Send in the clowns (with tiny hands): The Trump circus returns to D.C. — for one day

"Circumcision Guy" was there. "Blacks for Trump" was there. But the main character made only a token appearance

By Brian Karem


Published August 4, 2023 6:00AM (EDT)

A reporter interviews Donald Trump supporters outside the E. Barrett Prettyman U.S. Courthouse in Washington, D.C., on Aug. 3.  (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
A reporter interviews Donald Trump supporters outside the E. Barrett Prettyman U.S. Courthouse in Washington, D.C., on Aug. 3. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

A light rain began to fall.

In the distance, a protester shouted over a bullhorn, "We love the police."

At the same time, some 20 feet away on my left,  Peter Alexander from NBC was up live explaining the latest developments. In a tent to my right, Major Garrett of CBS was doing the same.

Donald Trump was back in Washington, appearing at the E. Barrett Prettyman United States Courthouse, within a stone's throw of the Capitol — the site of the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection at the center of the latest charges against him.

After the noon hour, the crowd grew substantially in anticipation of Trump's scheduled 4 p.m. arraignment. Mostly it consisted of reporters, but a few dozen attention-seeking protesters from both sides of the fence added to the circus-like atmosphere that grew along with the crowd. A guy to my right was meandering through the thousand or so people gathered around, decrying circumcisions while praising the efforts of Donald Trump.

"Tell Trump if he gets re-elected to be dressed up like Caesar and have three belly dancers. One black and one white and one Asian. We want to stop circumcisions," he said. 

"Do you take many medications?" I inquired.

"I'm not crazy," he said.

Known as "Circumcision Guy" to the Capitol Police, he is a regular. 

One guy who wasn't a regular was a young, thin white man who said he had come to D.C. from Ohio to "save Trump." He walked through the crowd waving a 12-foot "Trump or Death" flag, accompanied by a smaller "Donfather" flag in black that resembled the logo from the "Godfather" films. 

"Jan. 6 wasn't a crime. It was a First Amendment exercise," said an aging woman sporting a MAGA hat and braided pink pigtails. She went on to claim that the Capitol riot was a "false flag" started by undercover government operatives. By her own account, she wasn't there. "I'm smart enough not to admit I was on Capitol grounds that day," she explained.

Near her, a young Trump supporter who also said he'd come in from out of town marched around with his own "Trump or Death" flag, shouting, "Trump is right about everything." He dismissed the 78 felony charges against the former president. When I asked, "If he was convicted of a crime, any crime, and you witnessed it, would you still vote for him?" he gave a one-word answer:  "Absolutely."

"Is there any circumstance under which you wouldn't vote for him?" I asked. 

"Absolutely not. Because he's the perfect president," the man said with supreme confidence.

"You don't get much, do you, friend?" someone else asked him. OK, that was also me. 

A few minutes later I got a call from a friend: "Wheels down." Trump's plane had arrived in D.C. — he flew in from his golf club in New Jersey — and he was headed to the federal courthouse to be arraigned on his latest felony charges. 

As the courthouse shut down to handle this indictment, Patrick and Olaide Morang, an interracial couple, left the courthouse. They'd just been married. "We were told we were the last matter being settled in the courthouse before it shut down for Trump's arraignment, and we had to see it," Patrick said. Olaide just shook her head. 

"Hell of a way to celebrate a wedding," someone else said.

They left the scene smiling, hand in hand, shortly before Trump arrived.

A large crowd surrounded three sides of the courthouse, but the former president was brought in the back, underground and away from the crowds, entering the building through a tunnel.

Inside, special counsel Jack Smith awaited Trump's arrival. They wound up sitting about 15 feet apart in the courtroom. Reporters inside said they exchanged glances as they waited for the hearing to start. 

As the former president raised his hand to take the oath, someone in the press room reportedly said, "F**k you and your little hand, you little b***h."

Trump's entourage led him through the back of the courthouse. More than 50 members of the media, public and court staff were also in the room, along with Secret Service agents and other security. Seven federal judges from the D.C. district observed the proceedings from the back row.

