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'This will make us stronger:' Trump backers rally outside Mar-a-Lago

 Donald Trump supporters gather on Southern Boulevard, outside Mar-a-Lago, to show their support in the aftermath of his historic indictment on March 30, 2023.
Wilkine Brutus
Donald Trump supporters gather on Southern Boulevard, outside Mar-a-Lago, to show their support in the aftermath of his historic indictment on March 30, 2023.

Despite Donald Trump's historic indictment, and the former president's pleas for public support, a mass gathering outside his Palm Beach home has so far failed to materialize.

Updated at 6 p.m.

As former President Donald Trump wrestled with his historic indictment on Friday, there were still no signs of large-scale public protests on his behalf — be it in New York or outside his home in Palm Beach.

It also emerged this afternoon that the former president will be arraigned next Tuesday, while President Joe Biden refused to comment on the case as he departed the White House earlier in the day.

The indictment on Thursday by a New York grand jury is a historic reckoning after years of investigations into Trump's personal, political and business dealings.

But despite bitter condemnation from the former president and the Republican establishment, on Friday only a few Trump supporters were visible outside the Manhattan courthouse where a grand jury voted for the charges, quickly posing for photos while police officers and reporters lined the sidewalks.

A man holds American flag in one hand while waving with the other. He's standing next to a guardrail by the side of a road. Two people holding signs stand in the distance behind him.
Wilkine Brutus
Donald Trump supporter Kevin Hulbert, from Pompano Beach, shows his backing for the former president on the road to Mar-a-Lago, in Palm Beach.

In Florida, about a dozen Trump supporters stood alongside the road leading to Mar-a-Lago, the former president’s Palm Beach residence and resort. They waved “Trump Nation” and “Keep America Great” flags at motorists.

Kevin Hulbert, a retired outdoor educator from Maryland, waved an American flag as he called the indictment “a disgrace.” “We have to use our First Amendment rights to demonstrate how unhappy we are that something like this would happen,” Hulbert said.

It was a far cry from the protests last August when his loyal backers swarmed the entrance outside Mar-a-Lago after FBI agents carried out a search warrant for classified national security documents at the residence.

Supporter Frances Cianciulli believes the rift between Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a potential presidential candidate, and Trump is partly to blame.

 Donald Trump backer France Cianculli shows his support for the former president outside his home in Mar-a-Lago, in Palm Beach, following his indictment.
Wilkin Brutus
Donald Trump backer France Cianculli shows his support for the former president outside his home in Mar-a-Lago, in Palm Beach, following his indictment.

"I had sent a text to my son last night saying that they indicted the president," he said. "And my son, who is a Trump supporter and loves his country like a conservative, he said, 'You know what?' He goes, 'I'm upset that he got indicted, but I would be okay if DeSantis runs,' and so on."

Palm Beach police used yellow tape and other barriers to prevent cars from parking on the side of the road. That may also have made it difficult for people to find parking near Mar-a-Lago and may have significantly impacted the crowd size.

Kathy Clark, fully decked out in Trump gear, was among the trickle of supporters who showed up after news of the charges broke on Thursday evening.

“There’s a lot of us who are for Trump. This is not going to discourage us. This will make us more stronger for Trump," said Clark, who was holding a 'Trump 2024' placard and wearing a hat and denim vest covered in pro-Trump messages.

She was among around a dozen people who staked out a spot on Southern Boulevard, the main access road and bridge leading to Mar-a-Lago that has become a frequent focal point for both supporters and protesters to have their say on Trump matters.

The small but vocal group on Thursday night waved oversized flags, played music from a portable speaker and shouted slogans at passing cars. Random backers and critics of the former president drove past heavy police and media presence, chanting various slogans such as “lock him up” and “media is the enemy of the people.”

The exact nature of the charges against Trump, who is running for the 2024 Republican presidential campaign, were unclear Friday because the indictment remained under seal. But they stem from payments made during the 2016 presidential campaign to silence claims of an extramarital sexual encounter.

President Joe Biden set the tone for his administration’s approach to former President Donald Trump’s indictment Friday with a firm refusal to comment on the case.

“I’m not going to talk about Trump’s indictment,” Biden said firmly as he left the White House, while reporters asked several questions on the matter.

Vice President Kamala Harris and White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre separately refused. Both told reporters that the decision is tied to the ongoing nature of the case against Trump.

Man wearing a suit motions with his hand as he stands in front of a pair of boom microphones pointed at him.
Susan Walsh
President Joe Biden talks with reporters on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, Friday, March 31, 2023 before boarding Marine One.

“Look, we’re just not going to comment on any ongoing case, and I will just leave it there,” Jean-Pierre told reporters on Air Force One en route to Mississippi, where the president toured recent storm damage.

Prosecutors in New York say they are working to coordinate Trump’s surrender. They are not saying whether they intend to seek prison time in the event of a conviction, a development that wouldn’t prevent Trump from assuming the presidency.

First president to be charged

Trump is the first US president to be charged in a criminal case, and could jeopardize his 2024 presidential aspirations.

Prosecutors in New York investigated money paid to porn actor Stormy Daniels and ex-Playboy model Karen McDougal to keep the women from going public with claims that they had sex with him.

Trump called the decision by a Manhattan grand jury to indict him “political persecution and election interference at the highest level.”

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who's exploring running for the GOP nomination for president, said on Twitter that the indictment was based on politics.

“The weaponization of the legal system to advance a political agenda turns the rule of law on its head,” he added. “It is un-American.”

A spokesperson for the district attorney's office said it wasn't immediately clear when Trump would be arraigned.

“This evening we contacted Mr. Trump’s attorney to coordinate his surrender to the Manhattan D.A.’s Office for arraignment on a Supreme Court indictment, which remains under seal. Guidance will be provided when the arraignment date is selected," the statement said.

DeSantis said in his tweet that Florida will not assist in an extradition request for Trump.

If defendants are notified of an indictment or an impending arrest, they often arrange to turn themselves in. Answering criminal charges in New York means being fingerprinted and photographed, fielding basic questions such as name and date of birth, and getting arraigned. All told, defendants are typically detained for at least several hours.

But there is no playbook for booking an ex-president. A former president isn’t likely to be paraded in handcuffs across a sidewalk or through a crowded courthouse hallway, experts say.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Wilkine Brutus is a multimedia journalist for WLRN, South Florida's NPR, and a member of Washington Post/Poynter Institute’ s 2019 Leadership Academy. A former Digital Reporter for The Palm Beach Post, Brutus produces enterprise stories on topics surrounding people, community innovation, entrepreneurship, art, culture, and current affairs.
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