Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) was one of a handful Republican lawmakers to show up at a Tuesday protest in New York City ahead of former President Donald Trump’s arraignment later in the day. The rally, which Greene led alongside the New York Young Republicans, drew a crowd of a few dozen Trump supporters, counterprotesters, and curious New Yorkers — all of whom appeared to be outnumbered by media.
The rally in Collect Pond Park, across the street from the Manhattan Criminal Court House, was less a protest and more like a bizarro carnival. Trump’s Tuesday arraignment took place on an rare New York spring day, which added to the frenetic vibe, as though everyone was unleashed after a long winter.
The MAGA hats and flags were out, as were a contingent of counterprotesters, imperfectly separated by metal barriers. New Yorkers mingled among them — an artist, a high schooler with a few free periods — who claimed to have wandered down to Lower Manhattan to witness history, or at least the spectacle. And then there were the reporters, swarming everyone in a red hat or with a halfway decent sign.
But prominent GOP politicians, not so much. The sparse attendance by other elected Republicans highlighted the limitations of what members of the party might be willing to do for Trump, even though they’ve broadly lambasted the charges against him as politically motivated and unfounded.
Greene’s headlining of the event comes after Trump previously called for his supporters to “protest” the charges, a rallying cry that raised concerns of a repeat of the deadly January 6, 2021, Capitol insurrection, when the former president similarly asked supporters to contest the election results. Embattled Rep. George Santos (R-NY) was also spotted by reporters in the crowd of the protest, and was seen headed toward the courthouse where the arraignment was set to take place. Other than that, maybe the highest-profile public figure was the Naked Cowboy.
January 6’s violence — and its legal fallout — have complicated efforts to drum up support for pro-Trump protests. While many lawmakers are eager to show their support for Trump, they’ve largely chosen to do so through fundraising efforts. A previous New York protest on March 20 was also poorly attended, and protests in South Carolina and California drew small crowds this past week as well. Most GOP lawmakers appear unwilling to put themselves in a position where they could be linked to Trump-related violence, and in the face of ongoing trials for insurrectionists, grassroots supporters appear hesitant to do so as well.
The New York Young Republicans pointedly described the Tuesday rally as a “peaceful protest” that called out the political persecution of Trump’s indictment, with Greene warning participants against violence. The crowd greeted Marjorie Taylor Green’s arrival to the rally with cheers and jeers, but throughout the morning until Trump’s arrival in Lower Manhattan, the protests remained largely peaceful.
Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene just spoke at a protest in Manhattan, said Trump was innocent (of charges that nobody has seen), in a crowded area that was overwhelmingly media + that was only heard on cameras because she was drowned out IRL by some counterprotestors. #gapol pic.twitter.com/fpcilMiR2s— stephen fowler (@stphnfwlr) April 4, 2023
Republicans in general have harshly criticized the indictment and framed it as a way for Democrats to attack Trump yet again. Leaders like House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), however, have previously urged “calmness” and pushed back on Trump’s calls for protest. They have assisted with the former president’s efforts to use the indictment to raise money, though. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) solicited donations on Fox News, for example, and the Trump campaign claims it’s brought in over $7 million in the past few days.
The lukewarm Republican response to Trump’s calls for protests, however, indicate that many in the GOP are only willing to go so far, particularly as the specter of the January 6 insurrection continues to loom over the party.
“I think they calculate that they can take a goldilocks strategy — stay in the good graces of their base by not attacking him, but maintain plausible deniability in the future by not attending a protest,” says American University government professor David Barker.
Trump is back, and no one seems to know quite what to make of it
Tuesday in Collect Pond Park, Trump supporters were angry about Trump’s indictment, but there was also a sense of anticipation: The thing Trump always said would happen — that he’d be targeted by an establishment that was out to get him — did. They were here to defend Trump, to support him, pray for him, and commiserate together.
Melinda, 61, who drove up to New York from outside Fall’s Church, Virginia, sat on a bench in the park, hours before Trump’s arraignment. “I’m here to pray for the safety of the city and the people and President Trump,” she said.
She added that she loved her president, pointing to a pin of the presidential seal on the collar of the jacket. For her, the charges felt larger than just Trump. “What’s happening is they’re about to open a Pandora’s box. Because now, nobody’s safe,” Melinda said. “Any president, VP, Supreme Court justice, can now be publicly arrested, so I think it will boomerang.”
