Behind high hedgerows, cocooned by the Secret Service and isolated from social media, Donald Trump might have thought he was safe from hecklers and botherers inside his gilded Mar-a-Lago resort.
The lifting of federal flight restrictions around his elite hideaway in Palm Beach, Florida, however, means the sky is now the limit for detractors, creating annoyance for the former president and the ebbing band of club members who pay $200,000 a year to sip cocktails in his presence and sunbathe by his pool.
“Trump worst president ever” and “Trump you pathetic loser go back to Moscow,” read two aerial banners in block capital letters, towed by aircraft that circled over Mar-a-Lago days after he moved in.
“As long as it’s clean we’ll fly anything,” said Remy Colin, owner of Aerial Messages, a sky banner company in Daytona Beach whose pilots delivered the greetings, one of which was also flown over the Trump International Golf Club.
Behind the stunt was a physician named Bill who told The Times that he had family members who fear that their safety could be in jeopardy if his identity is revealed.
“That’s a sad state of affairs and it’s been amplified by Donald Trump, who takes no responsibility for his actions of the last four years, who has escaped any contrition or consequence, who takes no responsibility for the people he’s wronged,” Bill said.
“My motivation for flying these banners was to confront the Maga [Make America Great Again] attitude to Trump — the mob attitude, the fact he wasn’t held accountable for abusing women, mocking a disabled reporter, caging kids, the ‘stolen election’ lie, his refusal to pay attention to public health in the pandemic.
“I want to show people that they can tell Donald Trump what they think of him — and that their emperor has no clothes.”
The insurrection at the Capitol in Washington on January 6, driven by Mr Trump’s claims that the November election was rigged against him, has left Republicans split over whether he is now a help or a hindrance to the party and their political fortunes.
Palm Beach, a majority Democrat county, is lukewarm to his presence. The town council will mull at its meeting next month whether to wage a legal battle with him for living at Mar-a-Lago in violation of a 1993 legal agreement that says he cannot use it as a full-time residence.
The club’s membership is said to be thinning, and in West Palm Beach the board of directors for twin apartment towers known as Trump Plaza voted unanimously last week to dump the Trump name.
Daniel Uhlfelder, a Florida lawyer, filed a legal complaint to the Palm Beach county commission this month after Mar-a-Lago’s management failed to enforce mask-wearing among guests on New Year’s Eve. The club received a written warning.
“It’s going to be a bit of a circus him being in Florida — him and his kids. We’re going to keep an eye on him,” said Mr Uhlfelder, who last summer dressed as the Grim Reaper to protest the president and state governor’s handling of the pandemic.
He also campaigned against a political fundraising event that was due to be held at an Orlando hotel next month for Josh Hawley, a Republican senator who perpetuated Mr Trump’s claims of a stolen election and showed support for the mob that stormed the Capitol. The hotel cancelled the event.
“When you stick your neck out, people come after you. I’ve had threats over Hawley, people mad at me over Mar-a-Lago, but I’m not afraid,” said Mr Uhlfelder.
Mr Colin expects more aerial action over Mar-a-Lago. He said: “One or two upset Trump supporters may have called and asked if those banners were us and I say, ‘Yes, it’s totally us, I’ve no shame.’
“They say, ‘How can you fly something like this, for this kind of client?’ and I think, ‘Well, your president created this kind of client’ . . . in our business we’re neutral, we’re the messengers, we fly pro-Trump and anti-Trump. I tell them, ‘Hey, you can pay for ‘We love Trump’ and I’ll fly that too.’”