The pre-teen dance troupe that briefly became a national sensation after they performed for Donald Trump are suing the self-proclaimed billionaire’s presidential campaign for stiffing them.
The USA Freedom Kids went viral after performing at Trump’s Jan. 13 rally in Pensacola, Florida. Dressed in bedazzled American flag costumes, the three pre-teen girls performed “Freedom’s Call,” an upbeat reimagining of a World War I propaganda song. “Cowardice! Are you serious? / Apologies for freedom, I can’t handle this,” the song begins.
The USA Freedom Kids said in a newly filed lawsuit the Trump campaign broke verbal agreements for performances at two events and refused to pay even a $2,500 stipend for the group’s travel expenses.
“We are not able to pay the girls or cover travel,” Stephanie Scruggs, a regional field director wrote Jeff Popick, USA Freedom Kids founder and father to one of the girls in a Jan. 5 email presented as evidence in the suit. “However we have coordinated with the event space to allow the girls to set up a table and pre-sell their album, shirts, ect if this is helpful to you.” (The Trump campaign did not return a Daily Beast request for comment.)
Popick agreed, reasoning that the group could net more than $2,500 in merchandise sales, but the rally was “chaos,” Popick told The Daily Beast.
There was no merchandise table, and it wouldn’t have mattered if there was one: Security didn’t allow the girls to bring any of their merchandise into the Pensacola Bay Center. They left it outside in the parking lot, where all of it—the T-shirts, the CDs, the patriotic posters—was stolen while the girls performed their act, Popick says.
The USA Freedom Kids were not deterred though. Sure, they’d lost their swag, but footage of their performance was going viral, racking up millions of views online and parodies on late-night television.
Popick asked the campaign about future gigs and was offered one when Trump announced he was going to skip a debate to host his own rally in late January.
The only problem was that this event was in Iowa, not their home state of Florida.
“They had said, well Iowa’s a pretty long distance for us to travel,” Marc Shapiro, the lawyer representing the Freedom Kids, told The Daily Beast. “There’s plane flights up there, and hotels and so forth, would you give us a stipend so that we can travel up there and perform. The Trump campaign said no, you would have to pay your own way.”
The group coughed up the funds and took a red-eye flight to Chicago’s O’Hare airport, where Popick got the bad news: the USA Freedom Kids weren’t needed at the rally after all.
“It was a long, overnight odyssey. They were exhausted, but excited to perform,” he said. “We flew non-stop to Chicago, and then had to drive another 5½ hours to Des Moines. It wasn’t until after we were already in the vehicle about an hour or two into it that we had to break the news to the girls.”
The Trump campaign said they’d save seats for the scorned performers, on the condition that none of the girls spoke to the media, Popick said. Even this proved difficult, as the girls were still wearing their impossible-to-miss sequined flag dresses, and the Trump campaign had placed their reserved seats directly next to the media enclosure.
The gag order came as a final injury to the group who, barred from selling merchandise or performing, had at least counted on getting some exposure from the rally. Instead, they were going home, with no hint of booking future rallies.
“This is what he had emphasized: the exposure from this rally in particular,” Popick said. The girls were slated to perform multiple songs, which he felt was crucial to reforming their image as more than just a pro-Trump musical troup.
After nine months of haggling with Trump staffers, the group sued the campaign in Sarasota County, Florida, for as much as $15,000 in damages.
“This is not an opportunistic thing where we’re suing Donald Trump,” Popick said. “We’re not suing for emotional distress and all that other stuff that people do when they trump up—no pun intended—when they trump up a lawsuit. That’s not what this is. This is tangible dollars I spent under false pretenses.”