MANHATTAN — There was shouting and scuffles.
There were people carrying signs and a seemingly endless stream of reporters from around the world seeking to interview them.
There were jokesters dressed up in orange jumpsuits and Trump Halloween masks, as well as small groups of men wearing insignia of far-right groups who stood apart from the crowd and covered their faces with bandanas.
And, at the center of the day’s surreal events, there was a man who made history when he arrived at lunchtime with a motorcade of Secret Service agents, entered a towering and tired-looking courthouse building, and became the first former US president to face criminal charges.
The scene outside Donald Trump’s arraignment in lower Manhattan on Tuesday was exactly as clownish as many had imagined it would be — despite apparently convincing arguments from Trump’s lawyers that the presence of cameras in the courtroom would be what would create a “circus-like atmosphere.”
A swirling sea of protesters, police, pundits, and at least two politicians turned out to bear witness to, or to denounce, the historic event. Many had come to support and oppose Trump, but many more were simply tourists or locals passing by who wanted to see for themselves.
Amid the jostling and rowdy crowds, people’s moods depended largely on their politics.
“I’m just so happy. I came out to celebrate that he’s finally been arrested for something,” said Kim Auth, a New Yorker who had the day off from work and showed up with a sign featuring an orange and the words “Lock the menace up!!!”
“The celebrations are amazing,” Auth said, “as are the sour faces on the other side.”
Nearby, in what felt like a party, a group danced with glee to Kool & the Gang’s 1980 song “Celebration.”
On the other side of a police barrier, Michael Picard of Connecticut wore a Make America Great Again hat and a pair of stars-and-stripes overalls he said he had made himself.
“This is an unjust prosecution!” Picard shouted.
The unprecedented event warranted extreme security measures, with officials worried that Trump’s inflammatory rhetoric might spur a repeat of the Jan. 6 insurrection at the US Capitol. New York police officers were out in force, and several blocks around the courthouse were closed to traffic as Trump spent a little over two hours inside.
In a park adjacent to the court that was ringed by news cameras from around the world, opposing demonstrators screamed at one another from behind metal barriers designed to keep the two camps separate. They accused each other of loving or hating the US, and of blindly following liars in left- or right-wing media.
“We’re trying to keep the peace,” one NYPD officer said. “You can express opinions on this side or this side.”
At one point, one woman wearing a pro-Trump red hat tried to destroy a massive banner calling Trump a liar, clashing with and cursing at two left-wing demonstrators before police were finally able to intervene. She smiled proudly for news cameras all the while.
In another tense exchange, a man who appeared to be a sound technician for a TV crew could be seen jostling with and swearing at another individual in a tense exchange.
Mostly though, the scene felt surreal — even, apparently, to Trump himself. “Heading to Lower Manhattan, the Courthouse,” he wrote on Truth Social as he left his residence at Trump Tower and headed south. “Seems so SURREAL — WOW, they are going to ARREST ME. Can’t believe this is happening in America. MAGA!”
Yes, there were outlandish characters who came dressed as Abraham Lincoln or Freddy Krueger or Melania Trump on safari. There was a guy on rollerblades spinning — admittedly, rather impressively — a basketball on a flag, and another man who had held a sign that read, “My pronouns are NOT/GUILTY.” Even New York City’s famed Naked Cowboy came down from his usual spot in Times Square to bask in some of the free-flowing media attention.
But the most shocking ridiculousness was what you could hear, not just see. There were cries about the seep state and the Chinese Communist Party. There were chants about President Joe Biden’s “crackhead son” or how “children can’t consent.” And there were antisemitic signs condemning George Soros and District Attorney Alvin Bragg’s “Jews,” and others calling COVID-19 a lie.
Reflecting on what he’d heard among the attendees, NBC News reporter Ben Collins tweeted, “Our country’s transformation into a comment section is complete.”
But the most pandemonium came not when Trump arrived, but two other Republican officials.
Rep. George Santos, the New York member of Congress renowned for his own extensive lies, showed up at the park shortly after 9:30 a.m., was mobbed by a crush of reporters, then quickly departed. “George, you should have shown up in drag!” one person yelled.
A little over an hour later, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene arrived and was totally enveloped by media and protesters. Standing on a park bench and clutching a megaphone, the Georgia lawmaker and conspiracy theorist tried to deliver remarks defending Trump as a political prisoner and blasting Democrats. However, it was almost impossible to hear anything she was saying over the sounds of whistles, boos, and chants of “USA!”
“You don’t belong in our city!” one woman yelled.
After a few minutes, Greene was rushed from the scene by police and security who pushed through the crowds so she could flee.
By the time Trump eventually departed the court to return to Florida, many on both sides appeared exhausted by the long day of vitriol. A dog could be seen lying down sleepily in the springtime sunshine.
Nearby, a local busker had brought her saxophone and couldn’t resist the chance to play “The Star-Spangled Banner” for the cameras.
When the patriotic moment ended, she received some light applause before beginning her next tune, the jaunty classic Italian folk song, “Tarantella Napoletana,” and the carnival resumed once more.