It took just minutes for Fulton County, Georgia, to release the mugshot taken of Donald Trump as he was booked on Thursday for his role in attempting to interfere in that state in the 2020 presidential election. And after that, it took seconds for the image of the former U.S. president staring into the camera - with a defiant expression, according to his supporters; frowning, according to his detractors - to go viral. And it took even less time for the current Republican candidate for the White House to start exploiting it economically.
The picture, taken from an elevated angle, shows the former president with his forehead tilted slightly forward and his eyes staring intensely. It is the pose that some movie buffs describe as the “Kubrick stare,” after British film director Stanley Kubrick, who used it in films such as A Clockwork Orange and The Shining for Malcolm McDowell and Jack Nicholson to provoke an unsettling sensation in the viewer. According to CNN, there had been an intense debate among Trump’s advisors earlier about the expression with which the former president should pose. It has already become meme fodder and an instant classic, one of those that will truly go down in history. It is the first of an American president, active or out of office, as an inmate.
Any other politician with Trump’s judicial troubles -he faces 91 charges in four separate indictments- would be finished. But the leading Republican candidate has chosen to turn the situation around and present himself as a victim of a politicized justice system that wants to take him down by any means necessary, because it fears he will return to the White House and defend ordinary citizens. The photograph of him as a man under arrest, with the watermark of the Fulton sheriff’s office included, thus becomes a badge of honor and a source of pride. Ultimate proof that he is being unjustly persecuted.
At least, this is the narrative he sells and which his supporters buy. Literally. As soon as the image was published, the former president posted on X, known until recently as Twitter, his first message in two and a half years, with that photo and two slogans - “Election interference” and “Never Surrender” - and a link to a website. On that web page, a message from the former president led to a menu to donate various amounts of money to his electoral campaign.
“At the notoriously violent jail in Fulton County, Georgia, I was ARRESTED despite having committed NO CRIME.,” Trump declares in the message, in which he insists that his four indictments are nothing more than a futile attempt to sabotage his return to the White House. He also calls for the defeat of President Joe Biden in next year’s elections to turn the page on a “dark chapter” in national history.
The photo has prompted the president’s campaign, managed by the Save America Joint Fund Committee, to offer a whole range of products with that image and the slogan repeated by Trump in his message: “Never Surrender”. For 12 dollars you can buy a sticker for your car. For 15 dollars, a flask for drinks. For 25, a coffee mug. A T-shirt with the candidate’s face printed on the chest costs 34. You can choose whether you want long or short sleeves, black or white.
In an email to his supporters, Trump continues in the same vein. He presents his appearance at Fulton County jail to be fingerprinted and photographed - and to secure his release on bail with the payment of $200,000 and a promise not to make statements that might harass witnesses or other participants in the case - as an act of defiance in the face of the established powers. “I walked into the lion’s den with one simple message on behalf of our entire movement: I WILL NEVER SURRENDER OUR MISSION TO SAVE AMERICA.”
He’s not the only one trying to cash in on the photo. His eldest son, Donald Trump Jr, has also used the former Twitter to drive traffic to his website and sell products with his father’s face in jail. He says he will donate the proceeds to a legal aid fund set up by the Republican’s advisors to help witnesses testifying in cases.
Among the former president’s detractors, the image of him in prison has caused enormous glee. It is proof that the man who recommended drinking bleach as a remedy against covid, who withdrew the United States from the Paris agreement against climate change and who allegedly went so far as to commit crimes to avoid leaving the White House, will finally be brought to justice for his actions.
On this side, there are also those who have moved quickly to capitalize on the situation. The Lincoln Project, a group founded by Republicans opposed to Trump, sells shot glasses with the mug shot printed on them for $55 a half-dozen. The specialized crafts and design website Etsy also offers dozens of satirical products with the image, including a T-shirt that parodies a Taylor Swift concert, at $26 a piece.
U.S. President Joe Biden, who was returning to Washington on Friday after a few days of vacation at Lake Tahoe in Nevada, laughed when asked about Trump’s picture in prison. “I did see it on television,” he said ironically. “Handsome guy, wonderful guy,” he added.
In Georgia, Trump faces 13 charges, including violating the state’s organized crime law by allegedly leading a mob-like group that sought to fraudulently keep him in the White House. In New York, the first of his indictments, U.S. Attorney Alvin Bragg charged him with accounting fraud in the payment to a porn actress to buy her silence about an alleged sexual relationship. In Miami, special federal prosecutor Jack Smith is charging him with unlawfully retaining classified documents relating to his tenure in office after he left the White House. Smith also accuses him in Washington of trying to alter the outcome of the 2020 elections, in which the current president Joe Biden won, in events that ended up causing a horde of Trump supporters to storm the Capitol.
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