One man brought a sign that said “Loser” and a box of golden Oreos as fuel for the day. Another brought a 5-by-3 foot flag that said “Trump or Death.” The two men sat far apart, each hoping to decorate the grounds of the E. Barrett Prettyman courthouse with their version of the truth.
Trump Jan. 6 indictment
End of carousel
That was how this balmy morning in Washington began, dueling versions of America captured by scores of journalists, all waiting for the former president to show up blocks away from where he directed an angry mob nearly three years ago, at the courthouse where so many of his supporters have stood trial, to enter a plea to historic charges.
Both men were celebrating. Tim Smith, a 38-year-old from Pennsylvania, for what he described as the beginning of the end of Trump. Dion Cini, a 54-year-old from New York, for what he said was an injustice sure to boost Trump at least five points in the polls.
“This is a good day for us,” Cini said in front of the courthouse.
“It’s an absolutely necessary day,” Smith said, sitting on its west side.
It was a day without legal precedent — though, excluding the media, it didn’t necessarily draw the crowd to match. In the indictment, special counsel Jack Smith made the case that Trump conspired to overturn the 2020 election — charging him with four criminal counts that stemmed from multiple alleged conspiracies. Reporters and others waited overnight for a spot inside the courtroom.
But as the hours ticked by outside the beige building, mere blocks from the U.S. Capitol, it became clear that the former president’s third criminal indictment was just another opportunity for the most practiced demonstrators on both sides of the aisle to make their voices heard in Washington.
They blared bullhorns and hurled insults across Constitution Avenue. One group held signs that spelled out “JUSTICE.” Another group held posters that read “Blacks for Trump.” A person dressed in a blowup costume of Trump strolled across a field just west of the courthouse, screaming, “I don’t want to go to jail. Where’s my mom? Where’s Melania?”
Meanwhile, two blocks in any direction of the courthouse, life in D.C. was proceeding at its normal, leisurely August pace: office workers strolling to lunch; tourists in shorts staring at Google Maps, their children traipsing beside them with backpacks; construction crews digging holes in the streets; cabbies weaving through light summer traffic.
With two hours left until Trump’s arrival at the courthouse, officers with the Department of Homeland Security and the D.C. police chatted among themselves in small groups. At one point, Park Police on horses trotted through a grassy field just west of the courthouse.
Ongoing investigations involving Donald Trump
End of carousel
Domenic Santana, a 61-year-old New Yorker who now lives in Miami, stood in John Marshall Park in a striped jail costume and cap, handcuffs dangling from his left wrist. He held a huge sign bearing the mug shot of an older man gone completely bald.
“This is Trump!” he said, as if it were obvious. “It’s AI. This is hopefully what he’ll look like when he gets out of jail.”
Just after 2:45 p.m., Trump landed at Reagan National Airport, descending toward the tarmac in a red tie. Along the highway from the airport, several bikers and spectators gave the middle finger to his motorcade, which had to weave through rush-hour traffic, leaving some on the campaign team miffed that local police had not done more to clear a path. On a corner near the courthouse, a Biden flag waved.
Nicky Sundt, 68, stood on the median of Constitution Avenue holding a sign that said “Honk if you think he’s guilty.”
A driver in a silver Volkswagen blared his horn. “Yeah, brother,” Sundt said, pumping her fist in the air.
Sundt, a D.C. local who said she has demonstrated dozens of times since Trump’s election, came to the courthouse Thursday to “show my support for his indictment, a speedy trial, and a conviction and jail time.”
Her toenails were painted red, white and blue — an effort, she said, to reclaim the flag from people like a man sitting across the street, who held a sign that read “Free J6ers.”
That man, a 66-year-old named Steve Corson, said he has been in D.C. for four months to demonstrate in support of the people charged in connection to the Jan. 6, 2021, riot at the U.S. Capitol. Corson said he was at the Capitol that day, too, standing atop scaffolding and waving an American flag.
This day, he was here for Trump. He said he wished more supporters of the former president would have joined him.
“I’m disappointed there aren’t more Trump people here,” he said, gesturing to the now dozens of people with signs against the former president. “But it’s D.C. I’m used to it by now.”
He turned his attention toward Constitution Avenue, where a mix of police officers, media members and demonstrators were waiting for Trump to arrive at court. Near Corson, a man with two American flags counted down the minutes until he hoped to see the former president. Across the street, another man shouted, “You’ve been duped!”
As with many demonstrations, some at the courthouse were tourists, eager to lay eyes on protests similar to what they have seen on TV. Others were there to revel in the moment. With the courthouse behind him, Mekhi Thomas walked to the middle of C Street and began dancing, moved by the song “Happy.”
He smiled and rocked his body as journalists and bystanders gathered to take photos and videos of him.
Inside the courthouse, a clerk called the case: “This is criminal case 23-257, the United States of America v. Donald Trump. This matter is set for summons, arraignment and initial appearance.” The room was packed with more than 110 people, but most were journalists or had connections to the court, including staff, security officers, judicial clerks and judges. Only five private citizens who stood in line entered the courtroom to watch the proceedings.
As the next song played, Thomas kept going.
“Celebrate good times, come on!” he sang along.
While he was dancing, Magistrate Judge Moxila A. Upadhyaya said: “As to counts one to four, how does Mr. Trump plead?”
Trump, at the defense table flanked by his lawyers, raised his head and said, “Not guilty.”
Thomas, of Ward 8, said, “I hope he’s found guilty.”
Meanwhile, Smith — the anti-Trump demonstrator, not the special counsel — remained seated behind the “LOSER” sign.
On the back of the poster, he was working on a collage of Trump-related history. He had drawn the Capitol building as members of Congress elected Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) as House speaker and a hotel in Pennsylvania where Trump’s legal team descended to question the integrity of the 2020 election.
Now, his pen sweeping cross the canvas, there would be the courthouse, as Trump entered his plea.
By the time Trump left the courtroom and made his way back to the airport, rain had started.
The former president did not give a long, defiant speech as he did after the previous indictment, and he ignored questions from reporters gathered on the tarmac. Instead, he made only a brief statement, as much assailing his prosecution as taking a parting shot at the city that gave him such a chilly reception.
“This is not the place that I left,” he said.
Salvador Rizzo and Isaac Arnsdorf contributed to this report.