On the Hollywood Walk of Fame one summer night, a man with a neck tattoo knelt over Donald Trump's star, armed with a black Sharpie.
The piece of plywood concealing the newly repaired star was already a sorry sight, defiled by spat-out gum, littered potato chips and scrawled words: "MAGA," "SAD," "Q-Anon." The young man had come to add his own message.
"What's he writing?" somebody in the bevy of onlookers murmured as Juan Larrazabal began tracing out letters.
The message slowly came into focus: "Latinos 4 Trump!"
Over scattered groans, the lanky, 26-year-old Los Angeles native sprang to his feet and began to argue with onlookers.
"Just letting you know, Trump's out to help. I swear to God," he shouted over objections. "I love Trump, and so do all my Mexican family members!"
A passerby responded with an expletive about Trump.
Since Trump announced his campaign for the Oval Office in 2015, his Walk of Fame star has been a constant source of conflict and spectacle. The pink pentagram has been destroyed twice, obliterated by a pickax two weeks before the 2016 election and again this past July. It has been a regular target of lesser vandalism: stomping, spitting and dog-pooping. It has been scrawled with pejoratives and spray-painted with swastikas.
On Sept. 20, a few weeks after the shattered star was replaced, a street artist covered it with bars resembling a jail cell.
This has become ground zero for the West Coast's grass-roots war over the Trump presidency, a sidewalk attraction for pro- and anti-Trumpers alike. The war intensified when the West Hollywood City Council voted in August to request that the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce permanently remove the shrine to the reality star turned leader of the free world. Instead, the Hollywood Chamber - which has jurisdiction over the Walk of Fame - reinstalled it once again at a cost of $2,500.
"The stars, once installed, are considered part of the historic fabric of the Walk," chamber president and chief executive Leron Gubler said in a statement announcing the replacement, funded by the Walk's charitable foundation, the Hollywood Historic Trust.
"When people are angry with one of our honorees, we would hope that they would project their anger in more positive ways than to vandalize a California State landmark," he said. "Our democracy is based on respect for the law. People can make a real difference by voting and not destroying public property."
Located near Hollywood Boulevard and Highland Avenue - not far from Grauman's Chinese Theatre and the Hollywood Wax Museum - the emblem has been a draw for artists, parodists and other creative types. Installed in 2007, Trump's star has been guarded by fake Russian soldiers, crowned by a golden toilet and enclosed by a mini-wall lined with mock barbed wire.
Saul Gomez, a 52-year-old balloon twister who sports a rainbow wig and sells his wares on the Walk, says he once saw a deranged woman hammering it with a golf club.
"She was crazy," Gomez said. "Man, she was banging on the thing for, like, 10 minutes."
The day after it was smashed by a pickax in July, the star became the site of a bloody brawl between pro- and anti-Trump clans. Two weeks later, a right-wing street artist known as "The Faction" responded with an act of counter-vandalism: He covered the Walk of Fame in dozens of fake Trump stars.
"I'm tired of the 'you didn't build that,' and how 'straight-white-male-ism' is a pejorative now," the 30-something Los Angeles resident, who declined to give his real name, told The Washington Post. "Christians are being insulted, and the rich are being vilified."
The Hollywood Chamber has found itself at the epicenter of the firestorm. Spokeswoman Ana Martinez said she has been getting nasty notes from Trump opponents and supporters, some confusing the chamber with the city council after its call for the star's removal.
"We've had a couple of threats, too," Martinez said. "It's giving me gray hairs."
Stars for other celebrities also have been subjected to protest-related vandalism and notes of adoration from fans. All of the 2,500-plus coral, terrazzo and brass markers are under video surveillance, Martinez said.
But never has one been so frequently and intensely targeted as Trump's.
Some detractors question whether Trump should have gotten a star in the first place. To be eligible, a person must have been a celebrity in the film, television, music, radio or theater industry for at least five years.
"Reality stars are not supposed to have [eligibility]," said Mieke ter Poorten, attorney for James Lambert Otis, who took a pickax to Trump's star in 2016. "That is one of the things that enraged me. He is not in any category that would allow him to be on the Hollywood Walk of Fame."
