Trump invited rappers with felony gang charges on stage at Bronx rally

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After promising to restore safety to New York City’s streets at a campaign rally in the Bronx on Thursday evening, former President Donald Trump enthusiastically brought a few special guests onstage: Rep. Byron Donalds, R-Fla., former New York City Council Member Ruben Diaz, Sr. and Brooklyn rappers Sheff G and Sleepy Hallow.

Basking in the support of prominent locals is a common political ritual, but some of the former president’s guests were rather unusual: Sheff G, whose real name is Michael Williams, is facing attempted murder charges brought by the Brooklyn district attorney last year as part of a major gang takedown, while the rapper was in prison for an unrelated weapons sentence. And Sleepy Hallow, whose real name is Tegan Chambers, faces conspiracy charges in the same gang case. He previously served eight months for weapons possession.

Prosecutors allege that members of the rappers’ gang were involved in two dozen violent incidents, including striking two bystanders when they opened fire on a Brooklyn sidewalk.

“Does everybody know Sheff G? Where is Sheff G?” Trump asked the crowd at the end of his speech Thursday, before also introducing Sleepy Hallow.

“President Trump, my man,” Sheff G responded warmly.

“One thing I want to say: They are always going to whisper your accomplishments and shout your failures. Trump is going to shout the wins for all of us,” the rapper told the audience. Sleepy Hallow then offered Trump’s slogan of “Make America Great Again.”

The two musicians belong to a contingent of Trump-supporting rappers that also includes Chief Keef, Azealia Banks and Kodak Black, whose four-year sentence on federal gun charges Trump commuted.

“Sheff G was there to support President Trump for his election in his campaign, and like every American has a right to have his feelings known,” Sheff G’s attorney Arthur Aidala told USA TODAY. “Right now, he’s presumed innocent. We are in intense litigation with the Brooklyn district attorney’s office and are cautiously optimistic that we will get a satisfactory result for my client.”

Asked about the charges, Trump campaign spokesperson Steven Cheung wrote in an email, “As Sheff G said: ‘They always whisper your accomplishments and shout your failures.'”

An attorney for Sleepy Hallow did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Trump’s rhetoric versus his associations

Trump has taken a hard line against crime in his recent campaign stops in New York, including a stop at a Harlem bodega that was the site of a fatal stabbing.

The former president in his Bronx speech claimed that the city has “filthy encampments of drugged-out homeless people,” and “lunatics killing innocent bystanders by pushing them on the railroad tracks.”

“We’re going to bring safety back to our streets,” he promised.

More: Bronx cheers: Donald Trump promises to make New York great again with spending

All four men Trump brought onstage have had brushes with the law. Rep. Donalds, who grew up in Brooklyn, had a 1997 marijuana charge dismissed as part of a pre-trial diversion program and a 2000 bribery charge that was later expunged. Diaz Sr. was indicted in 1965 for felony counts of possession with intent to sell heroin and marijuana. He pleaded guilty to misdemeanor possession of narcotics.

Sheff G and Sleepy Hallow are prominent figures in drill rap, a hip-hop subgenre that has drawn condemnation from local elected officials such as New York City Mayor Eric Adams for its intensely violent lyrics and videos, which often feature rappers waving guns and threatening their rivals.

“We’ve had a number of shootings in Brooklyn recently that are directly related to drill rap,” Brooklyn DA Eric Gonzalez told Fox News in 2022. “The rappers are taunting their rivals in the rival gangs’ territory, saying, ‘We’re here. Come get us. If we see you, we’re going to shoot you.’”

Trump has previously been affiliated with people convicted of crimes. Some notable examples include:

  • Trump’s former campaign and White House strategist Steve Bannon was convicted in 2022 of contempt of Congress for defying a subpoena from the committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol. Bannon also faces state charges of money laundering and conspiracy in New York, for allegedly scamming Trump supporters when soliciting donations to a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.
  • Former Trump Organization CFO Allen Weisselberg served more than three months in jail for tax fraud and was sentenced last month to five months for perjury.
  • In 2018, Trump’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort was found guilty of federal tax evasion and bank fraud charges and pleaded guilty to federal conspiracy and witness tampering charges. He was sentenced to 7-1/2 years in prison but was pardoned by Trump.
  • Trump’s former national security adviser Michael Flynn pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his interactions with Russia’s ambassador to the United States before Trump took office. Trump pardoned him.

