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Atlanta prepares for Trump arrival as crowds gather at jail and restaurant hosts ‘Welcome to Rice St’ party

Hours before Donald Trump was expected to turn himself in at the Fulton County Jail in Georgia on charges related to his efforts to remain in power after his 2020 election loss, Atlanta is preparing for the former president’s arrival.

Dozens of both Mr Trump’s supporters and detractors had already gathered outside the facility by Thursday morning, and the crowd grew steadily as the day progressed.

Elsewhere in the city, a post on social media called on party promoters to get themed fliers ready, and one restaurant is hosting a “Welcome to Rice St” event, referring to the street on which the notorious jail is situated.

“Breaking news!!!! Thursday August 24th! We’re having a #WelcomeToRiceSt party @suiteloungeatl for you know who,” an Instagram post reads, complete with the song “Welcome to Atlanta” by Jermaine Dupri and Ludacris.

Representatives with the business declined to comment when approached by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. One comment on the post reads: “This one gotta get inducted into the club flyer hall of fame 🫡.”

There were similar efforts in Washington DC ahead of Mr Trump’s last arraignment, with bars and restaurants offering themed menu items, as documented by The Washingtonian.

This is the fourth time this year that Mr Trump is booked on criminal charges. Unlike his previous arrests, which happened in courthouses immediately before initial appearances before a judge, this time he will be turning himself in at a notoriously troubled jail.

The former president 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 favour of Democrat Joe Biden.

Many of the others charged turned themselves in at the jail earlier this week, including Mr Trump’s post-election legal advisers, Rudy Giuliani, Sidney Powell and Jenna Ellis on Wednesday and John Eastman on Tuesday.

Fulton County Sheriff Pat Labat has said all 19 co-defendants will be treated like anyone else, notably saying 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 as supporters of the former president waved flags reading: “Trump Won Save America.”

Cliff MacMorris and his wife, Georgine, of Naples, Florida, spent the night in Atlanta.

“You don’t have the right to persecute somebody unjustly,” he said, while his wife argued that the charges were politically motivated because of the four years of “prosperity, safety, freedom” that Mr Trump achieved in the White House.

“They must be worried about him for some reason,” she added.

Former President Donald Trump’s supporters gather outside of the Fulton County Jail on 24 August 2023 (Copyright 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)
Former President Donald Trump’s supporters gather outside of the Fulton County Jail on 24 August 2023 (Copyright 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

Sharon Anderson, from east Tennessee, said the indictments against Mr Trump had only strengthened her support for him, claiming the former president had only questioned the election results, which isn’t a crime.

There were also a few protesters present, keen to see the former president arrive at the jail. Joel from Woodstock, a former Republican, told Greg Bluestein of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that he had come to the jail on Thursday to deliver a message: “I want to see the sociopath who tried to steal my vote in 2020 go to prison.”

He wore a t-shirt in the style of Trump merchandise that reads: “No, really. HE LOST & you’re in a cult.”

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. This has been closed off for days in expectation of Mr Trump’s appearance.

On Thursday, traffic was barred from Rice Street, barricades were erected and sheriff’s deputies, some in black masks, formed a line along the street.

As the crowd grew and the number of flags multiplied, the demonstration was mostly peaceful, though members of a group called Blacks for Trump hurled racial slurs at Black sheriff’s deputies.

While others booked at the jail can spend months to years at the jail awaiting trial, Mr Trump is not expected to spend any time beyond how long it takes to book him.

A Trump supporter drives a trailer depicting adversaries  of the former president behind bars (Copyright 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)
A Trump supporter drives a trailer depicting adversaries of the former president behind bars (Copyright 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

The facility is plagued by crumbling infrastructure and overcrowding and on Thursday morning, housed 2,618 people, according to data from the sheriff’s office. It was built with a capacity of 2,254.

Last month, the Department of Justice 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.

With reporting by the Associated Press