Trump trial fans show up for ‘spectacle’ and ‘to witness history’

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Despite where they stand on Donald Trump, court-watchers have gathered for a common reason: to witness history
By Madeline Halpert
BBC News, in court

A Scottish woman on vacation. A retiree carrying a Trump puppet. A 22-year-old film producer. A former criminal defence attorney.

Hundreds of people travel miles and wait hours in the early morning for a chance to be in the Manhattan courtroom for the first-ever criminal trial of a former US president.

Donald Trump has pleaded not guilty to falsifying business records in relation to a hush-money payment made to a porn star.

Both ardent critics and devoted fans of Mr Trump have gathered daily for the trial, now entering its fifth week. But despite their differences, nearly all provided the same reason for being there: to catch a glimpse of history.

“The truth is, when you come and sit in this [court]room, you’re not really expressing your support for any side,” said Shmuel Munkis, a Brooklyn resident. “It’s just about being here, just to witness history.”

Shmuel Munkis, a supporter of Mr Trump, started waiting in line at 00:30 EDT

Mr Munkis is among dozens of people who waited in line for the second day of testimony from Stormy Daniels, an adult film star who has alleged having sex with Mr Trump, who has denied this.

Mr Trump is accused of illegally covering up a reimbursement he made to his former lawyer who gave Ms Daniels the hush-money payment.

The adult film star’s first day of questioning on Tuesday featured a series of salacious details about an evening she alleges she spent in Mr Trump’s hotel suite. The testimony prompted the former president to curse and shake his head across the courtroom.

It also sparked a frenzy outside the courthouse, with an even longer line on a brisk spring morning for a chance at a seat.

Mr Munkis arrived at 00:30 EDT (05:30 BST) on Thursday to help his chances of being one of only six people from the public in the main courtroom for Ms Daniels’ last day of testimony.

“Some people were telling me that there was some inappropriate things being discussed. But I absolutely did not come for that,” said Mr Munkis, a supporter of Mr Trump who believes the trial is “a joke”.

Joe Waldbaum, a semi-retired 77-year-old criminal defence attorney, took a week off and a plane from Massachusetts to come to the New York trial.

Carrying memes depicting Mr Trump in prison while sitting in a foldable chair for the hours-long wait, Mr Waldbaum said the trial itself was the punishment for the former president.

“It’s a spectacle,” he said. “He’s got to be convicted.”

As a former criminal defence attorney, Joe Waldbaum has found it easier to follow the legal proceedings

Others travelled even farther.

Clare Gallagher, from Scotland, decided to spend her vacation visiting cousin Frances Graham in New York waiting in line at the courthouse. Ms Graham’s sister, Barbara Anne Crowley, joined them from San Diego.

“When I go home, I can tell my kids that we were there,” Ms Gallagher said.

In Scotland, Mr Trump has a poor reputation because of controversies related to his golf courses there, the women said.

“We’re looking at it and wondering how anyone like that could get to a position so high in the country,” Ms Graham said.

Cousin Clare Gallagher (left) and sisters Frances Graham (middle) and Barbara Anne Crowley (right) spent their vacation at the Trump trial

Nia Fields, a 32-year-old marketing director, has long been exposed to Mr Trump and his real estate ventures, growing up in the New York City area.

She’s been following the trial closely.

“This is like my real-life reality show,” she said, adding that she had been waiting to come to the trial, but made an extra effort when she heard Ms Daniels was the witness.

“I’ll be keeping my eyes on scene, on the body language with Trump and his team,” she said.

Mina, a 33-year-old who is a frequent pro-Trump protester outside and an observer inside the court, was bothered by Ms Daniels’ first day of testimony.

Mina (left) and Andrew Giuliani, the son of former New York Mayor and Trump ally Rudy Giuliani, are frequently outside the court showing support for Mr Trump

She noted that even Justice Juan Merchan said some details the adult film star shared would have been “better left unsaid”.

“I found that her testimony was not consistent,” she said. “I don’t feel [Mr Trump] is guilty at all.”

On the other side of the political aisle was Rose Brennan, who carried a puppet resembling Mr Trump nicknamed “Donald J Puppet”.

It comes with her to women’s marches and other protests.

Rose Brennan has brought her Trump puppet to many events

But once inside, it’s all business.

In the main courtroom and the media overflow section, members of the public cannot speak, check their cell phones, or eat or drink anything besides water for hours at a time.

For Mason Kidd, a 22-year-old freelance film producer, those are small discomforts worth bearing to watch history. He took advantage of a day of no meetings, waking up at 05:00 EDT and biking over from New York’s Hell’s Kitchen neighbourhood.

His friends didn’t understand why he was so motivated, he said.

“Nobody goes to these things, especially our age,” Mr Kidd said. “It just seems like a moment that I will want to remember that I went to, like 30 years from now.”

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