By the early evening of the prophesied day of former President Donald Trump’s detainment—Tuesday, March 21—defeat was hanging heavy in the air. A few intrepid news crews were still trying to report live from Collect Pond Park, a pondless square of green space and concrete that faces the art deco fortress of the Manhattan District Criminal Courthouse building. This courthouse may, or may not, book Trump in the next few days on charges of cooking the books to pay a porn star to shut up, back in 2016. At this point, it might be easier to count the number of politicians who haven’t hushed up a sex scandal using shady money than the ones who have, but here we are nonetheless. The number of presidents who schemed for months to hold onto power after losing an election still stands at one, and it seems to be the liberal consensus that one criminal charge is as good as another.
Let’s get you caught up on the pageantry of waiting outside a courthouse in New York City for Donald Trump to get arrested. There are police barricades. There are policemen. What there haven’t been, to speak of, are the protesters that Trump summoned to this spot—there are perhaps two at this point, though it’s hard to tell for sure. There are no Trump flags here, no signs, no bombastic speeches about God and country and freedom.
The absence of anything resembling news complicates things significantly for on-the-ground reporting, but the assembled news anchors are doing their best. “Police are on high alert for—” an Australian woman says into the camera. Then she falters; then she starts again. The situation behind her can’t be helping her concentration; a retired Marine is loudly dressing down the tiny remaining pocket of dejected, signless demonstrators. “This ain’t Trump’s world! This is God’s world, motherfucker! Fuck Trump! Fuck Trump! Fuck YOU!”
I first encountered the retired Marine on Monday evening, when members of the New York Young Republican Club gathered to make their grievances known. At 6:00 p.m., the park was chaos, a riotous crush of bodies jockeying to bring their message to the world. Unfortunately for the young Republicans of New York, those bodies belonged not to furious young conservatives but the media. At least 200 of them swarmed the few protesters present, microphones outstretched, maneuvering in vain to find a camera angle that captured the demonstrators without a thousand obvious press members standing in the background.
Toward the edge of the fray, an earnest man in a brown coat with a hand-lettered sign with three lines that read “Alvin Bragg / Releasing The Violent / Prosecuting Political Enemies” spoke to one reporter after another, each circling and waiting for the crew in front to finish before they pounced. Suddenly, in the middle of a sentence, his words ran out. “I’m sorry,” he said after a few seconds. “I’ve been talking for hours. I’ve been here since noon.” He tried feebly to extricate himself, but the woman currently interviewing him begged him to answer just one more question. And so it went, crew after crew: a special kind of hell.
A half-hour later, the starving media had figured out a more orderly formation for feeding. A sardine-packed semicircle pressed relentlessly into the tiny cohort of Young Republicans who had answered Trump’s call to PROTEST and TAKE OUR NATION BACK. The club’s leadership delivered speeches into a bouquet of microphones. I could hear none of it, on account of the soundproofing crush of press bodies and also the retired Marine, who wanted them to leave. “You should go to Buffalo Wild Wings!” he shouted in a booming voice doubtless crafted through decades of military service. “Donald Trump don’t even know your name. Fuck outta here. Fuck Trump. Fuck you!”
New York City is uniquely unsuited to a MAGA rally. Its citizens infamously have no time for bullshit, and conservative news stories about a murder on every street corner and a needle in every arm have terrified many Patriots with long histories of Facebook posts regarding a certain Tree of Liberty and its thirst for patriot and tyrant blood. The city is large, it’s loud, and people are spectacularly good at minding their own business. It’s a hard place to impress.
Thanks to Broadway, off-Broadway, and the rest of the city’s entertainment industry, New York also has more theater kids per capita than anywhere else on the planet, which explains how a lot of these last 24 hours have gone for the few brave souls who answered Trump’s call to arms this time around. “Somebody owns Biden. We need to get to the bottom of this,” an earnest man with glasses, a Second Amendment hat, and a cardboard-box sign says into a bullhorn strapped to his waist. “FOLLOW THE MONEY!” the sign demands in scrawled black Sharpie. “WORLD ECONOMIC FORUM PLANTED THE SECRET DOCUMENTS THAT TURUMP [sic] DECLASSIFIED.”
“Communism is when billionaires—billionaires, uh—so, like, Jeff Bezos, he’s a Communist,” comedian Walter Masterson informs the hungry cameras. “In order to stop the Communists in this country, we need to get rid, you know, of the World Economic Forum, these big banks. You know, Silicon Valley banks.” Behind him, a protester with a thick accent demands Biden’s immediate extradition to Romania for execution. A man who looks like a composite photo of a thousand blue-collar workers shouts about “Demon-crats.” A time traveler from 2015 poses in an American flag Guy Fawkes mask for media photos, while Masterson demands the arrest of Hunter Biden’s laptop and accuses the president of sex-trafficking George Soros. It’s hard to tell who is being sincere and who is doing performance art, because any meaningful distinctions between the two have collapsed.
“I caught a red-eye from San Francisco to be here,” a middle-aged Hispanic woman in an American Flag cowboy hat tells one of the few other normal protesters who bothered to show up, her voice full of wonder and despair.
The poor turnout isn’t exactly shocking. A widely shared meme of an FBI agent typing on a computer captures the general attitude of the right toward Trump’s request. “Every Patriot needs to be in the streets,” reads the caption. “They want a civil war, let’s show them.”
