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MAGA Mayhem

The Weird Religious Fervor of the Trump Faithful

The MAGA circus hits the courthouse in Manhattan.

Yuvraj Khanna for The New Republic
Protesters outside the courthouse in Manhatten wait for Trump's arrival on April 4th.

Diane was up at six this morning, customizing a Christian flag for the former president.

I met her as we stood in a park in lower Manhattan, at the fringe of what the New York Young Republicans Club promoted as a rally to support Donald Trump, who was arraigned today at the courthouse behind us. Diane brushed her yellow-blonde curls off her face, the thin, whippy flagpole in her hand. She’d ordered the flag, she said, and added the slogan herself: “GOD BLESS PRESIDENT TRUMP.” “The white represents Christ’s purity. The blue represents baptismal waters and faithfulness of loyalness of Christ. And the red, of course, the blood of Jesus.” The flag symbolizing the crucifixion, one of which was carried on the House floor on January 6, was flying here during holy week, while Trump at last stood before a judge and was charged with 34 felony counts of falsifying business records.

Such displays of faith outside court on Tuesday were meant for us, the media as much as themselves, to witness. There was little else to see.

The two big advertised speakers, Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene and Pizzagate promoter Jack Posobiec, had come and gone before many people knew they’d even arrived. Greene, who on Monday night released an ad calling the current president a predator and members of his party pedophiles, spoke briefly to dozens of camera lenses, and that’s it. Whatever she said was consumed by successive waves of jeers of “Go home!” and “Liar” and “Our kids are being murdered in schools!” set to the screeching of whistles—some of which may have been friendly fire, Trump fans who “had no idea she was even there,” NBC’s Ben Collins reported, though many were part of a noise demo organized by her opponents.

If the crowd around Greene—largely made up of the press—missed her, well, there was the guy wearing red wire-rimmed granny sunglasses and a Colonial Williamsburg–esque coat, standing in a ring of cameras, a barrel-size Bluetooth speaker around his neck, lip-syncing to a version of “The Carnival Is Over” by The Seekers.

Mostly, though, the people there would turn to any camera that came near and bemoan the unjust prosecution of the most popular man, the man they say won in 2020. Some Trump watchers have been saying his supporters will liken the defendant’s plight to Christ’s. Or at least these charges will be a way for his supporters to more strongly identify their own personal issues with the former president’s. As one guy in the Trump camp put it, “If they can try to do this to him, they can do it to anyone.”

If this is faith, it’s faith built on spectacle and reinforced by mutual grievance. And it’s unlikely it is disintegrating, even as the Trump saga grows more self-referential. In the park where the rally was held, there was a strange, life-size jail cell door, its bars backed with mirrors, reflecting back the faces of the people surrounding, with the courthouse as backdrop. One cop guarded the “door,” more a museum docent than a C.O. It wasn’t clear what the message was. Later in the day it ended up covered in Trump flags to block out the mirrors.

The metal NYPD barricades dividing the pro- and anti-Trump sides didn’t mean very much, either. There on the anti-Trump side was the guy in red granny glasses, the one I’d watched on the opposite side earlier, talking to a guy holding a sign that said: “Put Him in the Same Cell as Stewart Rhodes So That They Can Enjoy a Night of Eye-Socket Lovin’!” Which side was he on? I yelled at red-glasses over the weird demilitarized zone the cops filled in the six or so feet of empty space between the barricades. “The Carnival Is Over?” Well, he began, it had started as a joke, mock-serenading the Trump rally over the “crazy relationship” that was ending, but then he realized, “There’s real love to it.”

Arguing with these people is a joke, he said. He knows Trump supporters. At the end of the day, they aren’t going anywhere—they’ve always been here.