PALM BEACH, Fla.—Debbie Macchia comes to the Southern Boulevard Bridge to wave flags, sing patriotic songs, and enjoy a fellowship she’s never felt before.
Less than 100 yards away is Mar-a-Lago, with its bougainvillea-draped pink walls and Spanish tile rooftops. Its waterfront coconut palms sway in the bright, breezy afternoon sun.
Somewhere within the 17-acre residence–resort, former President Donald Trump is presumably conferring with attorneys and family, planning strategy for his April 4 appearance in Manhattan to face what are said to be 30-something charges in the indictment issued against him by a grand jury on March 30.
But if Trump ever has any concerns, ever needs any support, or ever has any doubts, he only needs to look through his backyard toward the Southern Boulevard Bridge, a three-quarter-mile span that traverses Lake Worth Lagoon, the Intercoastal Waterway, and Bingham Island to link West Palm Beach with Palm Beach.
There, he will see Macchia, among a cadre that has sustained a near-constant presence on the bridge for nearly seven years.
Hardcore ‘Bridge People’
“We are the ‘Bridge People,’” she said, before clarifying, “We’re the hardcore ‘Bridge People.’ He knows us.”
As the high midday sun slid west, Mar-a-Lago’s windows flash-blinking and its lagoon-side lawn green and empty, Macchia was among a dozen Trump supporters on the bridge on March 31, letting the former president know they had his back or, at least, they were standing within eyesight of his backyard and watching closely.
There was twice the number of media outlets than Trump supporters on the bridge. Reporters from Politico, NewsNation, and Reuters were there. Correspondents and cameras from two dozen TV news outlets were milling about, interviewing the same people waving flags, pledging allegiance, singing the national anthem, praying, and inducing honks and the universal finger gesture from passing motorists on the two-lane bridge.
More Trump supporters were on the bridge the night before, Macchia said, and Trump sent them pizza. More would show later that day after people got off work. There would be many, many more, she predicted, on Saturday and Sunday.
“It’s kind of a word-of-mouth thing,” she said, noting that when Trump announced on March 19 that he’d be arrested on March 21, the bridge was thronged. If Trump called, the bridge and roadways leading into and out of Palm Beach would be lined by his supporters.
But he hasn’t called since. Not yet.
So, Macchia said, the ‘Bridge People’ will man their posts, remain on station as always, and be there no matter what happens.
“I never paid much attention to politics,” she said, but all that changed in 2016 “once Trump was running and the differences started to come out” between him and the gaggle of standard-fare politicians who he was campaigning against in the Republican presidential primary campaign.
Macchia, of Boynton Beach, Florida, was hooked.
“Now,” she said with emphasis, “I’m engaged.”
‘People Like Me’
Chris Xenos of Margate also was never interested in politics. The former “hardcore punk” musician credited former President Barack Obama for lighting his fire.
“I was never a big patriot or anything like that, but after eight years of [Trump’s] predecessor, it pushed me to be one,” he said, saying that anger over what he called Obama’s “anti-American” policies spurred his interest in finding alternates.
When Trump launched his campaign, Xenos “had an intuition” about him, and it turned out to be right, he said.
“This is a business. It’s time to run it like a business. [Trump] was the only guy who put his own money where his mouth is,” he said.
Xenos grew so engrossed with Trump that in September 2016, he quit his job and worked as an unpaid volunteer for the Trump campaign.
“I had to volunteer for the campaign. I had to,” he said, noting that he’d never before contemplated working for a political campaign.
“[Trump’s 2017 inauguration] was emotional for me. People like me made it happen.”
He’s not a regular among the “Bridge People,” but he comes at least once every three months, like he did this day, taking off from work to let Trump know he’s got support.
“And I never take off from work,” he said.
“Because I believe in my guy. I’d take a bullet for my guy.”
‘A Team That Doesn’t Quit’
Cindee Brown, of Lake Worth Beach, also isn’t a bridge regular. But this day—and maybe in days to come—the bridge is calling to her.
“I can see Mar-a-Lago from my house. I was watching the news, and I said, ‘What am I doing here?’” she said, her skin reddening in the bright 85-degree-Fahrenheit breeze.
“We have so many problems in this county. This is bull,” Brown said of the presumed charges against Trump. “Bull,” she repeated, except it had a second word attached.
Derek Arnold drove 240 miles from Ocala to fly his flags and lead prayers at the bridge. He does this often during the six months of the year that he lives in Florida. For the other six months, he lives in New Hampshire. But he goes “everywhere” across the country in his pickup truck with U.S. flags flapping from its tail bed.
He leads a group called Nationwide Freedom Family and wants to be “a bridge to connections” with people.
“Under the Constitution, we all have the same rights,” he said.
What country have we become, he asked, if a man with American flags and a flag with the name of a former president can get arrested at a public library for eating lunch at one of its outside picnic tables?
That’s what happened to him on March 20 at a library across the street from Trump’s golf course in Doral, Arnold said.
He won’t stop supporting Trump, he said. He announced that on April 13, he will be leading a “fellowship of freedom” at the bridge and is inviting people to “gather together in fellowship to pray and support our country.”
Just then—at 3:31 p.m. EST—Eric Trump drove by, slowing down, sliding down his window, giving the “Bridge People” a thumbs-up.
“We are the team that doesn’t quit, doesn’t back down,” Arnold said.
There would be more people later. There would be more this weekend, the “Bridge People” said.
They said they will be on the bridge when Trump leaves Mar-a -Lago for New York, his five black SUV security phalanx a familiar sight, and they will be there when he returns, cheering him, waving his flags, relishing his appreciative waves.
“It’s history, bro,” Xenos said. “This is history.”
Nodding to Mar-a-Lago, its pink walls a soft rose in the setting sun, he said: “The man who lives there, he just made history. I’d take a bullet for the guy.”