Barricades have gone up around a New York court as secret service officials work with police to coordinate a security plan should Donald Trump be brought before a judge to answer to criminal charges, but some of his most loyal supporters are steering clear of protests over fears of a “trap”.
The former president predicted he would be arrested on Tuesday over alleged hush money paid to Stormy Daniels during his 2016 presidential campaign, and called for his supporters to protest a looming indictment.
Officials from the US Secret Service and New York Police Department (NYPD) met on Monday night to discuss contingency plans, including court security and how Mr Trump would potentially surrender for booking and processing, sources briefed on the discussions told ABC News.
If he is charged, Mr Trump is likely to travel from his home in Florida to Manhattan for his arraignment (first appearance in court).
An intelligence bulletin issued by the Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency in Washington DC said that some extremist groups consider the possible indictment of Mr Trump a “line in the sand”, which could therefore potentially “manifest in violence toward government targets or political officials”, ABC News reported.
Daryl Johnson, a former intelligence official who served as a senior domestic terrorism analyst at the US Homeland Security, told Reuters: “A catalyst like [Mr Trump’s] arrest would be something that would put people who are on the edge over the edge into plotting and carrying out violence.”
New York Mayor Eric Adams said police were monitoring social media for any “inappropriate actions” that could be planned in the city, but the NYPD offered assurances there were no known credible threats.
While Mr Adams said he was “confident” the city is prepared for any protests, online posts suggest only a handful of small demonstrations are being organised by various grassroots groups.
Authorities in Palm Beach, where Mr Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate is located in Florida, told ABC News that they were preparing for potential protests in the area.
A small group of demonstrators gathered on the bridge connecting Palm Beach to the mainland on Sunday and they said they would return on Tuesday if Mr Trump is charged, according to reports.
On Monday night, protesters gathered in front of Trump Tower in Manhattan where barricades and additional CCTV were erected.
“The NYPD does this all the time, the hardest job is keeping the pro-Trump people and the anti-Trump people apart,” said Chief of Detectives Robert Boyce.
About 50 people gathered outside court in Manhattan in support of Mr Trump, with organisers describing the small turnout as “last minute” and “by design” as the event was only shared among individuals who were “vetted” ahead of time, Politico reported.
NYPD intelligence and Counterterrorism Chief Thomas Galati said that a pro-Trump group was also set to gather outside Trump Tower on Tuesday and march to the courthouse.
Some far-right groups have opted not to respond to Mr Trump’s call for protest, fearing the likelihood of arrest.
It has sparked conspiracy-fuelled debate on social media that the government has cooked up an elaborate plan to trap and arrest Trump supporters.
Oren Segal, vice president of the Centre On Extremism at the Anti-Defamation League, a Jewish American organisation which promotes civil rights, said: “QAnon-related folks and some MAGA [Make America Great Again] adherents are talking about how this is one big trap in some cases, that this is an operation intended to get [Mr Trump’s] supporters in trouble.”
Activist Laura Loomer, a prominent Trump supporter in Florida, called for a “peaceful” protest on Tuesday outside the Mar-a-Lago estate, but subsequently changed her mind, writing on Twitter that it is “best people don’t show up to rally in front of Mar-a-Lago on Tuesday”, as she did not “want there to be any issues”.