Divided US embraces Trump mug shot merchandise

By Gram Slattery, Nathan Layne and Blake Brittain

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -Former U.S. President Donald Trump's historic mug shot, posted by a Georgia courthouse on Thursday evening, is being turned into T-shirts, shot glasses, mugs, posters and even bobblehead dolls by friends and foes alike.

The shot of Trump with a red tie, glistening hair, and an icy scowl was taken as the Republican presidential front-runner was arrested on more than a dozen felony charges, part of a criminal case stemming from his attempts to overturn the 2020 election.

Supporters and campaign managers have embraced the image of his arrest, as they rally around Trump's claims that the charges against him are politically motivated.

To critics, the photo is a symbol that his long list of legal woes has finally caught up to him.

Trump's Save America fundraising committee is selling "NEVER SURRENDER!" mug shot t-shirts ($34.00), beverage holders ($15.00 for two) and coffee mugs ($25.00). His son Don Jr. is marketing "FREE TRUMP" mug shot t-shirts ($29.99) and posters ($19.99).

On the other side of the political divide, the Lincoln Project, a prominent anti-Trump group founded by Republicans, is selling shot glasses ($55.00 for six) with the mug shot and "FAFO," an acronym for "Fuck Around and Find Out," a rallying cry among Trump critics. Etsy, the crafts website, has dozens of mocking products, including a Taylor Swift concert t-shirt parody ($26.00).

In Los Angeles, a t-shirt store unaffiliated with any campaign had already started selling tops emblazoned with the image on Friday afternoon.

"I think it's very classic consumerism for this country," said shopper CJ Butler from Atlanta, Georgia. "Hey, it's Trump. He sells everything so why not have a T-shirt?"

The image could be a huge fundraiser for the Republican candidate, some political strategists predict.

"His superfans are going to see this and it will be a fist-pumping exercise for them to send in that $25 and get that shirt or that mug," said David Kochel, a veteran Republican presidential campaign operative in Iowa. "It's kind of sad at the end of the day that the campaign is going to celebrate his indictment over 13 criminal charges - but that's where our politics is."

Trump has for months sought to leverage the criminal probes against him to rally support from his base, starting with his first indictment in New York. His fundraising groups, including his past and current presidential campaigns, have reported investing more than $98 million in merchandise operations since 2015, buying items like bumper stickers, hoodies and coffee mugs to sell.

Speaking to Reuters after the Republican debate on Wednesday, co-campaign manager Chris LaCivita said his team had been focused on turning the four indictments into a positive, "making sure that we were making lemonade at every opportunity, which I think we did."

Veterans of other political operations say campaigns can make a 50% profit or more on their merchandise sales and LaCivita on Thursday warned off those trying to make money from the image without the campaign's permission.


What legal rights, if any, Trump's campaign may have over the mug shot's reproduction are unclear, however. The photo was distributed by the Fulton County court to media outlets, including Reuters.

Mug shots taken by US federal courts are generally in the public domain, although Georgia's state policy may be different.

Many U.S. states have "right of publicity" laws that prevent the use of a person's image in commerce without their permission. Federal trademark law also bars false advertising and endorsements, and Trump would also likely be able to sue under other state laws.

But political parody goods may receive some protection from intellectual-property claims under the U.S. Constitution, and attorneys say that whether Trump would actually sue is more of a strategic question than a legal one.

"In all likelihood, given how polarizing Trump has been, and everything that is already in the marketplace around his likeness, it would not likely be a legal priority," trademark attorney Josh Gerben said.

Trump's pose, glaring into the camera with his face tilted down, echoes his trademark pose in "The Apprentice," the reality television show he starred in for several years.

The former president told Fox News Digital in an interview Thursday night that he only did the mug shot because Georgia officials insisted. "It is not a comfortable feeling — especially when you've done nothing wrong," he said.

Rick Wilson, a co-founder of the Lincoln Project flogging mug shot wares online, dared Trump's campaign to sue him in a Friday post on X.

"Trump's people are certainly viewing it as a powerful image, and his opponents are also viewing it as a powerful image," he said.

(Reporting by Gram Slattery, Nathan Lane, Blake Brittain, Jason Lange, Rollo Ross and Steve Holland, writing by Heather Timmons, editing by Rosalba O'Brien)