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How Donald Trump used Menie Links course plan as a ‘dry run’ for US presidency

Donald Trump visited the site of his new golf course on  Aberdeen's coast in 2009.
Donald Trump visited the site of his new golf course on Aberdeen's coast in 2009.

Anthony Baxter can look back now and laugh about his run-ins with Donald Trump, which led to him being arrested, having his files seized and his film company accused of peddling “fake news”.

But there was nothing funny about the collision between the future American president and the residents of Aberdeenshire’s Menie Estate when he arrived with grandiose notions about building the world’s best golf course and constructing hundreds of properties – none of which materialised – at the site.

At the outset, when the first Menie Estate initiative was proposed, Trump pledged to create up to 6,000 jobs by building a five-star hotel with 450 rooms, shops, a sports complex, timeshare flats and up to 650 luxury houses.

But, apart from the golf course, nothing else of note materialised, despite promises made to Aberdeenshire Council and the Scottish Government.

Mr Baxter famously produced a film, You’ve Been Trumped, released in 2012, which was showered with accolades for exposing the fashion in which the American oligarch bullied locals such as Michael Forbes and David Milne and employed strong-arm tactics to plough ahead with a new golf venue that became mired in acrimony almost from the moment the project began.

Donald Trump with Scottish film-maker Anthony Baxter at Trump Tower in 2014.
Donald Trump with Scottish film-maker Anthony Baxter at Trump Tower in 2014.

Montrose is poised to host its inaugural film festival in the town’s new £3.5 million community-run cinema from Friday to Sunday.

The event will be launched with a special screening of the multi-award-winning documentary, when Mr Baxter will be joined by some of the surviving Aberdeenshire residents who stood up to Trump’s attempts to force them off the land.

A decade on and the world has changed completely.

If it was marked by his controversial tenure in the Oval Office, a period accompanied by regular Twitter frenzies, bizarre conspiracy theories, and an ability to go through aides and officials like a man with his trousers on fire, it has been followed by a global pandemic and the current escalation of hostilities in Ukraine.

Some people might argue that it’s best to draw a veil over the madness and mayhem of that benighted presidency, but Mr Baxter isn’t among them, not least because it’s quite possible Trump will seek re-election in 2024.

And he believes that some of the strategies, tactics and dirty trick campaigns employed by the former president, both during his election joust with Hillary Clinton and after he had gained access to the White House, were fine-tuned and developed while he was battling with Scots who wanted to preserve famous sand dunes, as bulldozers moved in to ensure their destruction.

Mr Baxter told me: “All I wanted was to get to the truth, and after I spoke to residents such as Michael and Molly (Forbes), it was obvious they weren’t anything like the people who were having their reputations trashed by Trump.

“He wanted to swat me away like a fly but he couldn’t get rid of me or the residents so easily.

“They didn’t want to be in the spotlight but they were the guardians of the environment and they weren’t going to leave without a fight.

“Looking back, it summed up the way he behaved as president.

“The bullying of opponents, the false claims, the building of a wall between his ‘people’ and those on the other side and calling anything which didn’t suit his narrative ‘fake news’ – which was ironic because he spouted more of it than anybody.”

Donald Trump blasted the construction of wind farms in Aberdeen Bay.
Donald Trump blasted the construction of wind farms in Aberdeen Bay.

As he continued directing his film, Mr Baxter always felt he could be at risk and kept his hard drives – of the computing, not golfing variety – in a safe.

But it didn’t prevent him from being arrested with one of his colleagues, Richard Phinney, and charged with breach of the peace – which was later thrown out – and Trump was highly critical of the documentary and subsequently tried to prevent the BBC from screening it.

In 2014 the two men met at Trump Tower in New York in what turned out to be nothing more than a glossy PR opportunity, but the Scot wasn’t impressed and produced a follow-up film, A Dangerous Game.

Fresh plaudits followed. Then Trump confirmed the scale of his political ambitions and gained the Republican ticket for the 2016 presidential election.

Donald Trump claimed he was building the 'greatest golf course in the world' in Aberdeenshire.
Donald Trump claimed he was building the “greatest golf course in the world” in Aberdeenshire.

Mr Baxter recalled: “It didn’t surprise me when he ran for high office. At the end (of You’ve Been Trumped), there was a caption which stated he was considering running for president, and I heard plenty of cinema-goers laughing when they saw that, but it never seemed that funny to me.

“He had money, he had influence, he was a celebrity and he was ambitious. And he was used to getting his own way, as we saw with the golf course.

“The more you look at it, there’s a compelling case that his dealings in Scotland were a dry run before his campaign to get into the White House.”

 Anthony Baxter filming
You’ve Been Trumped by Anthony Baxter was Mark Kermode’s documentary of the year in 2012.

Mr Baxter regarded Trump as “an outlandish buffoon with some of the most ridiculed hair in the world” 10 years ago, but even then, he detected signs of the Flashman who was accused by many in America of inciting insurrection when the Capitol building was stormed by his supporters last January.

In which light, he is still convinced that You’ve Been Trumped should provide a warning about how quickly a rich man with a TV show and a vast Twitter following can gain access to one of the most powerful offices on the planet.

Trump at Menie: The untold tales of intrigue, threats of violence and destroyed friendships

He said: “It’s such a scary thought what he might be doing now if he was still the president, given his (positive) relationship with Vladimir Putin.

“But then, the world is in such a precarious place at the moment.”

Which makes the subject matter of the Montrose Festival – Costing the Earth, which will also feature Bill Forsyth’s classic movie, Local Hero, – doubly relevant.

As Mr Baxter concluded: “It’s wonderful for Montrose to be hosting our first-ever film festival.

“And it’s an honour to be welcoming residents of the Menie Estate – who stood up to Trump – to our town for this new event.

“All of these films, in their own way, highlight the cost to the planet, if we allow money and power to override environmental concerns.”

A message that, if anything, is even more resonant now than it was in 2012.

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