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The new circus comes to town: fiery support for Donald Trump at rain-soaked Florida rally


Their trust in Trump remains unshaken.

Supporters of Donald Trump, the former US president, gathered in their thousands at a rain-soaked rally in Florida on Saturday unmoved by criminal charges against his business.

Two days earlier the Trump Organization and its chief financial officer, Allen Weisselberg, had pleaded not guilty to tax fraud charges brought by the Manhattan district attorney (DA). The case in New York could be merely the tip of a legal iceberg that threatens Trump himself.

But Joe Walsh, a former Republican congressman turned Trump critic, tweeted in response: “Trump’s supporters already know he’s a tax cheat, a liar, a ruler-breaker, and a crook. They don’t care.”

Interviews at the rally with some of the ex-president’s most ardent fans put this hypothesis to the test. Some did indeed shrug and move on. Others echoed Trump’s view that the charges were politically motivated. More than one prefaced their answer with the words “it’s bullshit”.

From all it was clear that the charges fitted neatly into an existing narrative in which Democrats, the media and the “deep state” have been trying to tear Trump down since he launched his candidacy with an escalator ride at Trump Tower in 2015. Any new accusation is merely interpreted as another data point to strengthen that case.

Anthony Cabrera, 19, a student wearing a “Make America great again” [Maga] cap, spoke for many when he said: “I have no opinion. You hear about it and you move on with your day.”

But with some prompting, he elaborated: “I think it’s a publicity thing. The Manhattan DA’s been trying to get something for ages. It’s a trophy.”

And if Trump eventually finds himself in the dock, will the Maga army rally in his defence? Cabrera said: “I have no doubt. You see the crowd here. Trump’s got a lot of very enthusiastic support. Escalating something like this for political reasons is not going to be good for the country.”

Supporters of former president Donald Trump attend a rally held at the Sarasota Fairgrounds, the winter quarters of the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey circus.
Supporters of former president Donald Trump attend a rally held at the Sarasota Fairgrounds, the winter quarters of the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey circus. Photograph: Octavio Jones/Reuters

Eddie Gottsman, 67, a retired manager, was blunt. “I think it’s bullshit,” he said. “It’s a witch hunt. The way they’ve treated Trump for the last four years, it’s obvious they’re out to cancel him. He scares them. I know he’s going to run in 2024 and, if he does, he’ll win.”

There is much speculation that Weisselberg, who was led into court wearing handcuffs, might “flip” to save his own skin. But Gottsman opined: “I don’t think so because Trump doesn’t have anything to hide. He’s always three steps ahead of them, whatever they try to do. Russian collusion was all a hoax, all made-up lies.”

Ashley Ballinger, 38, a business owner, agreed. “I think the witch hunt is still continuing,” she said. “They’ve been trying to get him for years and they still haven’t got anything on him. This gentleman has worked for him for years. Trump takes care of his people and they take care of him.”

Trump has accused New York’s state attorney general, Letitia James, and the Manhattan DA, Cyrus Vance, of partisanship because both are Democrats. But Ballinger said: “It’s Republicans and Democrats: they’re all in this together, they’re all politicians. He’s a threat to them and all of us are a threat to them and that is what scares them.”

On the eve of Independence Day. Trump’s second post-presidential “Save America!” rally was held at fairgrounds in Sarasota, perhaps fitting for a man often described as a carnival barker or clown. For more than 60 years Sarasota was the winter quarters of the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey circus. But John Ringling, “king of the sawdust ring”, lost his fortune and fell on hard times.

The new circus came to town with a man playing guitar and singing “You can stick your poisoned vaccine up your ass”; a Trump impersonator in baggy suit, red tie, blond wig and orange makeup prancing across the field; a 10ft-plus Trump statue with giant hands outstretched; a man in a “Trump 2024” cap and Confederate vest; an eight-year-old Black boy wearing a t-shirt that said: “Trump won.”

But it only became the greatest show on earth when a small plane, presumably belonging to a Biden voter, circled overhead with the words “Loser-Palooza’ scrolling in lights underneath its wings.

