ATLANTA (AP) — Hours before former President Donald Trump was expected to turn himself in at the Fulton County Jail on charges related to his efforts to remain in power after his 2020 election loss, dozens of his supporters had already gathered Thursday morning outside the facility.
And the crowd grew steadily as the day progressed.
It will be the fourth time this year that Trump, the early front-runner in the 2024 Republican presidential primary, is booked on criminal charges. But unlike his previous arrests, which happened in courthouses just before initial appearances before a judge, this time he will be turning himself in at a notoriously troubled jail.
Also different from his previous surrenders: authorities are expected to take a booking photo of the former president.
Trump and 18 others were indicted last week, accused by Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis of participating in a sprawling scheme to undermine the will of Georgia voters who had narrowly rejected the Republican incumbent in favor of Democrat Joe Biden. Many of the others charged turned themselves in at the jail earlier in this week, including Rudy Giuliani, Sidney Powell and Jenna Ellis on Wednesday and John Eastman on Tuesday.
Fulton County Sheriff Pat Labat has said Trump, and the others in this case, will be treated like anyone else — notably saying at a news conference earlier this month: “Unless somebody tells me differently, we are following our normal practices, and so it doesn’t matter your status, we’ll have a mugshot ready for you.”
But the scene outside the jail was anything but normal Thursday.
It included supporters of the former president such as Cliff MacMorris, 66, from Naples, Florida, who held a flag that read, “Trump Won Save America.”
He and his wife, Georgine, spent the night in Atlanta.
“You don’t have the right to persecute somebody unjustly,” Cliff MacMorris said.
His wife said the indictments against the former president were politically motivated because of the four years of “prosperity, safety, freedom” that Trump achieved in the White House.
“They must be worried about him for some reason,” she said.
Sharon Anderson, 67, from east Tennessee, was outside the jail for a second straight day. She had spent the night in a car with the air conditioning running.
“I’m here to support Donald J. Trump. I want him to see some of the millions that show up at the polls for him.”
She said the indictments against Trump had only strengthened her support for him. The former president questioned the election results, which isn’t a crime, she said.
While the crowd was mostly made up of Trump supporters, 64-year-old Laurie Arbeiter, who is from New York City, wore a shirt that said “Arrest Trump” and carried more than 50 black-and-white signs with her, including ones that read “Convict Trump” and “Trump is a Traitor.” She said she’d also traveled to other places where Trump was indicted.
As midday temperatures hovered near 90 degrees, sheriff’s deputies in vests toweled off and sought shade under a tree.
The main Fulton County Jail, also known as the Rice Street Jail, is located in a traditionally industrial part of northwest Atlanta where warehouses are currently being redeveloped for retail and residential use. It’s set back from the street by a long, tree-lined driveway that leads to a parking lot in front of the jail’s imposing façade.
On most days, the public and news media are free to drive right up to the front of the jail and news cameras have captured the arrivals and departures of many high-profile people who have been booked into the jail. But with the booking of a former president looming, the driveway off the main street in front of the jail has been closed off for days, with no reporters or cameras allowed within viewing distance of the building.
Security tightened further on Thursday. While cars had been allowed on the Rice Street side of the jail a day earlier, sheriff’s deputies cut off vehicle traffic on Thursday. They also set up barricades to keep protesters and media back. Some deputies wore vests and covered their faces with black masks. They formed a line along the street.
Scores of supporters of the former president were already there by mid-morning, some waving flags with Trump’s name. Members of a group called Blacks for Trump hurled racial slurs at Black sheriff’s deputies. But the demonstration was otherwise peaceful early on.
While others who are booked in there spend months or even years in the facility awaiting indictment or trial, Trump is not expected to spend time at the jail once he is booked. The jail is plagued by crumbling infrastructure and overcrowding. On Thursday morning, the jail housed 2,618 people, above its capacity of 2,254, according to data from the sheriff’s office.
The U.S. Department of Justice last month announced a civil rights investigation into jail conditions in Fulton County, citing violence, filthy conditions and the death last year of a man whose body was found covered in insects.