Trump Had Me Arrested for Asking Why He Cut Off a 92-Year-Old Woman’s Water
Journalist turned filmmaker Anthony Baxter writes about his new film “You’ve Been Trumped Too,” which Trump tried to suppress but is finally seeing the light of day.
Despite Donald Trump’s attempts to quash You’ve Been Trumped Too, my film will finally be available to all Americans this week after a four-year legal battle. “There could hardly be a more urgent or relevant film than this,” wrote one of Britain’s leading reviewers, astonished by the revelations in the documentary. At long last Americans can finally decide for themselves.
The muzzling of You’ve Been Trumped Too is a warning that the free speech we take for granted, especially in the United States, is always vulnerable to suppression by the rich and powerful. Though You’ve Been Trumped Too was completely cleared by libel lawyers on both sides of the Atlantic, just the threat of court action by the Trump Organization put a chill through distributors, publicists, and media organizations that are normally champions of free speech.
The saga is just the latest chapter in my own 10-year journey of trying to hold Donald Trump to account for his actions. As a former BBC journalist, I took it as a compliment when a New York Times reviewer commented that I “can’t be brushed off.” But it has also meant becoming caught up in the president’s Twitter storms, fending off legal threats at every turn, and being the subject of a violent arrest by a police force which bent to Donald Trump’s tune.
It all started when I picked up my camera in 2010 to attend a news conference organized by the Trump Organization on the pristine sand dunes in Aberdeenshire, Scotland, about an hour’s drive from my home. As a lone for-hire bagpiper played and the trill sound rang out, a fleet of Range Rovers zoomed up to a marquee and Trump stepped out—black shoes gleaming, his hair challenged by the northeasterly wind.
Standing at the podium, he told the assembled throng that he had bought the land in honor of his Scottish mother, and he was going to build “the greatest golf course anywhere in the world.” He claimed he would spend $1.5 billion and create 6,000 jobs: “It will be great!”
(The claims of massive economic benefits, which never materialized, had persuaded the Scottish government to ignore their own environmental laws and allow Trump to destroy one of the last stretches of natural coastline in Britain.)
In the media scrum after the reception, I asked Donald Trump about Michael Forbes, a local farmer and fisherman—and the most prominent of the local residents who continued to protest against the development.
“He lives like a pig,” Trump told me. “He’s got stuff strewn all over the place.”
After the cameras had left, I made my first visit to the Forbes’ farm, reached by way of a dirt track a mile from where the press conference had been held. Instead of a pigsty, there were the usual barns, tractors and farmhouse, as well as a quaint and cozy caravan where 92-year-old Molly Forbes—Michael’s mother—lived, still raising chickens and cultivating her vegetable garden. Inviting me in for a cup of tea, Molly told me that she was using water from a nearby stream, as “Trump’s cut us off.” She told me Trump’s construction workers had severed a pipe from a water well leading to their farm. According to Molly, promises to fix the problem had come up empty.
To see if this could possibly be true, that billionaire Donald Trump had allowed a 92-year-old pensioner to go for days without water, I headed over to the project manager’s office. He admitted the water had indeed been cut off when building an access road but could not say when the water would be restored. A few minutes later the police arrived. I was arrested, my camera and film were confiscated, and I was put in jail for “breaching the peace.” The arrest caused an uproar—the National Union of Journalists described it as “one of the first cases in this country of journalists being arrested for just carrying out interviews to establish the truth and hold people to account.” After an inquiry, the police issued an official apology.
When I finished my film on the golf course controversy—the original You’ve Been Trumped—Donald Trump’s lawyers issued legal threats to prevent it from being broadcast on the BBC. To its credit, the BBC did not buckle. The screening went ahead, and the film would go on to be shown around the world, in cinemas, on television, and on Netflix.
Trump took to Twitter to lambast the film, BBC management, and me. Like many before and after, I was branded a “loser” and a “failure.”
However, Trump’s Twitter tirade backfired in this instance, fueling growing public support for Michael Forbes. He was named “Scotsman of the Year” in a national vote over Andy Murray, who had just won the U.S. Open. Karine Polwart, one of Scotland’s leading songwriters, wrote a beautiful and acclaimed song about the destruction of the dunes. Public support for the golf course development plummeted.
This backlash against Trump prompted a U-turn, and I was suddenly invited to Trump Tower in New York City for an exclusive interview with Trump. The charm offensive ended after a few minutes, however, when I asked Trump why he pursued Molly Forbes for legal costs. He warned me that he had his own camera recording the interview. Later, Trump again took to Twitter saying he’d be releasing the full interview online—though to my knowledge he never did.
Several months later I began work on another documentary—this one titled You’ve Been Trumped Too, which was partly filmed on the campaign trail, and which was completed ahead of the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
But then, ahead of the film’s release in America, the Trump Organization once again swung into action with its legal threats. They were enough to undermine our U.S. release, with the distributor asking us to remove its name from the opening of the film and canceling our planned national cinema screenings. A broadcast was also made impossible when insurers quoted us a price for the required liability insurance that would have bankrupted our company.
Since then, of course, the world has witnessed Donald Trump’s continuous legal threats while in the White House. Whether it is threats to sue his niece Mary over her tell-all memoir, or a menacing bid by Trump lawyers to block his former national security adviser John Bolton’s book, Trump’s attempts to curtail freedom of expression are all the more worrying as this is the United States—a country with such a formidable history as a shining beacon for press freedom.
But this time, at least, his attempts have failed. You’ve Been Trumped Too will finally be released worldwide on digital platforms, including iTunes and Google Play. It’s as relevant, and urgent, as it ever was. Now, at least, you can see for yourself.