Trump arraignment: The scene outside the Washington, DC court

Handfuls of pro- and anti-Trump protesters, hordes of reporters take in ex-US president’s third arraignment this year.

Trump critics and supporters rally outside the court in Washington, DC, August 3, 2023
A critic of former US President Donald Trump, Laurie Arbeiter of New York, is seen outside the courthouse in Washington, DC, ahead of Trump's arraignment hearing, August 3, 2023 [Jose Luis Magana/AP Photo]

Washington, DC – Donald Trump has pleaded not guilty in federal court in the United States capital to the latest criminal charges against him, this time related to the former US president’s effort to overturn the results of the 2020 election.

It was a new city, but the scene outside the Washington, DC court where Trump entered his plea on Thursday was remarkably familiar, harkening back to two other arraignment hearings he appeared for earlier this year.

A handful of pro- and anti-Trump protesters held colourful signs, and hordes of national and international media gathered for the Thursday afternoon hearing, in which the former president answered to four federal charges.

Among the throngs of camera- and smart-phone-wielding journalists and spectators were some familiar faces, including Dion Cine, a 54-year-old from Brooklyn, New York, who said he has been to all three of Trump’s criminal arraignments since March.

“I want to see it with my own eyes, instead of watching it through the fake news,” he told Al Jazeera, wielding a massive, pro-Trump flag and greeting a handful of fellow supporters of the Republican politician.

The scene outside the Washington, DC courthouse where former President Donald Trump was arranged, August 3, 2023
The scene outside the Washington, DC court before Trump’s arraignment [Joseph Stepansky/Al Jazeera]

Trump critic Domenic Santana, 61, also said he has been to all three of the arraignments.

The former president appeared in Miami, Florida, for an arraignment in June related to his alleged mishandling of secret government documents at his Mar-a-Lago estate, and in March, he faced state charges in New York linked to a hush-money payment made to a pornographic movie star.

Santana said he was arrested and held overnight after walking in front of Trump’s departing motorcade during the Florida arraignment. He faces misdemeanour charges, he said.

“I’m travelling wherever he goes,” Santana, a Republican who resides in Miami, told Al Jazeera.

Santana said he is supporting former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie in the Republican Party’s 2024 presidential leadership race, and he called on Democrats to switch parties to defeat Trump in the GOP primaries.

“You got to play dirty like he does. He’s a con artist. America got bamboozled by a con artist,” he said. “The world watches America and it’s a circus,” Santana added. “And I’m a clown in the circus.”

Court draws curious onlookers

With the court located on a major thoroughfare in Washington, DC, blocks away from the White House and with the US Capitol visible nearby, Thursday’s hearing attracted many passersby.

Heather, 44, who was visiting the capital with her family from Oregon, said she was happy to see the court proceedings.

She told Al Jazeera that she watched the mob of Trump supporters storm the US Capitol on January 6, 2021, and the former president’s refusal to stop the riot was – to her – “evidence enough” of his guilt.

“I watched it live, the storming of the Capitol, he had hours to stop it and he didn’t; and that to me is evidence enough,” said Heather, who asked that only her first name be used. “No matter what else he’s done, if you’re Republican or Democrat, that should not happen in our country.”

US prosecutors have linked Trump to the Capitol attack, accusing him in this week’s indictment of attempting to block Congress from certifying President Joe Biden’s election victory.

The indictment also accused Trump of knowingly spreading election-related lies, threatening a “bedrock function” of US democracy.

He has been charged with conspiracy to defraud the United States; conspiracy to obstruct an official proceeding; obstruction of and attempt to obstruct an official proceeding, and conspiracy against rights.

Trump has denied all wrongdoing in the case and said US prosecutors are trying to derail his 2024 re-election campaign. The former president still maintains a sizeable lead in the Republican race for the presidential nomination despite his legal troubles, however.

In an all-caps post on his Truth Social website before he appeared in court, Trump said he was being arraigned “for having challenged a corrupt, rigged, & stolen election”. “It is a great honour, because I am being arrested for you. Make America Great Again!!!” he wrote.

His legal team also has said that the former president’s actions should be protected under the US Constitution’s right to freedom of speech.

‘Free speech’ defence

That was echoed outside the Washington, DC court by several Trump supporters, including Jason Hudson of Fairfax, Virginia, who said the “entire judicial system is being politicised” in the United States.

“It’s not fair,” Hudson told Al Jazeera. “I think the American people see that and it’s a bad thing. I don’t want my taxpayer money going to that.”

But not everyone at the court agreed.

Wisconsin couple Rob, 54, and Sarah, 55, said they decided to take a break from sightseeing to check out the “historic moment”. But they said they had not yet formed an opinion on Trump.

“I don’t support Biden and I don’t support Trump,” Rob said.

“We’re neutral right now,” added Sarah.

French tourist Carlos Nassar (in dark blue shirt), with family visiting Washington, DC, August 3, 2023
French tourist Carlos Nassar, in dark blue shirt, with his family in Washington, DC [Joseph Stepansky/Al Jazeera]

International tourists also stopped to take in the spectacle. Carlos Nassar, who was visiting with his family from Paris, France, took pictures outside the court.

He told Al Jazeera that in his opinion, some of Trump’s actions “created a bit of a negative image”.

“But we still respect him,” Nassar said in French.

Meanwhile, Trump faces a fourth, possible criminal case in the US state of Georgia, where authorities have been investigating whether he committed a crime by pressuring local officials to overturn the 2020 election results there.

An announcement on whether or not the president will be charged in that case is expected this month. If he is indicted in Georgia, Trump critic Santana said he will again travel.

“I’ll be there,” he told Al Jazeera.

Source: Al Jazeera