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Tribune News Service
Tribune News Service
Tamar Hallerman

Analysis: Trump’s Miami arraignment could provide roadmap for Fulton

MIAMI — As far as political circuses go, this one somehow felt tame.

Former President Donald Trump’s historic arraignment here on Tuesday afternoon drew its share of animated, sign-waving supporters; hundreds of members of the international news media; and even a counter-protester dressed as a chicken.

But the scene outside the Wilkie D. Ferguson Jr. federal courthouse during Trump’s two-hour arrest, booking and appearance before a magistrate still was somewhat subdued. Especially when taking into account the typically rowdy — and occasionally ominous — nature of the Republican presidential candidate’s rallies and the rhetoric that circulated online.

Miami Police Chief Manuel Morales said on Monday his office was preparing for 5,000 to 50,000 people to show up near the courthouse. Less than 5,000 people turned out — and the press made up a large part of that.

No violence or major confrontations were reported. There was no obvious presence of extremist groups. And the crowd outside the courthouse was largely respectful, even as Trump supporters railed against President Joe Biden and the Justice Department after the latter unsealed a 37-count indictment late last week accusing Trump of mishandling classified documents.

The most notable blips: A TV affixed to a pole on the sidewalk criticizing the “Communist-controlled news media” that led to police clearing the area for an hour, and, later, the arrest of a Trump opponent wearing a black-and-white prisoner’s costume who ran toward the former president’s motorcade as it was leaving the courthouse.

The scene provided a window into what could be in store for downtown Atlanta later this summer should Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis pursue charges against Trump for his efforts to overturn Georgia’s 2020 election results.

“When you look at it in general, nothing happened,” said Robert D’Amico, a former FBI agent who is now principal consultant for Sierra One Consulting in the Miami area. “It was a non-event, which is exactly what you wanted.”

The Fulton County Sheriff’s office and the Atlanta Police Department each confirmed that they sent employees to Miami to monitor Tuesday’s security procedures. The former did the same when Trump was arraigned on New York state charges in Manhattan in April.

Willis has urged metro Atlanta law enforcement to prepare because her indictment decisions might “provoke a significant public reaction.”

“We’re being very proactive about our approach,” Fulton Sheriff Pat Labat told Channel 2 Action News. “Understanding what safety and security looks like so we are prepared holistically.”

Labat is responsible for protecting the Fulton County courthouse, while the APD is tasked with securing the surrounding area. The sheriff’s office is working on a comprehensive plan for increased security during the next few months, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution previously reported.

D’Amico said there are several things metro Atlanta law enforcement can learn from Tuesday’s security situation in Miami, primarily the importance of collaboration between local, state and national law enforcement agencies before and during the event.

“Now they’re going to come back with two months of lead time and be able to talk and (game out potential security scenarios), sit down with the FBI, sheriff and PD and say this is what we saw, this is what went well and what didn’t,” he said, adding that law enforcement can also consult with officers who were on the ground in Miami to give advice.

There are many reasons why Georgia may want to look to its southern neighbor when it comes to handling Trump.

Florida is closer to Georgia politically than New York and has more similar gun laws. Miami and Atlanta’s law enforcement resources also pale in comparison with New York City, where some 35,000 officers — almost the city’s entire police force — were put on standby. (New York City has roughly 18 times as many officers as the city of Atlanta.)

Atlanta already has experience handling large crowds and complex security situations, including major sporting events like the 2019 Super Bowl, mass protests like the racial justice demonstrations in 2020 and blockbuster court activity. But planning for a former president, with Secret Service protection and millions of loyal followers, is unique.

Should Willis charge Trump in August, as expected, protests and counter-protests could be blunted by Atlanta’s blazingly hot summer temperatures. The blistering heat and humidity may have played a role in tamping down crowds in Miami on Tuesday.

The demonstrations also lacked any conspicuous presence of far-right groups. That came even though a Miami chapter of the Proud Boys advertised a courthouse protest.

Amy Cooter, a senior research fellow at Middlebury College’s Center on Terrorism, Extremism, and Counterterrorism, said some members of right-wing extremist groups appear to be biding their time, “waiting for something a little bit more concrete happening to coalesce around.”

“I also think it’s the case that the Jan. 6 arrests and convictions so far have been fairly successful deterrents,” she said.

Still, Cooter said authorities shouldn’t let their guards down. The Fulton County Trump inquiry speaks more to the heart of the country’s democratic system and could prompt more anger.

“There are many people who still genuinely believe the election was stolen and that the 2024 election is at high risk,” she said. “I would not be surprised if we see more direct activity around a Georgia indictment.”

She said authorities should continue to monitor online forums popular with extremist groups and responsibly engage with participants where they can to try and diffuse any potential violence before it occurs.

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