- Oops!Something went wrong.Please try again later.
Donald Trump arrived at his arraignment Tuesday afternoon at Miami’s federal courthouse to rapturous cheers, chants and an off-key rendition of “God Bless America” from hundreds of his supporters, who had spent most of the morning hoping to catch a glimpse of the former president ahead of his arraignment.
A long, police-escorted motorcade pulled up at the courthouse just after 2 p.m. to a crowd chanting “We love Trump.” The former president and his aide Walt Nauta pleaded not guilty to his second indictment this year, in which prosecutors charged him with 37 counts over allegations he illegally kept classified documents at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach after his presidential term ended.
Just before 4 p.m., Trump’s motorcade left the courthouse — to more cheers of “U.S.A” from a thinned-out crowd — for a stop at Versailles Restaurant, where supporters were lined up, before heading back to the airport.
A Miami police officer estimated the crowd of Trump’s supporters, and a few of his detractors, plus media from around the world, peaked at nearly 1,500 just before his arrival. Fans amassed in front of the courthouse with Trump-branded signs, hats and chants for most of Tuesday. Although there were dozens of police officers on bikes, on foot and in patrol cars, there were no visible steel or plastic barricades. Protesters were not separated from each other, leading to some skirmishes that police had to break up.
That included a group of pro-Trump protesters surrounding one of the few anti-Trump protesters and shouting him down, as well as some conservatives loudly arguing with each other about their preferred presidential candidate — Trump or Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.
Other presidential hopefuls, both local and fly-ins, used the press scrum for some face time with cameras.
Republican presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy urged his competitors to sign a pledge promising to pardon Trump if they win the general election. Miami Mayor Francis Suarez, who is believed to be announcing his own presidential bid later this week, assured the public that the protest was peaceful.
In an interview with CNN’s Kaitlan Collins, Miami Mayor Francis Suarez said he was confident that the security measures taken by the city would be sufficient for handling the crowds gathering outside the federal courthouse.
“So far what we’ve seen is people exercising their constitutional right,” Suarez told CNN. “From my perspective, things have been peaceful. Every once in a while you have one or two people who maybe become disrespectful. But that hasn’t gone beyond disrespect to violence.”
The mayor said he wasn’t aware of any arrests outside the courthouse so far. Later Tuesday afternoon, police could be seen with at least one person in handcuffs alongside the path of the motorcade.
Quiet morning that ramped up
The morning started off with a small crowd of diehards, some of whom had staked out their seats the day before, and gradually grew to a rowdier crowd of around 200 studded with conservative firebrands, many live-streaming the action on social media.
Lazaro Encenarro said he had been in line for a seat at Trump’s court appearance since Monday afternoon. The Miami native in a Make America Great Again red cap and a black Trump 2024 T-shirt said Tuesday morning he supports the former president as he faces unfair criminal charges.
“We may not like his attitude or his demeanor,” said Encenarro, 48, who was in Miami from Oklahoma for a medical procedure on his eye. “But at the end of the day, he is an innocent man.”
Encenarro was one of about 50 people in an early-morning queue of camping chairs mostly occupied by media staffers outside the courthouse as cars passed by on Miami Avenue. The street was reduced to one lane of traffic due to news trucks parked on one side.
Next to Encenarro, Raj Abhyanker had some Pringles chips to sustain him for a waiting game he said began Monday night. The lawyer from Cupertino, Calif., said he has time to fill while his daughter attends a basketball tournament and so he decided to try to get a seat for the Trump hearing. He said he may vote for Trump in 2024 or for Robert F. Kennedy Jr. if he winds up the Democratic nominee.
“I think this is a sad day for the country,” Abhyanker, 47, said of the Miami hearing, “for a former president to be in this process.”
Wearing a top hat with Trump’s photo on the front, a red duster jacket and a gold chain holding a sign stating “In Trump We Trust,” Gregg Donovan was getting plenty of attention outside the courthouse.
“I’d say I have been interviewed 40 or 50 times. Just today,” said Donovan, a tour guide from Hollywood, California, who said he flew in for the event. “It’s a sad day.”
Another big presence in the growing crowd outside the courthouse was cops.
Major Thomas Buchanan of the Miami-Dade Police Department stood among a cluster of about 10 county officers near two side-by-side police vehicles on NW 1st Avenue, which was blocked off to street traffic.