Skepticism about Trump's eligibility heightened in 2013, when Kanye West said on the "Jimmy Kimmel Live" show that his wife, Kim Kardashian West, deserved a star. Martinez, the Walk of Fame spokeswoman, responded that the chamber does not award stars to reality television personalities.
Martinez publicly stated that Trump earned a place on the Walk for producing the pageant shows Miss Universe and Miss USA. But during the 2007 ceremony, remarks by Trump and the emcee largely focused on reality show "The Apprentice," which Trump hosted and launched to fame with the catchphrase "You're fired."
"We've taken this beauty pageant - it's become sort of a hot thing," Trump said during the ceremony. "But this is 'The Apprentice,' and this is 'The Apprentice's' day."
To receive a star, a celebrity must be nominated by a third party, such as a fan, friend or relative. The selection committee weighs the nomination based on the celebrity's career accomplishments and charity work. About 10 percent of the roughly 300 yearly applicants are approved.
If approved, the celebrity or the sponsor must pay $40,000 to the Hollywood Historic Trust and Hollywood Chamber for the cost of the ceremony and the star's creation, installation and maintenance.
Martinez said Trump was nominated by an older man from New York who called himself a fan of the real estate developer. The man also paid the fee for the star, $15,000 at that time.
Martinez said that she could not remember the fan's name and that the paperwork has been misplaced.
The first person to destroy Trump's star was Otis, a 54-year-old L.A. resident who defaced it in October 2016, soon after The Post released an "Access Hollywood" recording of Trump making lewd comments about women. Otis tried to organize a news conference with five women who said they had been sexually assaulted by Trump, but it never took place.
A descendant of the founder of Otis Elevator, he made headlines in 2009 for auctioning off some of Mahatma Gandhi's possessions, such as the Indian peace activist's steel-framed spectacles and a pair of sandals. He told the New York Times he planned to donate the $1 million in proceeds to pacifist causes.
Otis received three years' probation for his crime against Trump's star, paid $4,400 to fix the damage and put in 20 days of community service. He was later spotted by TMZ wearing a Black Lives Matter T-shirt while picking up trash along the L.A. freeways.
Otis's sentence also required him to see his psychiatrist and continue to follow the doctor's recommendations, said ter Poorten, his attorney. Otis couldn't be reached for comment.
On July 25, Trump's star was pulverized again.
"I am proud of what I did," said Austin "Sonny" Clay, a 24-year-old bartender, who pleaded not guilty to a felony vandalism charge. His argument: Hacking the star was "rightful and just," not criminal. He was sentenced in November to pay more than $9,400 to the Hollywood Chamber, serve three years' probation and receive psychological counseling, according to the Associated Press.
Clay said he was persuaded to do the deed by his girlfriend's father, Rory Emerald, a serial prankster who made headlines for numerous hoaxes in the 1990s and early 2000s. In 1993, Emerald was arrested in Beverly Hills and jailed for posing as Mia Farrow's personal shopper.
After deciding that Clay should destroy the star, he and Emerald, along with Clay's girlfriend, Elektra Emerald, hitched a ride with a friend to the Hollywood Walk of Fame from a suburb in the San Fernando Valley.
They found the star defaced by graffiti and smeared with excrement.
"I could tell it was already loose," Rory Emerald said. "Enough people had stomped on it. . . . I told him, 'If you don't take this star out tonight, somebody else is going to do it.' "
A few hours later, Clay put on headphones and took from the car a guitar case that contained the pickax. He had initially planned to listen to patriotic music while executing his mission but changed his mind.
"I decided I need something aggressive," he recounted. He chose a song by the Death Grips,an industrial hip-hop group from Sacramento.
Around 3:30 a.m., as Clay approached the star, Elektra Emerald held up her smartphone and began filming. Her father saw sparks fly. An onlooker yelled, "What did Donald Trump ever do to you?"
"When I was bringing the pickax down, it felt cathartic," Clay said. "Like I was removing him not only from the Walk of Fame, but in a way, symbolically, from California, from the United States, from the cultural subconscious."
Clay said he turned himself in to the Beverly Hills Police Department that night and spent about 20 hours in jail.
"I can't think of a stronger message from Los Angeles and California to send to Donald Trump, who right now is trying to build his wall - which is a lunatic's idea," Clay said during an interview. "I can't think of a stronger message than 'We're taking your star off the boulevard.' "
(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)
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