NEW YORK — The leadership of the New York Young Republican Club, a far-right group, wants to be very clear: It’s actually a good thing that only a handful of Donald Trump supporters showed up to the pro-Trump rally held Monday outside the Manhattan district attorney’s office.
“We purposefully kept it small,” the club’s president, Gavin Wax, told HuffPost.
“I think there’s more cameras here than people,” observed Vish Burra, the club’s executive secretary and a staffer for Rep. George Santos (R-N.Y.).
“I would prefer a lower turnout,” said Troy Olson, sergeant-at-arms.
Turnout couldn’t have gotten much lower. Despite Trump’s call just a few days prior to “PROTEST, TAKE OUR NATION BACK” in anticipation that he would be charged criminally for years-old hush money payments to adult actor Stormy Daniels, members of the media vastly outnumbered Trump supporters at the rally.
The event on Monday, as a result, turned into a sort of media petting zoo for the endangered Republicans, some of whom sought out interview requests while others hid their faces out of fear of identification.
“I had like 50 cameras on me!” exclaimed one man, whose face was covered by an American flag mask, before sounding secretly thrilled that he’d likely be in the paper tomorrow.
Above all, there was paranoia: The media and the feds were out to get Trump supporters, those present said.
“They’re trying to incite something, violence,” said Braxton Foley, 15, referring to the assembled journalists. Then the self-described “paleocon” plugged his podcast. “I’ve got 5,000 subs, so…”
A woman who declined to give her full name remarked that, should Trump actually be arrested, “there’s a lot of patriots in this country that will not take kindly to that.” She stopped herself, saying that any protests would be peaceful.
A man wearing an “ATF” hat — Brace Belden, co-host of the left-wing podcast TrueAnon — told HuffPost he didn’t expect a Jan. 6-style reaction to Trump’s potential indictment. The prosecutions for the riot that day “freaked a lot of people out,” he said. But, Belden added, “I would love to see what happens.”
Another man, who wouldn’t give his name, sat on a park bench strumming on an out-of-tune guitar emblazoned with the words “HANG FAUCI AND GATES.”
When HuffPost asked him if he wanted to hang Fauci, he made a clarification.
“No. We want to torture him for three years first,” he said, later adding: “poke his eyes out, let him live with one eye and, like, bleed.”
Scores of journalists ambled around, desperately looking for interviews, waiting for the New York Young Republican Club’s press conference to start. One reporter started asking someone questions before it became clear they were a reporter, too.
When Wax finally launched into his speech, he emphasized that Trump supporters should protest the former president’s impending arrest peacefully. But he struck a much different tone at a black-tie gala he organized in Manhattan late last year.
“We want total war,” he said in the December speech while discussing the MAGA movement’s perceived enemies. “We must be prepared to do battle in every arena. In the media. In the courtroom. At the ballot box. And in the streets.”
In the crowd that night, according to a report by the Southern Poverty Law Center, were white nationalists and members of an Austrian political party formed by Nazi party members during World War II. Also in attendance was Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.).
“This is the only language the left understands,” Wax said. “The language of pure and unadulterated power.”
Wax also has a history of supporting the Proud Boys, the violent neo-fascist gang whose leaders were charged with seditious conspiracy for their role in the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol. He once attended a speech in Manhattan by Proud Boys founder Gavin McInnes, during which McInnes reenacted the 1960 assassination of the leader of the Japanese Socialist Party, who was killed with a samurai sword by a far-right activist on live television.
It wasn’t clear how much of the assembled press was aware of Wax’s history of extremism. Many were there to get footage for the evening news — which may have been unusable, owing to a man who repeatedly interrupted Wax’s speech by screaming “Fuck you!” and “Fuck Trump!”
Earlier, surveying the crowd, Wax reassured the reporters crowding around him that Trump’s base was alive and well — just not today, and not in New York City.
“Everyone can make fun of however many people are here, but we’re in lower Manhattan, I mean, this is not Tennessee, this is not Alabama,” he said. “Someone like Trump has no problem getting crowds.”
CORRECTION: A prior version of this story misidentified the man wearing an ATF hat.