On a day when an estimated 50,000 people flocked to London to protest Donald Trump’s visit, a number of the president’s British fans planned counter-protests. Most widely-publicised of these was a Kensington pub’s radical rebranding as “The Trump Arms”.
With nightly news and tabloid coverage building anticipation, I arrived expecting angry scenes of confrontation: the pro-Trump gang squaring off against the anti-fascists, the feminists, the folks offering solidarity with immigrants. I expected signs, swearing, police and barriers.
There was no queue for pints at The Trump Arms.
Welcome to The Trump Arms in Hammersmith. Landlord Damien Smyth says he rebranded his pub to counter “disrespectful” protests planned in London. Invites @POTUS down for a pint. pic.twitter.com/bX73LjXB5H
— Sarah Hajibagheri (@SaraHajibagheri) July 13, 2018
I didn’t have to wait at all for my lemonade (it was a hot day to protest, and hydration is key).
If you looked past the American flags stapled to plywood sticks out the front, and the gleaming new sign welcoming “our American friends”, it was a normal pub on a normal day.
The “American friends” seemed to have all stayed away. Far more numerous were journalists and camera crews, sheepishly asking each other “who are you here from” while patiently waiting their turn to interview one of the five identifiable Trump supporters in the building.
A single man wearing stars-and-stripes trousers and a “UK deplorable #MAGA” t-shirt strutted outside, the sole sign of any provocation from either side of the debate. There wasn’t a single counter-protester in sight. A couple of locals, staring down a Channel 5 news crew, nervously explained that they had just come for their lunch.
I counted three red hats in the two hours I spent there; one of them was sat underneath a gold-framed portrait of Trump and Nigel Farage in the centre of the bar.
A cardboard cut-out of the president, thumb up, lurked in a corner looking lonely. A wide projector screen aired a live broadcast of Trump and Theresa May’s Chequers press conference; there was an occasional cheer from the room as The Donald rambled on.
The arrival of Gawain Towler, UKIP press chief, was the closest the pub got to a political visit. There had been rumours that Nigel Farage would show up for a pint, but alas the former party leader’s only appearance was via Sky News on the pub’s big screen.
One journalist told me Farage was staying away for fears of a riot starting. Just who would be doing the rioting was unclear.
As Private Eye reported earlier this week, the minds behind the Trump Arms are not quite the welcoming bunch of locals they claim to be. While landlord Damian Smyth has been holding most of the media attention, the stunt’s chief organiser is in fact Patrick Sullivan, chief executive of the pro-Brexit think-tank Parliament Street.
Sullivan himself dropped in while I was there, wearing a Captain America t-shirt under his suit jacket, and bought a round for the faithful, many of whom knew him by name.
Also involved behind the scenes is Lucy Brown, whose past work includes operating the camera for ex-EDL leader Tommy Robinson’s YouTube channel, and organising rallies for serial controversialist Milo Yiannopoulos.
In fairness, as the afternoon wore on a few more punters showed; the pub was almost half-full when I left. Towler was unphased by the low turnout. “The sort of people who like Trump have jobs. They’re at work”, he told me.
An LED-crusted sound system picked up in the corner, blaring Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the USA”. Springsteen once said that “Trump is really quite an embarrassment if you’re from the US,” but the folks in this pub didn’t care.
The Trump Arms is expecting a slightly higher footfall tomorrow, for a Trump-themed party charging £30 entry. They will however be competing with England’s World Cup third place play-off; maybe not the best day for “America First”.