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Trump is likely to finally get a real mug shot. Does it matter?

A shirt displaying a fake mug shot of the former president and 2024 presidential candidate Donald Trump is seen during a campaign rally in Pickens, S.C., in July.
Logan Cyrus
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AFP via Getty Images
A shirt displaying a fake mug shot of the former president and 2024 presidential candidate Donald Trump is seen during a campaign rally in Pickens, S.C., in July.

For the latest updates on former President Donald Trump's surrender, follow NPR's digital live coverage.

When Donald Trump surrenders on Thursday at Atlanta's Fulton County Jail, the sheriff says he will treat the president like anyone else who gets booked there. That includes a mug shot.

Fulton County Sheriff Pat Labat told reporters earlier this month that "unless someone tells me differently, we are following our normal practices. And so it doesn't matter your status. We'll have mug shots ready for you."

That's been true for the other defendants in the case over efforts to overturn Georgia's 2020 presidential election result: Several mug shots have already been released by the sheriff's office.

But Trump is a special case. A mug shot of the former president and 2024 presidential candidate would rocket across the internet and front pages around the world. It also would have the potential to become an iconic image for the history books.

And most pertinent to the presidential campaign currently underway, such a photo could further galvanize Trump's supporters and burnish the baseless narrative that he is a victim of a politically biased justice system.

Trump has faced several indictments, but so far no mug shots

The prospect of a Trump mug shot has been discussed with each fresh indictment of the former president. But authorities in the other cases have opted not to take a mug shot when he surrendered himself.

Mug shots, also known as booking photos, serve a few functions. One is to identify the person who was arrested — for instance, to distinguish among people who have the same name. Another purpose is to show the physical condition of a person at the time of their arrest.

But there is no shortage of photos of Trump. Indeed, at his arraignment in June at a federal courthouse in Miami, U.S. marshals downloaded an official photo in lieu of taking a mug shot.

On Fox News last week, Trump attorney Alina Habba called the prospect of a Trump mug shot "an ego trip" by Fulton County officials.

"Obviously, you see that there's a bit of an ego trip happening in Georgia where they're saying that they're going to force him to have a mug shot. The purpose of a mug shot is when you don't recognize someone, you think there's a flight risk. This man is the most famous person in the world, the leading candidate right now," Habba said.

Last week, Fox News host Laura Ingraham showed a compilation of cable news clips discussing Trump's impending booking, and said, "These people are sick. How is a mug shot of the former president in any way necessary or in any way good for America?"

Despite these complaints, odds are that Trump will cast any mug shot as a badge of honor – street cred for a wealthy man and proof that he's a victim of the left.

In fact, a website raising money for his campaign already sells wares adorned with a fake Trump mug shot.

On an official Trump fundraising website, supporters can buy coffee mugs and t-shirts (both long- and short-sleeved) emblazoned with Trump's image made into a classic mug shot: height markers on the wall behind him, and a placard that reads "President Donald J. Trump / 45-47 / 04 04 2023." That's the date Trump was indicted in New York on 34 counts of falsifying business records.

A website raising funds for Trump's campaign sells mugs and other items bearing a fake Trump mug shot.
Screenshot by NPR / winred.com
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winred.com
A website raising funds for Trump's campaign sells mugs and other items bearing a fake Trump mug shot.

His campaign isn't alone in making money off faux photos. On the online marketplace Etsy, a search for "Trump mugshot" generates more than a thousand product results – though they vary among designs that appear pro- or anti- Trump going to prison.

Reality can be less marketable than fiction

If Trump does have an actual mug shot taken on Thursday, it might not live up to the fake ones, if the images already released by the Fulton County Sheriff's Office this week are any indication.

Mug shots of several defendants in the case have been released already, following their surrender to authorities on a rolling basis this week.

The Fulton County Sheriff's Office has released booking photos of defendants in the case. Pictured here, clockwise from top left: John Eastman, Ray Smith, Cathleen Latham, Kenneth Chesebro, David Shafer and Scott Hall.
/ Fulton County Sheriff's Office
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Fulton County Sheriff's Office
The Fulton County Sheriff's Office has released booking photos of defendants in the case. Pictured here, clockwise from top left: John Eastman, Ray Smith, Cathleen Latham, Kenneth Chesebro, David Shafer and Scott Hall.

In some of the photos, a blazing white light from above washes out the defendants' faces. Others have more even lighting, but all the photos share a bland gray background reminiscent of corporate employee badges. No height charts here.

And the name placards stereotypical of a classic mug shot are also nowhere to be seen. The only indication that these are mug shots at all is the sheriff's seal in the upper left.

Trump ally Rudy Giuliani also had a mug shot taken this week.
/ Fulton County Sheriff's Office
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Fulton County Sheriff's Office
Trump ally Rudy Giuliani also had a mug shot taken this week.

Former Georgia Republican Party Chair David Shafer is one of the defendants who turned himself in this week. Even before the sheriff's office released his booking photo, Shafer opted to do it himself, tweeting his mug shot with the caption "Good morning! #NewProfilePicture." Shafer is grinning widely in the photo.

Shafer got plenty of praise in response on Twitter, including what Trump's campaign is likely hoping for: comparison to famous actors and musicians who had run-ins with the law. "You're in great company!" one account replied, tweeting an image of famous mugs including Jimi Hendrix, Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash and Frank Sinatra.

Smiling is a popular move by politicians in mug shots. Former presidential candidate John Edwards' smiling mug is indistinguishable from a campaign photo. Ditto former Texas Gov. Rick Perry and former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, who looks like he's facing something more pleasant than an indictment on money-laundering charges.

In Trump's case, he may try to look just the way he does on his campaign's mugs: a mix of defiant and wronged.

Whether Trump posts the photo himself or waits for the sheriff's office to do it, one thing is certain: If a Trump mug shot is released, you'll see it. Though if it's one for the history books remains to be seen. Will he smile or scowl? And so much depends upon the lighting.

But perhaps none of that really matters to Trump's campaign — there's always Photoshop.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Laurel Wamsley
Laurel Wamsley is a reporter for NPR's News Desk. She reports breaking news for NPR's digital coverage, newscasts, and news magazines, as well as occasional features. She was also the lead reporter for NPR's coverage of the 2019 Women's World Cup in France.
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