottled water stashed away. Baxter dutifully returned to Aberdeenshire with a camera.
“I felt it was important for the people who were voting to know Molly’s story so they could cast their vote accordingly,” Baxter tells me from his home in Scotland.
The result was a second documentary, You’ve Been Trumped Too, initially set to be unveiled before that election. But Trump International threatened legal action against anyone who released the film and, unsurprisingly, the release strategy collapsed like a house of cards: its US distributor backed out, a digital platform deal was lost and the film’s publicist cut ties with Baxter and cameraman Richard Phinney. After their lawyers carefully vetted the film for libel, though, it was found to be safe for release, and a new distributor stepped in to do the honours.
Before that, the film had inadvertently been blocked from seeing the light of day.
“We had a situation where freedom of speech was being affected by someone with power and money,” Baxter says of the president’s international team’s attempt to muzzle him. They chose to make such a personal fight with the Forbes family over many years. Mr Trump may not like the claims that others have made, but they’re important.”
The water supply is just one of many Trump-caused disturbances in the area. As explained in the film, Forbes’s son, Michael, is constantly hassled to give up his land via angry letters from what was then called Trump International Golf Links, Scotland, who claim that he backtracked on a deal to do so. Michael – who has made no secret of his contempt for Trump – insists that this is a lie.
According to Baxter, Michael was “the first person to publicly call Trump a liar”. In response, Trump called Michael an “animal” and his home a “pigsty”.
In March 2013, the seemingly impossible happened. Trump finally agreed to an interview with Baxter. But shortly after sitting down, he realised that Trump had ulterior motives. Michael Forbes had just beaten Andy Murray and Billy Connolly to be named “Top Scot” at the Glenfiddich Spirit of Scotland Awards for combatting the tycoon’s efforts to claim his home (Trump’s response? To ban the whiskey brand from his resorts). Seemingly sensing a backlash in Scotland, Trump began the interview by rolling out “positive reports” of the heavily criticised golf course.
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“He was charming to begin with, which is strange because over the years he’d taken to Twitter and lambasted me,” says Baxter, “and now he was suddenly acting like I was his friend. As soon as I challenged him, the atmosphere changed. It was palpable – he went from pleasant Mr Trump to a Mr Trump who was clearly very unhappy about the line of questioning. If you continue with it, that other side of Mr Trump is very evident.”
While Trump has lashed out at the new documentary, calling it “defamatory”, Baxter points out the key issue with his claim: it’s essentially composed of unedited scenes showing Trump in action. There are many startling moments, chief of which is an exchange that happens as Trump rides around his resort in a golf buggy, looking not dissimilar to a king checking on his land. Pointing to a neighbouring house in the area, he tells his spokeswoman, Sarah Malone-Bates, that he wants to “get rid” of it. “It’s going to create a bit of a stir,” Malone-Bates replies, to which an irritable Trump hits back with two simple words: “Who cares?”
Baxter agrees when I tell him how angry this made me. “It’s an extremely terrifying situation. He is somebody who just seems to crave ultimate power and domination. This story in Scotland is a microcosm of what he’s unleashed on a worldwide scale.”
This is made most clear when Baxter questions the Chief Greenkeeper of Trump International, Paul O’Connor, about Forbes’s water situation. Their conversation is calm and measured. A short while later, he is speaking to local resident, Susan Monroe, at her property when he and cameraman Phinney are suddenly arrested and placed into separate prison cells. Later, as shown in the film, Trump Jr’s team own up to having called the police, who eventually issue an apology following an internal “investigation”.
The director says he was reminded of the experience recently, when videos circulated showing federal law enforcement officers forcibly detaining anti-racism and police brutality protesters in Trump’s America. “I think the problem with the police in Scotland is they were acting like they were private security for Donald Trump,” Baxter tells me. “It would seem [the organisation] didn’t want us filming this story so asked the police to intervene. They willingly accepted that invitation.”
Baxter alleges he was “mishandled” by officers and says he “regrets not suing them for the way they behaved”. A Police Scotland spokesperson said: ”In 2010, Grampian Police Professional Standards Department investigated the circumstances surrounding the detention of two men on private property in Aberdeenshire. The investigation found officers acted in an impartial and transparent manner but there were minor areas for improvement in how officers communicated at the time of the arrest and a subsequent press release. A letter was sent to the complainer detailing this and there has been no further communication with those involved.“ Grampian Police ceased to exist in 2013.
Sadly, releasing the film worldwide – just under three months before the 2020 US election – is only a small victory. According to Baxter, the lives of the residents “continue to be a misery”. While Molly – who he says is in “good health” – has been moved into a care home, the struggle continues for fisherman Michael, his wife Sheila, and their neighbour Susan, whose daily routines have been upended by Trump’s resort and the security team that continues to operate there. Now, to take his boat out, Michael is forced to drag it around the resort as it blocks his direct access to the coast. Susan’s access to the dunes is restricted by a locked gate. There is some dispute about whether the gates and other forms of blockage are legal or not, but regardless, it’s something the residents would never have expected to contend with when moving into their properties.
“The impact of what he did to them is hard to quantify,” says Baxter. “It’s left a menacing threat in the air, created by one man, that still exists to this day.”
Baxter thinks Forbes puts it best herself in the documentary, when she describes Trump as “a child that’s never grown up”. The film, he says, is a “telling insight into a man’s personality seen through the eyes of a very brave and courageous lady”, who was “deprived of a basic human requirement” when Trump’s organisation failed to reinstate her water supply. A recent video showed Trump throwing a glass of water to one side at a rally in Tulsa, in retaliation to media reports he was too weak to lift a glass with his right hand. Considering the lengths Molly had to go to in order to obtain her own water for five years, the clip leaves a bitter taste in the mouth.
If the president himself ever watched the documentary, does Baxter think he could feel empathy for the residents of Aberdeen? He isn’t hopeful.
“When he does watch himself in these situations, he seems to be oblivious to how other people might perceive his actions,” he says. “I think it’s just such a worrying thing in the US – which has been such a beacon of freedom of speech – that there is somebody in the White House who behaves in this way. He isn’t willing to let another side of the story be heard.”
But with the release of You’ve been Trumped Too, Trump – for once – has no choice.
You’ve Been Trumped Too is now available on demand on iTunes, Amazon, GooglePlay, Journeyman VOD and Vimeo
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