Conservative Twitter is abuzz this afternoon with a trending hashtag: #BlacksForTrump. The spark is clear: Thousands have retweeted photos from Trump's rally in Lakeland, Florida this afternoon showing a small group standing directly behind the Donald while enthusiastically waving "Blacks for Trump" signs.
"Blacks are for Trump and the left can't stand it," writes @LawlessPirate, with another pic of the sign-waving man wearing a shirt reading "Trump & Republicans Are Not Racist."
Blacks for Trump...I've known this for months...finally starting to come out! More than you think pic.twitter.com/3tLSwpJuDl— YoWillieM™ (@YoWillieM) October 12, 2016
So who is this new face of Trump's elusive black support?
He's none other than Michael the Black Man, also known as Maurice Woodside or Michael Symonette, who has made waves in Miami in recent years with protests against the Democratic Party and rallies for the GOP.
He's also a former member of the murderous Yahweh ben Yahweh cult, which was led by the charismatic preacher Hulon Mitchell Jr., who was charged by the feds in 1990 with conspiracy in killings that included a gruesome beheading in the Everglades.
Michael, along with 15 other Yahweh followers, was charged for allegedly conspiring in two murders; his brother, who was also in the cult, told jurors that Michael had helped beat one man who was later killed and stuck a sharpened stick into another man's eyeball. But jurors found Michael (and six other Yahweh followers) innocent. They sent Mitchell away for 20 years in the federal pen.
In the years that followed, he changed his last name to Symonette, made a career as a musician, started a radio station in Miami and then re-invented himself as Michael the Black Man, an anti-gay, anti-liberal preacher with a golden instinct for getting on TV at GOP events. He's planned events with Rick Santorum and gotten cable news play for bashing Obama.
Since 1997, he's been charged with grand theft auto, carrying a weapon onto an airplane and threatening a police officer, but never convicted in any of those cases.
So why is he supporting Trump? Reached on his cell phone in Lakeland, he said he likes Trump's plan to lower taxes, but also offered a complicated answer tying Hillary Clinton to a range of racist activities.
"One reason is because Hillary's last name is Rodham, and their family members are Rothchilds, who enslaved 13,000 slaves as collateral," he says. "She's also on camera kissing the head of the Ku Klux Klan and saying, 'That's my mentor.' That's all on my website."
That website's address is also prominently displayed on those signs he waved behind Trump on TV today. The URL leads to a site full of grainy videos accusing Clinton of associating with various racist organizations.
Did Trump know about Michael the Black Man's background before giving him prime seating behind the candidate today?
"I didn't get to talk to him about any of that. I just came there with my signs," Michael says.
But he says Trump shouldn't worry about his past. "Yahweh is the one who told me white men are your brothers. Before that, I hated all white people. I hated their guts and wanted them dead," he says.
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Michael says he believes black voters will embrace Trump (though most polls have shown him struggling for minority support).
"I completely despise Hillary," he says. "I hope the very worst for her chances for the presidency."
Update 10/13: Trump's Lakeland rally wasn't the first time that his campaign gave Michael prime seating. A reader sent New Times photos from Trump's Sept. 17 rally at downtown Miami's James L. Knight Center. The photos show Michael at the front of the audience.
"They were at the Miami rally too with same signs and T-shirts and escorted to the front," says Kira Elise, who took the photos.