An overflow room housed staffers, press and some of the police officers who defended the Capitol during the Jan. 6 insurrection. They watched a livestream that included shots of Smith, Trump (from two angles) and Magistrate Judge Moxila Upadhyaya. As the former president raised his hand to take the oath, someone in the room reportedly said, "F**k you and your little hand, you little b***h."

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Capitol Police officer Harry Dunn, who defended the Capitol on Jan. 6 and was awarded the Presidential Citizens Medal by Joe Biden earlier this year, said he wasn't surprised. "This is how it should happen. That's where it belongs. It's in a courtroom. That's where it should be settled. I didn't expect much, but I want to be there when the trial starts."

When Joy Reid of MSNBC later asked Dunn what he would ask Trump if he had the chance, Dunn was succinct: "I wouldn't ask him a question. I wouldn't waste my time. I have no words for him."

Dunn and other officers who gathered at the courthouse on Thursday said they were impressed by Smith. "We saw what he said when he filed the charges," Dunn said. "He has our best interests at heart." 

While Trump was being arraigned, outside the building a handful of "Blacks for Trump" protesters marched through the crowd, singing his praises and calling him "King." They said they hoped to "humiliate" Jack Smith because he's "a sellout."

A woman who heard some of this as she walked by shouted, "Blacks for Trump? Isn't that like chicken for McNuggets?" She got a few laughs, but not from the "Blacks for Trump" crowd.

A woman walking by had a decent comeback: "Blacks for Trump? Isn't that like chicken for McNuggets?" She got a few laughs, but not from them.

While that was going on a woman dressed in a Trump-baby outfit began crying, "I don't want to go to jail!" while others nearby shouted, "No bail! Trump in jail!" A woman with a megaphone who railed against the media for giving so much attention to the Trump supporters and ignoring her almost started a fight with a small group of pro-Trump protesters. A guy who said he was a railroad conductor said there was too much hate and that everyone should just get along.

A lunch truck pulled up to sell gyros to hungry folks in the crowd, irrespective of their politics. Another guy walked around shouting, "Ice-cold water! Get your ice-cold water here."

A truck toting a "Free Julian Assange" poster in its flatbed nearly hit the water vendor, although no malice was intended. A competing water vendor announced that his bottles were 50 cents cheaper.

I was looking for the guy selling ice-cold beer, but I never found him.

Shortly after 4 o'clock the judge released Trump without requiring him to post bail and set the next hearing for Aug. 28.

Those engrossed in the circus outside didn't even notice Trump's arrival, much less his departure, even as the sirens screamed, the helicopters whined and the motorcade sped from the scene.

Trump avoided the catnip of hundreds of news outlets from across the globe gathered to witness his latest arraignment. He's got bigger problems. He loves to play to the cameras, but pool reporters who traveled with him said he looked as if he had the weight of the world on his shoulders. That could be an understatement. Beginning in October he is likely to face court proceedings every month until at least next May or June. This is just the beginning — and given Trump's propensity to spout off, his lawyers have surely warned him that "anything you can and say will be used against you."

Still, he couldn't resist a few words as he boarded his private jet and headed back to his private club in Bedminster. He once again called the prosecution a sham and said it was political persecution, while refusing to address the new charges he now faces.

But looking at the crowd gathered outside the courthouse — the few dozen protesters who grabbed media attention by supporting Trump, and the few dozen there to protest against him — it seems obvious that Trump has lost control of the narrative, just as he faces his greatest challenge.

Donald Trump is battling for his life. His supporters and detractors, energized by his actions, are merely battling for airtime. Trump is ultimately irrelevant to them even as they use his favorite battle cry: Look at me. 

In short, Donald Trump's performance art, which mesmerized the entire country for years, is fading away. Jack Smith and the Justice Department are trying to bring us back to reality.

By Brian Karem

Brian Karem is the former senior White House correspondent for Playboy. He has covered every presidential administration since Ronald Reagan, sued Donald Trump three times successfully to keep his press pass, spent time in jail to protect a confidential source, covered wars in the Middle East and is the author of seven books. His latest is "Free the Press."

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Donald Trump Indictment Jack Smith Jan. 6 Reporting Trump Supporters Washington