‘Trump or death’: The grim circus in Manhattan as far-right figures protest historic arraignment

A media swarm captured a small cross-section of the former president’s supporters, raging against his criminal case and amplifying conspiracy theories. Alex Woodward reports from Manhattan

Tuesday 04 April 2023 23:38 BST
Pro-Trump supporters rally in New York on Tuesday
Pro-Trump supporters rally in New York on Tuesday (AP)

In the hours before Donald Trump’s arrest and arraignment inside a Manhattan criminal court in New York, a few dozen of his loyalists from across the American right collided in a small park that was once an open sewer.

The circus-like scene on Tuesday drew dozens of reporters and news crews, vastly outnumbering the former president’s supporters and counter-protesters, there to rage against or celebrate Mr Trump’s historic courtroom appearance.

An endless stream of reporters and cameras there to capture the historic day and surrounding protest was its own media spectacle, with right-wing content creators livestreaming their interviews to their willing audience. Event organiser Marjorie Taylor Greene lasted roughly 10 minutes. Meanwhile, a large flag reading “TRUMP OR DEATH” hovered above the crowd.

To his faithful, many of whom compared him to civil rights heroes or biblical figures, the indictment of Donald Trump is evidence of a Democratic Party conspiracy to defang the former president as he campaigns for the 2024 Republican nomination. Others refused to believe that he would even face criminal charges, moments before he turned himself in to authorities, or believed his indictment now gives his allies an opening to prosecute his political enemies in retribution.

Their attacks against New York County district attorney Alvin Bragg spiraled into a discussion of conspiracy theories involving Democratic lawmakers, Covid-19, human trafficking, a “globalist” agenda, trans people, the media, and other hallmarks of a QAnon movement that has gripped the GOP and the American right.

The former president depicted scenes of chaos, violence and “death and destruction” should he ever be criminally charged, statements that he delivered in campaign emails and on his Truth Social in the days leading up to his courthouse appearance.

Outside the court, a group of men chanted “two genders” and “male and female”. One woman carried a sign to “defund the media” with logos from a dozen outlets, including Fox News.

Another man who identified himself as Michael carried a small noose attached to a placard reading “what you need to deal with the liberal biased media”.

“A real Texas necktie,” he said.

For and against Trump protesters on Tuesday
For and against Trump protesters on Tuesday (Alex Woodward / The Independent)

They were among a small crowd of “MAGA” supporters and Trump-allied groups – Bikers for Trump, Women for Trump, Blacks for Trump, Christian nationalists, Chinese opponents of the Chinese Community Party – and other gawkers witnessing history, like the New York street performer the Naked Cowboy and a man dressed as Abraham Lincoln.

One woman in a QAnon T-shirt with a jacket featuring Trump as a matador repeatedly shouted into nearby cameras.

(Alex Woodward / The Independent)

Vince Fusca, the man once believed to be the late John F Kennedy Jr among QAnon adherents, held one side of a “blue lives matter” flag after joining the pro-Trump scene.

He joined the protest “like everybody else”, he told The Independent. “Concerned citizens, right?”

“He stood up for us. We have to stand up for him,” said Marie, who held up an image of Donald Trump and another with Martin Luther King Jr. “Two wonderful good people who love America and love the citizens of America,” she said before accusing Hillary Clinton of participating in a human trafficking scheme, echoes of the “Pizzagate” claims that preceded QAnon.

The man who helped elevate that conspiracy theory and its extended universe, Jack Posobiec, also attended the event, which he broadcast to Steve Bannon’s Real America’s Voice programme.

(Alex Woodward / The Independent)

Edward X Young wore his green “KEEP AMERICA GREAT” hat, signed by Donald Trump Jr, and a denim jacket covered in buttons with pro-Trump slogans, from “Stop the Steal” to “BARRON 2052”.

“I want him to know that we’ve got his back, and my support is unwavering and stronger than ever, and I will gladly take a bullet if I have to,” he told The Independent.

“I’m really thankful for President Trump because he’s responsible for all the happiness in my life,” said Mr Young, who has attended 56 Trump campaign rallies, including the one where he said he met the “love of my life”.

The charges against Mr Trump are a “steaming bucket of hog drippings”, he said. “This is the kind of stuff that Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin did.”

“The only reason Bragg is doing this is because Trump declared he’s running for president. If Trump stayed in Florida and never said a word about running again, none of this would be happening,” said Pauline Braccio, who traveled from Pennsylvania to attend the protest. “It doesn’t matter what the charges are. It’s all made up.”

“It’s bull***,” said Dennis DelAndrew, a Staten Island native who held a sign labelling the Democratic Party “fascist”.

“He’s never been wrong. He’s been right all along. And everything they throw at him falls on their ass,” he said. “They’re scraping the bottom of the barrel now.”


Ozzie Hernandez, who waded into the pro-Trump crowd with a sign reading “TRUMP FELONY,” said that Mr Trump’s “street name is felon”.

“He’s an albatross hanging on this country’s neck,” he shouted.

On the opposite side of the park, counter-protesters rolled out a massive sheet reading “TRUMP LIES ALL THE TIME”, while the crowd blew whistles, banged on tambourines and blasted loud music across a row of barricades separating them from pro-Trump demonstrators.

Gregory Williams said Trump’s indictment “proves that no man is above the law.”
Gregory Williams said Trump’s indictment “proves that no man is above the law.” (Alex Woodward / The Independent)

Mr Trump turned himself into authorities on Tuesday and was formally charged with 34 felony counts of falsifying business records in the first degree. The charges stem from so-called hush-money payments made in an effort to conceal damaging information and unlawful activity from American voters before and after the 2016 election, according to prosecutors.

Mike Hisey arrived at the counter-protest wearing an orange prison jumpsuit and a Trump mask and wig, an outfit he has worn at demonstrations over the last seven years.

“I’ve imagined him in jail for seven years,” he said. “Tomorrow’s my birthday, so it’s a happy birthday for me.”

Gregory Williams held a sign reading “lock him up” while standing next to a lifesize cutout of Hillary Clinton, the subject of years of “lock her up” chants at Trump rallies and events.

“For eight years, they screamed ‘lock her up.’ Now finally with DA Bragg I can say lock him up,” he told The Independent.

Still, Mr Williams is sceptical that Mr Trump will serve any time in jail, and he believes only a handful of the 34 charges against him will stick, “but it’s good for the history books, and proves that no man is above the law”, he said.

“I really think, in some kind of way, this may help America realise there is some strength in our democracy,” he said. “No matter how rich you are, how much money you have, what political party you’re part of, you can still be arrested and charged with a crime.”

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