June 13, 2023 -MIAMI (AP) — Hundreds of journalists from around the world were gathered Tuesday outside the courthouse in downtown Miami where former President Donald Trump is scheduled to make his first appearance on criminal charges that he improperly held on to classified documents.
Protests were scheduled for later in the day by Trump backers who have criticized the felony charges, though the number of Trump supporters and those opposing him were a fraction of the crowd compared with the media in attendance hours before the Tuesday afternoon hearing. Journalists from China, the UK, Australia, France, Luxembourg, New Zealand, Germany and Switzerland were among the hundreds of journalists who have converged on the courthouse. Some of them have spent several days camped out in the muggy heat.
The international attention and anticipated crowds were another sign of the extraordinary nature of the event and the person at the center of it. A criminal defendant like no other, Trump is the first former president to appear before a federal judge on criminal charges. He also is leading the Republican field for the 2024 presidential nomination, and has so far held his status as frontrunner even as he has faced other legal troubles.
Security was tight. A yellow-tape police line and about a half-dozen federal police vehicles formed a barricade, keeping people from a palm tree-lined breezeway and the public entrance to the modern, largely glass Wilkie D. Ferguson federal courthouse. A police helicopter passed overhead at times, and about two dozen Miami police officers circled the building’s perimeter on bicycles.
Miami Mayor Francis Suarez has said the city is ready to handle any protests that occur, and that local law enforcement has experience handling large demonstrations.
The early crowd Tuesday included what is now a staple of a Trump appearance or rally. People selling T-shirts with Trump’s face in a mock mugshot, with large letters reading “NOT GUILTY,” others hawking hats, but also, fitting for Miami, mangoes.
As people awaited Trump’s arrival, some waved Trump 2024 flags, supporting his bid for president. Another man, who opposes Trump, dressed in black-and-white prison stripes and held a sign reading “LOCK HIM UP.” At times, people shouted past each other, and small groups of pro-Trump supporters and anti-Trump protesters squabbled, occasionally yelling obscenities at each other.
Dominic Santana, who showed up in the jailhouse uniform complete with handcuffs and a plastic ball and chain, said he “wanted to join the circus.”
Santana came to the U.S. as a child from Cuba and retired in Miami after decades operating an eatery in the New York area. The 61-year-old considers himself a political independent and says his mother and daughter voted for Trump.
“A fellow New Yorker can spot a rat a mile away,” he said. “Frankly, he should’ve been locked up ages ago.”
Among those who arrived early were the father-son duo of Florencio and Kevin Rodriguez, who came to the U.S. fifteen years ago as asylum seekers fleeing dictatorship in Cuba.
Wearing a shirt that reads “Jesus is my savior, Trump is my president,” the younger Rodriguez, Kevin, said it is possible that Trump is guilty of illegally retaining classified documents.
But he questioned the fairness of the proceedings in light of what he said was prosecutors’ lax attitude toward President Joe Biden and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton — both of whom have also been accused of mishandling classified intelligence albeit without any intention of hiding their actions.