The crowd got bigger as the morning wore on and Trump’s arraignment loomed. There were red hats, of course, but maybe not as many as you might think. The rest fell into two camps: folks in sunglasses and T-shirts, as if they were NYC tourists; and the over-the-top. That included a guy in a banana suit — “Banana Republic” costume, as he explained — with a copy of the US Constitution in his hand.
The closer to Trump’s arraignment it got, the weirder it got, too: a woman, her body painted white, in a diaper. An Abe Lincoln. A guy in an orange jumpsuit, wearing a Trump mask. As inmate Trump worked the crowd, one woman pointed directly at him. “It’s Hillary Clinton,” she said, ignoring his face. “Hey, Hillary, you finally got locked up.”
Anti-Trump protesters also filtered through. Jojo Keys, 39, from Manhattan, said he was an independent who had come to witness history. When Taylor Green entered the park, he jumped up and down, shouting “Liar, liar!”
There were also “Fuck Joe Biden” cheers and “USA” chants, and there was a cowbell, somewhere, of course. But mostly, the currency was signs. The ones you know: Make America Great, Trump 2024, Stop the Steal, Q. And then some new ones on the scene, some better than others: “Salem 1692 / Bragg 2023.” “From Build Back Better to Biden, Bragg, Banana Republic in 2 Years.”
Michael Austin, a 59-year-old Manhattanite, had the Build Back Better to Banana Republic sign, which he rested at his feet. In his hands, he held a “Fags for Trump” sign. “It is a seven-year-long, slow-rolling constant coup d’etat,” Austin said. “They have used the CIA, the FBI, the NSA, the DHS, and foreign spy agencies to persecute a reformer, who came to reform the corrupt system, and they don’t like it.”
Pretty much everyone had cameras out, filming or photographing the scene for their own memories, and maybe to make sure that they had evidence in case anything happened.
Though nothing really did. People cheered, they chatted, they waited. Trump arrived at the courthouse in the afternoon, the crowd noting his arrival with helicopters overhead. “Trump is in the house,” one woman called out. But otherwise, the crowd stood, behind a fence and behind rows of television cameras, facing the court house, knowing, at least, that the former president was inside.
The lingering impact of January 6
Trump’s calls for protests, which the former president posted in March as he anticipated the indictment, follow significant fallout from the January 6 insurrection. The storming of the Capitol ultimately led to five deaths, 140 injured police officers, and hundreds of arrests. It’s also proven to be politically damaging for Republicans following an intensive investigation by Congress’s January 6 committee, with polling showing that 64 percent of Americans disapprove of the attack.
Concerns about the violence that occurred on January 6 have hung over these potential rallies as well, with New York Mayor Eric Adams calling on Taylor Greene and other protesters to be on their “best behavior.” Multiple Republican lawmakers have made similar requests of Trump supporters, like McCarthy, who said in mid-March that “there should not be any violence.”
Relatedly, pro-Trump backers have signaled reluctance about these protests amid concerns they could be a trap laid by federal agents, after more than a thousand people have been charged following the insurrection. As CNN’s Sean Lyngaas, Zachary Cohen, and Donie O’Sullivan reported, pro-Trump forums have included speculation that these demonstrations were a “set up” intended to pin blame on them for violence caused by other groups, like the antifa or antifascist movement. (On January 6, this incorrect theory was used by some Republicans to obscure the role of Trump supporters in the violence and damage that was caused.) An expert also told CNN that Trump backers may be seeking alternate routes to oppose the indictment including specific targeting of officials like District Attorney Alvin Bragg.
The combination of lawmakers’ own apparent political concerns, and Trump supporters’ practical worries about a law enforcement “set up,” seem to have dampened the involvement in protests this week.
For Republican lawmakers, there’s been an ongoing balancing act regarding their backing for Trump. If they were to actively criticize and condemn him, they risk serious electoral blowback much like former Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY), who lost her Republican House primary. Tying themselves too closely to Trump, however, also comes with its own risks, particularly for lawmakers in more moderate states and districts. In the 2022 midterms, election-denier candidates in battlegrounds like Arizona and Michigan broadly lost. And there are still a lot of unknowns about Trump’s legal woes, as he faces other potential charges in cases involving overturning the election results and his role in January 6.
“Now they must calculate not just the current rank-and-file GOP rallying around Trump, but also what happens if more indictments tumble down in the coming months,” says University of Virginia political scientist Larry Sabato.
These collective factors, it seems, have curbed the interest in these protests for now.
Update, 5 pm ET: This story has been updated with crowd reactions throughout the arraignment day.