Facing his own legal trouble

Trump is in New York regularly at the moment because he is on trial for 34 counts of falsifying business records to cover up a crime − hush money payments to porn star Stormy Daniels, which were not themselves illegal but prosecutors contend amounted to an illegal contribution to Trump’s 2016 campaign as they were made to suppress an extramarital affair allegation right before the election.

Closing arguments in Trump’s hush money trial are expected on Tuesday. If he is convicted, he could be sentenced to prison.

“Trump’s on trial himself, they’re in the same status,” Sheff G’s lawyer Aidala said. “The way Trump is presumed innocent, so is Michael Williams.”

Meanwhile, Trump has been indicted federally in Florida on 40 counts for allegedly hoarding classified documents at his Mar-a-Lago estate after leaving the White House. He was indicted federally in Washington, D.C. on four counts for allegedly conspiring to steal the 2020 election. And Trump faces 10 counts in Georgia for an alleged racketeering conspiracy to steal the 2020 election by recruiting alternate presidential electors and pressuring state officials to legitimize them.

In Arizona, Trump was named as unindicted co-conspirator in another fake elector scheme for which his lawyer Rudy Giuliani and 17 others were recently charged.

Outreach to new constituencies

Trump has made a point of reaching out to Black and Latino voters in this election cycle, in part by embracing aspects of streetwear and hip-hop culture. In February, Trump hawked $399 branded gold high-tops at a sneaker convention in Philadelphia.

But his efforts have ranged beyond apparel. In February, Trump told a mostly Black crowd in South Carolina that his 91 criminal indictments were helping him with Black voters.

“A lot of people said that’s why the Black people like me, because they have been hurt so badly and discriminated against, and they actually viewed me as I’m being discriminated against,” he told an event sponsored by the Black Conservative Federation, in reference to his criminal cases.

His comments immediately received widespread backlash.

“Though I may be disgusted, I am not at all surprised that Donald Trump would equate the suffering and injustice of Black people in America to consequences he now faces because of his own actions,” former Rep. Cedric Richmond, a Louisiana Democrat and co-chair of the Biden-Harris 2024 campaign, responded in a statement. “Donald Trump claiming that Black Americans will support him because of his criminal charges is insulting. It’s moronic. And it’s just plain racist.”

Black voters have overwhelmingly favored Democrats in recent elections, including in 2020, when President Biden received 87% of Black voters’ support.

Controversy over crowd size

The Trump campaign claimed 25,000 people showed up to see him at Crotona Park in the Bronx.

News and police estimates were much lower, and more in line with the 3,400 tickets the campaign distributed for the rally.

The New York Daily News reported “hundreds” were in attendance. The Daily Beast estimated “over a thousand–if not exactly thousands.”

The NYPD officers patrolling the park told Raw Story the aviation team monitoring the even from helicopters said there were 3,500 people present.

According to the New Republic, aerial photos show around 800 people inside the fences of the rally itself and a “few hundred” outside.

“That aerial photo has been debunked as it was taken hours before the speech was given,” Cheung, the Trump campaign spokesperson, told USA TODAY.

The New Republic reported the aerial photo was taken during Trump’s speech. A white man in Trump’s trademark Navy blue suit can be seen on-stage in the photo. The Daily Mail also published a more zoomed-in version of the aerial photo in which it is clearly Trump on stage.

“Over 25,000 people showed up and has been corroborated by journalists and media members,” Cheung added.

When asked which journalists have corroborated that figure, Cheung cited an article in Voz Media. The article does not say the outlet independently verified that there were 25,000 people there. It links the claim to a Fox News story, which in turn attributed the number to the Trump campaign. Fox News also noted that unnamed law enforcement officials told the New York Post between 8,000 and 10,000 were in attendance.


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