On April 4, former president Donald Trump appeared in Manhattan Criminal Court after being indicted on 34 felony charges. After years of seemingly countless investigations, his arraignment — the point at which he would hear the charges against him and enter a plea — was a historic moment, making Trump the first US president to face criminal charges in court. (Though, technically, he is the second president to face arrest, after Ulysses S. Grant was stopped by police in 1872 for a speeding horse and buggy.) Trump has pleaded not guilty.
Since Trump’s indictment was announced on March 30, members of virtually every major news outlet around the globe have waited outside both the courthouse and Trump Tower to witness his arrival. Police barricades, security personnel, journalists, anti-Trump demonstrators, Trump supporters, and just your average curious pedestrians all combine to make this the exact definition of a media circus.
“[It’s] overwhelming and unlike any event I’ve covered in the past!” said Clarissa-Jan Lim, senior reporter for BuzzFeed News, who spent all of Tuesday both around and inside the court. New York courts have seen several high-profile trials in recent years, including those of Harvey Weinstein and Ghislaine Maxwell, but none come close to Trump.
Press photographers and videographers marked their spots for Tuesday on the sidewalk, using painter’s tape to spell out their media outlet’s name in a very punk-rock way. Tents and camera gear lined the entire block of Centre Street across from the court.
The day before Trump was due to appear in court, a small but vocal group of his supporters gathered across the street from the courthouse at Collect Pond Park waving “Fuck Biden” flags and sporting MAGA apparel. Some were livestreaming and touting baseless conspiracies about COVID and the 2020 election.
Nearby, journalists formed a line behind barricades, hoping to snag a spot in the courtroom for Trump’s appearance the next day. Some waited a reported 18 hours and were prepared with pizza, extra smartphone battery chargers, and winter coats. In this line, there were even professional line sitters who were paid by press outlets to save a spot overnight for journalists trying to get into court. Yes, it’s a thing.
“We have several journalists that have hired us from different outlets,” said Robert Samuel, the owner and CEO of line-sitting service Same Ole Line Dudes. The company’s typical rate is $25/hour, with a minimum of 2 hours. The Trump arraignment was $50/hour because of security concerns, with nine line sitters on the job. Adonis Porch, a professional line sitter who was at the front of the line for journalists, said, “It’s been an experience — but the main thing is, for me, I’m being a part of history.”
Of course there are also, uh, logistics to consider when you’re a part of history for that long. “I have a coworker that’s working with me on this assignment, so he’s going to hold down my tent until I come back from the restroom,” — said Adonis, who added he'd use the facilities at a nearby McDonald's or 7-Eleven.
Adding to the spectacle of Trump’s arraignment, Reps. George Santos and Marjorie Taylor Greene stopped by outside the court, making unsuccessful attempts to encourage any Trump supporters who were there. Both members of Congress faced a barrage of hecklers. Police used barricades to separate the pro- and anti-Trump demonstrators, with the New York Times reporting a “few skirmishes” between both opposing groups.