Trump Calls for More Protests Outside Trial: ‘Rally Behind MAGA’

Donald J. Trump was evidently not happy with what he saw out the window of his chauffeured S.U.V. as he rode through Lower Manhattan on Monday morning for the beginning of opening arguments in his first criminal trial.

The scene that confronted him as he approached the dingy courthouse at 100 Centre Street was underwhelming. Across the street, at Collect Pond Park, the designated site for protesters during the trial, only a handful of Trump supporters had gathered, and the number would not grow much throughout the morning.

Mr. Trump has portrayed his legal jeopardy as a threat to America itself, and he has suggested that the country would not put up with it. But the streets around the courthouse on Monday were chaos-free — well-patrolled and relatively quiet. As his motorcade made its way to the courthouse, the few Trump supporters gathered in the park were outnumbered by Trump detractors, who waved signs about his alleged liaison with a porn star.

Mr. Trump had tried to gin up something noisier. Shortly after 7 a.m., he posted on his social media website that “America Loving Protesters should be allowed to protest at the front steps of Courthouses” and he followed this lament with a call for his supporters to “GO OUT AND PEACEFULLY PROTEST. RALLY BEHIND MAGA. SAVE OUR COUNTRY!”

The narrow criminal courthouse steps in Lower Manhattan are not routinely open for protest — and particularly not when a former president of the United States is inside, guarded by a phalanx of Secret Service agents who have worked with local officials on security measures.

Asked to comment on Mr. Trump’s frustrations about the lack of protest activity, a spokeswoman, Karoline Leavitt, tried to connect it to the district attorney, Alvin L. Bragg, and President Biden and insisted people were being prevented from being in Lower Manhattan because of the barricades.

Later in the morning, Mr. Trump sought to cast the poor turnout as more evidence of a plot against him. In a post at 8:50 a.m., he implied that would-be MAGA protesters were being discriminated against for political reasons.

“Unlike at Columbia University where the Radical Left Palestinian Protesters sat on the Front Lawn, practically took over the School, and screamed, ‘Death to the Jews, Death to Israel, Death to America,’ and nothing happened to them, Lower Manhattan surrounding the Courthouse, where I am heading now, is completely CLOSED DOWN,” Mr. Trump posted on Truth Social. “SO UNFAIR!!!”

The area was not, in fact, completely closed down. The courthouse has remained open to the public, including spectators who want to attend the trial, pool cameras in the hallway — and even the sidewalk in front of the courthouse has remained open to pedestrian traffic. Twenty minutes later, Mr. Trump compared the courthouse to “an armed camp.”

Mr. Trump had made no secret of the fact that he wanted a circus to accompany his trial. He had told advisers he wanted as much media as possible to cover his daily jeremiads against the prosecutors and judge who — he claims without evidence — are conspiring against him at the direction of Mr. Biden himself. Mr. Trump publicly encouraged protests and several allies, including the New York Young Republican Club, tried to round up a crowd.

The demonstrations have so far been spotty at best.

One typical tableau: Andrew Giuliani, a regular, strutting presence on the periphery of the courthouse, posed for photos on Monday inside Collect Pond Park. Grinning and wearing a Trump campaign jacket, he hugged supporters of Mr. Trump. From one, Mr. Giuliani borrowed a flag with Mr. Trump’s face on it that promotes him for president in 2024.

Mr. Giuliani, the son of Mr. Trump’s indicted former lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani, who is struggling with his own legal costs incurred for representing the former president, was taunted by anti-Trump protesters.

“Two-thousand twenty-four years in prison!” one anti-Trump protester, Ricky Caballero, shouted. “He owes your dad money, why you out here supporting him?”

Mr. Caballero, 56, from Brooklyn, wore a tank top with a Puerto Rican flag. He said he remembers watching Mr. Trump lob paper towels at survivors of Hurricane Maria in 2017.

“I’m still pissed,” Mr. Caballero said.

Mr. Caballero’s remark to Mr. Giuliani was one of a number of loud exchanges between supporters and detractors of Mr. Trump that were noticeably monitored by police. On Friday, there were no police in the park. On Monday, there were six community affairs officers and six regular uniformed officers watching closely for any signs of trouble. Mr. Giuliani circulated like a celebrity among Mr. Trump’s few supporters and ignored Mr. Caballero.

Over the last week, demonstrators visibly identifying as supporting Mr. Trump — with red hats or clothing, or banners and flags — have never totaled more than a dozen. On most days, the number of people total in the portion of the park designated for protesters for or against Mr. Trump has never been more than two or three dozen. They have included tourists, locals coming to gawk, more than a few supporters of Mr. Biden, and proponents of conspiracy theories — including Max Azzarello, the man who, struggling with mental health issues, self-immolated on Friday.

One of the women who showed up to support Mr. Trump in the last week, Alice Lu, 60, said the lack of company made her sad, but not surprised.

“We feel sorry for America, why are so many people such cowards?” she said. “I know a majority of people support him but they’re scared.”

The small park was closed off after Mr. Azzarello set himself on fire, but it was reopened on Monday morning, a New York Police Department official confirmed.

One of Mr. Trump’s most dedicated supporters, the right-wing activist Laura Loomer, flew to New York from Florida and protested outside the courthouse every day last week. She had to return to Florida this week to take care of her two dogs, she said in an interview.

Ms. Loomer, who has traveled with Mr. Trump on his private plane and met with him at his private clubs, said that some Trump supporters had been talking a big game but had been “lazy,” made excuses and failed to show up for the former president.

“They say Laura Loomer is obsessed with President Trump,” she said on Monday. “Well, everybody should be obsessed with making America great again and obsessed with taking their country back. And sometimes you have to put your personal life on hold and go out and organize for President Trump.

“That’s what I do,” she added. “You think I have a social life? You think I have a dating life? You think I’m married? You think I have kids? Do you think I go out and do fun things? No. Because I’m always putting every extra bit of time that I have into supporting President Trump.”

Ms. Loomer said that most elected Republicans “are worth nothing” and take advantage of Mr. Trump for their online fund-raising. “Since Mike Johnson sent all of our money to Ukraine,” she said, “I volunteer to buy him an Amtrak ticket so that he can go to New York City and support President Trump outside of the courthouse.”

By lunchtime, Mr. Trump was still at it on social media. He suggested New York should send its police officers to protect Jewish students at Columbia University and be more lenient outside the courthouse.

“Republicans want the right to protest in front of the Courthouse, like everyone else!” Mr. Trump posted on Truth Social.


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