Trump seeks to make the most of historic Georgia mugshot

The photo of Donald Trump scowling defiantly into the camera in the Fulton County Sheriff’s office will go down in history.

The mugshot, the first of a former US president, came after his fourth arrest in five months.

Mr Trump posted on X, formerly known as Twitter, for the first time since January 2021 to share the address of his website and the mugshot with an all-capital letters caption: “Election interference. Never surrender!”

Within hours, his campaign website was selling mugshot-branded mugs, t-shirts and drink coolers.

John Bolton, who served as national security advisor under Mr Trump, said the image was likely carefully staged. “I think it’s intended to be a sign of intimidation against the prosecutors and the judges,” he told CNN.

“He could’ve smiled. He could’ve looked benign,” Mr Bolton added. “Instead he looks like a thug.”

From clockwise: Ray Smith, Cathy Latham, Rudy Giuliani, Kenneth Chesebro, Jenna Ellis, Harrison Floyd, Sidney Powell, Mark Meadows

Mr Trump was charged last week with 18 alleged co-conspirators with attempting to overturn his 2020 election defeat in the state of Georgia.

At least 11 of the co-conspirators – Mr Trump, Rudy Giuliani, Sidney Powell, Jenna Ellis, Kenneth Chesebro, Cathy Latham, Harrison Floyd, Mark Meadows, Ray Smith, Harrison Floyd and Scott Hall – have so far been booked and processed at the local jail in Atlanta.

While the former president and his supporters are clearly pleased with his mugshot, photos of his indicted allies have been less well received.

“I thought these were all memes at first,” said Jake Olson, a photographer based in Columbus, Ohio. “It’s the perfect storm of bad photos, There are so many cardinal rules of photography that they are just not following.”

“They have this one interrogation-style light, you can see they all have that little highlight on their foreheads,” said Pittsburgh photographer and professor Ray Mantle. “They all don’t look great… they all look tired.”

The expressions vary widely. Lawyer Jenna Ellis is beaming down the lens, while Ray Smith, also an attorney, glares into the camera – two strikingly different choices for a photo that, unlike most other mugshots, will be published far and wide.

“For a lot of these people, this is their major public debut,” Mr Mantle said. “They know that everyone’s going to see these.”

Pulling off a good mugshot can be tough, said Cooper Lawrence, a journalist who has written extensively about celebrity culture. It’s a difficult balance to strike, a challenge that celebrities like Justin Bieber, Lindsay Lohan and Paris Hilton have all had to face.

“Don’t smile. A smile will make it look too arrogant,” Lawrence said. “You want to smirk like Lindsay Lohan and Paris Hilton do. A smirk says, ‘yes, this sucks, but I’m gonna be fine.’”

Hair, makeup and wardrobe – even while in the custody of Fulton County authorities – is crucial, she said. But “keep it simple”, she added. “You’re going to jail, not on an audition.”

Mr Trump, however, is a man well aware of the power of his public image.

Earlier this year he complained that producers on Fox News chose to “purposely show the absolutely worst pictures of me, especially the big ‘orange’ one with my chin pulled way back”.

And to some the low quality of the Fulton County mugshot looks especially strange on a former president, even with its possible promotional value.

“It struck me how humbling and humanising a bad portrait can be,” said Mr Olson. “It’s funny to see such a poorly done portrait of somebody who has such a significant presence, to say the least.”

But despite the low resolution, Edd Mair, a lecturer in the History of Modern America at the University of York, said Mr Trump’s campaign “clearly thinks there’s a lot to get out of a photo like this”.

“What’s most striking about it is how on brand this is for Donald Trump. Even a mugshot there’s a way of converting this into political capital and enthusing his base.”

Some right-wing commentators have been drawing analogies with Nelson Mandela and Dr Martin Luther King Jr, who had mugshots taken, including in an iconic 1963 shot from Birmingham Jail.

“They did the same thing to Martin Luther King Jr,” tweeted comedian and Trump supporter Terrence K Williams.

“They go after the good guys and especially the ones who fight for freedom and expose evilness and corruption. I stand with President Trump and this mugshot makes me want to vote for him even more.”

Mr Mair said Trump supporters will be attempting to frame the mugshot in this way. “These people were deemed as dangerous individuals going against the grain, but they were eventually proven right. This is what Donald Trump and his supporters want to get out of this mugshot.”

But those on the left and the centre will see the photo very differently, he said.

“Certainly it will be used in the same breath as Richard Nixon and the Watergate scandal too, but even Nixon never got this far in actually having a mugshot.

“I think on the left and in the centre ground this will be seen as quite a low moment for the American presidency.”

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