BEVERLY HILLS, California—Late Friday afternoon, Donald Trump landed in Los Angeles for a re-election fundraiser. The event was organized by Trump Victory, a fundraising partnership between the Republican National Convention and Trump’s campaign, and aimed to raise an estimated $5 million for the party. It was the president’s third visit to the celebrity-hub city and, by all accounts, not a star-studded one.
“Celebrities? No celebrities,” Rabbi Marvin Hier said of the event. Hier is the dean and founder of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, and gave the prayer at Trump’s inauguration. Multiple valets in royal blue jackets, who declined to give their names because of their job, echoed his sentiment.
“No celebrities,” said one valet, driving past in a golf cart.
“Yeah, no celebrities,” claimed a second.
The event was held in the 22,000-square-foot Beverly Hills home of health-care executive and GOP donor Lee Samson. The 15-bathroom “Italian-style limestone villa” runs about $10 million, according to Zillow, and was named Robb Report’s Ultimate Home of the Year in 2012. Tickets started at $15,000 for dinner, $50,000 for a photo op with Trump, and $150,000 to join his roundtable discussion, according to an invitation obtained by the City News Service.
Fundraisers had estimated that some 90 donors would be in attendance, but did not disclose the invite list. Security guards posted around the house could not estimate who or how many people attended, and the drivers of several tinted black cars around the neighborhood declined to identify their clients. One claimed he had signed a non-disclosure agreement in advance of the event. Even Rabbi Hier and his wife, Marlene, who spoke with The Daily Beast while leaving the fundraiser in a golf cart, could not agree on crowd size.
“Hundreds of people came,” Hier said. “Probably 400 people.”
“200,” Marlene corrected.
“No, 200 couples,” he said.
“Don’t quote him on that. It wasn’t 400.”
According to the Washington Post, 170 people attended the event at Samson’s home.
“It was a big turnout. It was wonderful,” Rabbi Hier told The Daily Beast. “We couldn’t stay because of the sabbath. But the president shook hands with us. It was very nice... We couldn’t see the speech. The sabbath begins. That’s why we’re rushing home. It was sumptuous. There were a lot of things to eat. A beautiful home.”
Republican National Committeeman Shawn Steel told the Washington Post that during his speech Trump talked at length about winning California during the 2020 election. He also reportedly discussed socialism and “got a big round of applause talking about his administration’s decision to recognize Israel’s sovereignty over the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.”
The event, whose location was leaked to TMZ, drew a tiny crowd, with four flag-clad supporters in MAGA hats, and 10 protesters holding a banner that read “TRUMP AND PENCE MUST GO.” More than one passing driver blared YG and Nipsey Hussle’s “Fuck Donald Trump.”
Michelle Xai, a young woman with a Monroe facial piercing, a megaphone, and dozens of anti-fascist stickers on her clothes, carried two signs, each with the names and images of children who died in Border Patrol custody. She was there on behalf of RefuseFascism.org, an activist organization which conducts sustained nonviolent protests at Trump-related events. Xai had already attended dozens.
“For the past two years, people have been sitting passively and waiting for the Mueller report and for somebody else in power to do something,” Xai said. “We need to shake them awake and say this is already a very dangerous situation and we can’t just sit back and wait for two more years for something to happen.”
Just feet away stood Holly Cleeland, a middle-aged white woman with bright pink lip liner and an American flag shawl. “The organization I’m here for is Make America Great Again. Patriots Unite, or anyone that’s a conservative and believes the way I believe,” she said. “We want America great again. We want it back to the way it was. We don’t want Hillary Clinton giving our money away. Giving our uranium away.”
Behind Cleeland—who claimed that all undocumented immigrants receive $3,500 a month from the government for their entire lives—stood Atlas Winfrey, a teenage-looking boy with a notebook wedged in his pocket.
“I’m with the Time to Get Organized for an Actual Revolution National Tour. The slogan of this tour is ‘You think you’re woke but you’re sleepwalking through a nightmare,’” Winfrey said. “We’re touring all across the country to organize thousands into the ranks of the revolution.”
The section cordoned off for protesters was labeled the “Free Speech Zone.”
Prior to this visit, Trump had visited Los Angeles only twice: once for a March 2018 fundraiser, and again this past fall, to tour areas hurt by wildfires and the site of the Thousand Oaks shooting. By contrast, Barack Obama had visited Los Angeles around 21 times by this point in his presidency.
After about an hour, Trump left in his motorcade and traveled by boat to his golf course in Palos Verdes, California, where he reportedly dined with his son Eric. He is scheduled to leave Los Angeles late Friday night for Las Vegas to address the Republican Jewish Coalition for their annual leadership meeting.
Correction: An earlier version of this story stated that Elliott Broidy, former deputy finance chairman of the RNC, co-hosted the fundraiser. That was a previous Beverly Hills fundraising event for Trump.