There was food, fireworks and flags that snarled: “Fuck Biden and fuck you for voting for him!” Warm-up acts including Matt Gaetz, a Florida congressman under investigation over alleged sex trafficking, and Trump’s son Don Jr who said of the Manhattan DA’s case: “The political persecution will continue because we are no different from Russia, we are no different from the mullahs in Iran.”

A giant Donald Trump loomed over supporters at the rally, which was co-sponsored by the Republican Party of Florida.
A giant Donald Trump loomed over supporters at the rally, which was co-sponsored by the Republican Party of Florida. Photograph: Eva Marie Uzcategui/Getty Images

Trump himself launched a tirade against the charges, insisting that they were part of a five-year campaign against him that included the Russia investigation which, he claimed, cleared him of collusion. He accused Democratic prosecutors of “corrupting and weaponising the law” against opponents while allowing violent crime to skyrocket.

“This is the kind of persecution they’re doing, as an example in New York, that you would see in Third World nations,” he said. “It’s reminiscent of a communist dictatorship targeting its political opponents… There’s no depth to which the radical left will not sink to stop our Make America Great Again movement.”

Trump complained that New York prosecutors did not go after a single financial firm after the 2007-08 financial crisis and did not target Democrat Hillary Clinton or Biden’s son Hunter. “They leave Democrats alone, no matter how bad they are, but they mobilise every power of government to come after me, my family, my wonderful employees and my company solely because of politics… The harder I fight for you, the harder they come after me.”

He went on to suggest that charges against Weisselberg related to not paying taxes on a company car and an apartment that eased his commute were trivial. He also claimed ignorance as to whether Weisselberg did anything wrong with regard to taxes on his grandchildren’s private education, asking the crowd: “Does anybody know the answer to that?”

Such sentiments resonated with his diehard followers. Garry Petty, 44, manager of a pest control and fertiliser company, said: “I think it’s bullshit. They’ve been going after him since the day he ran for president and they came up with nothing. Washington hates Trump because he’s not a politician. He’s a businessman who doesn’t need their support or money and that scares the shit out of them.

“If he’d done something wrong, they’d have dug it up by now. If they did find something on him we could handle it – oh, we were wrong – but I don’t think that’s going to happen. They’re going to have to keep trying and I’m sure they will. They’re scared shitless of him running again; that’s why they turned up on the heat.”

But if Trump goes to court, Perry – wearing a “Hillary Clinton killed my friend” t-shirt – does not foresee violent protests. “I think the right is the reasonable half of the country. Take a look at who has been doing the looting and rioting over the past year: it’s not been us.” In fact far-right white nationalists have been linked to a surge in racist and antisemitic violence.

The rally came days after Trump Organization and its chief financial officer, Allen Weisselberg, had pleaded not guilty to tax fraud charges brought by the Manhattan district attorney.
The rally came days after Trump Organization and its chief financial officer, Allen Weisselberg, had pleaded not guilty to tax fraud charges brought by the Manhattan district attorney. Photograph: Octavio Jones/Reuters

The views were shared across age, gender and race. Liz Ulibarri, 57, who works in a metal shop, said: “I think the charges are trumped up and the Democrats are desperate to pin something on him. They’ve decided to try and bring him down but everything they’ve tried has failed. Over five years, how many things has he been accused of and how many have turned out to be trumped up?”

Could Weisselberg, accused of accepting fringe benefits “off the books”, turn against his boss of nearly half a century and reveal dark secrets? Ulibarri said: “I don’t think Allen Weisselberg has dark secrets to tell. They’re trying to charge him for taking gifts. How petty is that?”

Dolly Schacht, 67, a business owner, was also staying loyal. “It’s a set up,” she said. “I didn’t get with politics until Trump. I listened to him and it was everything I wanted. He exposed corruption in government and it was scary. I also think we want a businessman to run country rather than a politician who doesn’t know what they’re doing.”

Asked if she was troubled by potential corruption in the Trump Organization, Schacht replied: “It will be less than the politicians. I think government forces businesses to be a little bit corrupt.”

And if Trump ends up in handcuffs? “The people will support him without question,” she said, gesturing to the crowd. “We are there. We’ve seen him go through so much. I think the Democrats have hurt themselves more than they’ve helped themselves. Trump might be a talker and antagonist but he loves the American people.”





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