This is what happens when you tell your supporters to rally for you and then they get arrested en masse and then you leave office without pardoning them. All of Trump’s boldest soldiers are in jail, headed to jail, or terrified of going to jail. Much of the hard-core alt-right remembers and is vocally bitter about this, but everyone else has largely reached an undeclared yet firm position on the subject. We’ll support you, Mr President, but don’t expect us to show up for you anymore.
Outright rebellion against Trump’s request is impossible, and so the conservatives do what they always do: transmute Trump’s sacrosanct request into enemy entrapment. “That ‘patriotic’ friend of yours you’re currently texting about protesting Trump’s arrest in NYC is a federal informant and your text messages from today are going to be read out loud in front of a jury of 12 NYC communists who hate you,” conservative talk radio host Jesse Kelly tweeted.
“This is 100% correct,” Matt Walsh replied, taking a rare break from attacking actress and transgender rights activist Dylan Mulvaney for being happier than he has ever been and ever will be. “They are hoping for January 6 part 2 and will do everything they can to engineer it.”
Back on the ground, NYC performance artist Crackhead Barney has arrived—to violent outbursts of disgust by the few normies who didn’t get the memo about staying home. Barney is wearing red duct-tape pasties, a sagging diaper, and the worst rubber Trump mask I’ve ever seen: Think Halloween, but tan with blond hair.
“Is anyone from antifa paying you to be here?” Masterson asks Crackhead Barney, who responds by pulling her Trump mask down and crawling on all fours. “I don’t talk to press!” she shouts. “I’m not part of the legacy media, sorry,” says Masterson. “I’m an independent journalist. I go home, and I aggressively defend Elon Musk on the internet.”
About 20 feet away, a Real America’s Voice reporter in a fleece vest and dress shirt tries desperately not to succumb to despair. One by one, he interviews the few actual protesters on the ground. “What message do you have for the American people?” he asks, and invariably it’s something about continuing to fight and being brave and not giving up. The host thanks them for their service, then scans the crowd for someone—anyone—else.
Meanwhile, on Truth Social, Donald Trump is having a bad time. Over the weekend, the former president posted nonstop tirades against Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, his former lawyer Michael Cohen, and of course Ron DeSanctimonious, who dismissed questions about Trump’s possible arrest on Monday by stating that he has “real issues to deal with here in the state of Florida.”
As it became obvious that the Young Republican event was a dud, Trump seemed suddenly eager to post about anything else. In rapid succession, he dashed off posts about an encouraging Rasmussen poll, Ron DeSantis’s desire to cut Social Security, and a plea to supporters to get “Justice for All” to the number one slot on iTunes. “Justice for All” is Trump’s first and only hit single, which features the onetime leader of the free world reciting the Pledge of Allegiance while the J6 Prison Choir soberly sings the national anthem as recorded over prison phone calls. It’s difficult to hear Trump’s exhortation, in this moment, as anything but a futile plea to his biggest fans. “I’m sorry! Please come back!”
(The next day, Trump will re-Truth a Gateway Pundit article that claims the song hit number one but was “deplatformed by the radical left marxists at Apple” shortly thereafter. The song, very much still on iTunes, currently sits at number four. Trump’s fans will still buy merch and listen to music. They just won’t risk arrest for him anymore.)
As Trump posts and seethes, the QAnon Shaman has arrived at the protest, or at least a QAnon Shaman is here. This version looks very much like Arthur Fleck in patriotic face paint. He wears a fake-fur vest and a large furry hat with two haphazard antlers that curl sadly downward. Earlier, in front of Trump Tower, the shaman explained to a duo in neon yellow suit jackets that Stormy Daniels attended his wedding. A few feet away, a single Trump protester wearily displayed a Trump 2024 banner to the tourists.
By Tuesday evening—24 hours after the first and only semi-real demonstration of the entire affair—the media finally decided to pack it in. As it turns out, the grand jury failed to indict Trump on Monday. The prophesied Tuesday arrest was, thus, impossible from the jump. But it could, theoretically, happen Wednesday or Thursday. It could happen sometime next week. It could not happen at all. It could always be happening.
“I guess we’ll be back here tomorrow,” one cameraman tells another, resigned.
As the sun sets, so too does Trump’s delusion that he still holds sway over a horde of rabid, ready-for-war fans. Liberal fantasies of Trump getting perp-walked and fingerprinted, processed and thrown in jail, also grow dim. Such visual and viscerally pleasing fantasies are very different from anything that looks like actual justice being done. The idealistic days of 2020 and early 2021 are dead and gone; gone too the violence and the fury and the constant stream of riot porn.
On their respective podcasts, Charlie Kirk and Steve Bannon call for revenge of a different kind: the prosecution of Democratic officials for the pettiest of crimes. Sure, why not? If we are charging former presidents for porn star crimes and tax evasion, all bets are truly off. I am thinking of the Beer Hall Putsch, arguably one of the funniest things to ever happen in Germany. The lessons of that failure were clear and obvious: Change does not happen on the streets, but in the halls of power: CSPAN-ready bureaucracy, not camera-ready moments.
The real revolution, if it happens, will not be televised. For now, the coup is a dud.