Buchanan said the county has “a lot” of officers nearby and at the ready. He would not specify the exact staffing number, but said it is accurate to say there are hundreds.
“We’re just here to support the city of Miami,” Buchanan said. He added that, while police are prepared for large crowds, it’s not clear that today’s event will be massive.
Around 11 a.m., there was a slight disturbance when Miami Police and Department of Homeland Security officers cleared the area to investigate a “suspicious object.”
Duane Schwingel, dressed in an Uncle Sam costume and riding a wheeled motorized scooter, took up a position in front of the police line to help push the crowd back. He earlier led a huddle of Trump supporters in a verse of “God Bless America.”
“My message is freedom and democracy,” said Schwingel, 64, who drove down from the Ocala area. He said he’s in Miami to protest Trump’s charges. “It’s antithetical to what we believe,” he said.
Police looked closely at and later removed a TV attached to a concrete pole with the message “F--- the communist controlled news media” written on it before re-opening the area.
Trump tourists gather on scene
While there were plenty of local Trump supporters gathered at the courthouse, a growing number appeared to be from out of town.
Wally Goodnough left Sarasota at 3 am driving a freedom-themed truck and Trump-themes trailer, which he drove by Miami’s federal courthouse shortly after 9:30 am.
The Ford pick-up has an image of Mount Rushmore on the hood and the U.S. Constitution and a rifle on the sides and a message of . “Fight For Your Right” over the windshield.
The trailer has a photo of Trump outside a jail cell, with leading Democrats, including President Joe Biden and Trump’s 2016 opponent, Hillary Clinton, behind bars.
“Those guys in the back need to go to jail. Not Trump,” said Goodnough, a supervisor for a glass company. “Let Trump go. Leave him alone.”
A group of around 20 people, mostly men, wearing white T-Shirts that read “Blacks For Trump 2020” walked around the courthouse speaking to media outlets. The people in the group said they came from all over the country to Miami to protest Trump’s arraignment. They didn’t answer questions about where exactly they traveled from.
Though arguing that the process against the former president is a sham, Maurice Symonette, one of the men who was leading the group, was confident Trump would be victorious. “Trump will be president and all of you will go to jail,” Symonette told reporters.
Symonette, the 63-year-old founder of the Miami-based group, was once a member of the Yahweh ben Yahweh cult and was charged, but later acquitted, of conspiracy in a pair of murders decades ago.
Later in the morning, Symonette and others in “Blacks for Trump” shirts surrounded a camera crew and forced them off a sidewalk while chanting “Trump” repeatedly.
For plenty of the locals in the crowd, the concept of a powerful political figure on trial made them draw comparisons to their homelands.
Esperanza Quant, 59, came to the U.S from Nicaragua when she was a teenager. Wearing a “Keep America Great Again” hat and holding a sign that said “I Stand With Trump,” she said she worried where she could flee again if Trump does not win re-election and the U.S. “radicalizes” further.
“What saddens me the most is how they are persecuting him. It is a huge injustice. He was president of the United States. He has the right to declassify documents,” Quant said. “Suddenly they arrive at his house and treat him as if he were El Chapo, as if we were in Nicaragua, which shows that they are not after him, but all of us.”
But not all attendees were Trump fans, and not all comparisons were negative.
Osmani Estrada, a 40-year-old Cuban man, showed up draped in an American flag, with “Libertad” — freedom — scrawled on his red hat. He also carried the head of a dead pig skewered on a wooden spike, its tongue lolling out.
Estrada called the scene “a historic moment” for the democratic process and said he was thrilled to watch a former president experience the justice system just like any other American.
“I am an intelligent Cuban, I am not here to support Trump. The best argument against democracy is this: How can you ask the Cuban government to be democratic if you are supporting a person who is against democracy?” he said. “The Cuban who votes for Trump is due to a lack of identity, they don’t know why they are in this country.”
“What a pity that there are not more people here. I thought that there would be more people enjoying themselves because this is democracy. Democracy is being made.”
Domenic Santana, a 61-year-old Cuban American who came to the U.S. at age 6 with his parents, carried a large sign reading “Lock Him Up.”
“Thank God that we are here, and this is what democracy is, which means that we can express our rights. In Cuba, we could not do this, or in Russia,” he said.
“I have to live with my daughter and my mother who are Trump supporters, I tell them they are blind. I am not blind, I grew up in New York, and I know what a rat is, and that rat slipped in and became president of the United States.”