They're not real: A fact-checker's guide to those fake Trump mugshots

By: sam doak&
annet preethi furtado&
April 7 2023

Share Article: facebook logo twitter logo linkedin logo
They're not real: A fact-checker's guide to those fake Trump mugshots

Source: Twitter screenshots/Modified by Logically Facts

On April 4, 2023, Donald Trump became the first former President of the United States to face criminal charges. While it is standard practice for defendants to have a mugshot taken at this stage, it has been reported that District Attorney Alvin Bragg decided that this step was not necessary in this instance. 

While Bragg's rationale was not publicly announced, a lawyer for Trump told CBS News that the former President is "the most recognized face in the world, let alone the country," and that "mug shots are for people so that you recognize who they are."

The New York Times reported that it would not be possible to have a mugshot taken at the courthouse where he was arraigned, which is located in the Manhattan Criminal Courts Building. A law enforcement official informed the newspaper that the building is not equipped to take mugshots; instead, Trump would have to be taken to the Police Department’s Central Booking facility or to the Manhattan Detention Complex. Trump was not taken to either of these locations. His fingerprints were taken during the booking process at the courthouse after being taken into custody.

Logically Facts has reached out to the office of the District Attorney for comment. 

In the absence of an actual mugshot, some have taken to making their own. Using a variety of methods, from AI image-generation tools to basic Photoshop, social media users have created and shared a wide array of fake Trump mugshots with varying degrees of persuasiveness. In some cases, the images created were clearly in jest, while some were argued to be genuine, with users sharing them to refute suggestions that no mugshot had been taken. 

With these images coming on the heels of the recent fake images of Trump being arrested and the Pope in a Balenciaga jacket, they are a reminder of the need to watch out for digital manipulation. Here’s how Logically Facts was able to assess that the more prevalent images that have circulated since the indictment were fake.

Old Photos Edited to Show Trump in Orange Jumpsuit

In this attempt, two images of the former U.S. President wearing an orange jumpsuit – similar to the standard U.S. inmate uniform – were shared together, one frontal and one in profile. These digitally altered images were created and shared as far back as 2018, using photographs of Trump taken by Getty Images. 

In the original images, Trump can be seen wearing a suit and tie. The original photographs have been online since at least 2017 and have been featured in publications such as The Wrap, Cosmopolitan, and Intelligencer.

AI-Generated Image of Trump In Front of Unintelligible Height Scale

Another image shows the former president looking away from the camera background against a grainy background with a numbered wall. One of the tweets sharing this image which gained traction insinuated that Trump was crying while his mugshot was taken. 

However, a reverse image search found that the same image had been posted by a pro-Trump account on Twitter on March 19, 2023. At the time, the image was shared along with claims of protests by Trump supporters in Manhattan, and that the case was intended to prevent him from running for president in 2024.

Given Trump's arraignment did not occur in March, it is clear that this particular image is a fake. Certain aspects of the image also indicate that the image was generated using an AI-empowered tool. 

The most prominent among these is the background for the mugshot. In an actual mugshot, it would have shown a chart with an actual height scale. In the viral image, however, the markings behind Trump are unintelligible numbers. A lack of clarity in background detail is one of the problems which remain with AI-generated images, though "tells" like this are becoming less common as the technology improves.

AI-Generated Image of Trump With Nonsense Numbers Behind

Like the previous purported mugshot, this one had also been shared in a tweet mocking the former president. It shows him looking directly at the camera, wearing a black t-shirt. 

This image is also not genuine and there are indications again that the image was created using an AI tool, although it is unclear which specific program was used. For instance, once again, the lettering on the wall behind Trump seems to be randomly generated, rather than actually displaying different height levels. Trump's face also has a hyper-realistic look but these details are not consistent with how a real face would look.

The person who originally posted this image eventually deleted it after it was pointed out to them that it was an AI-generated fake image. 

Logically Facts discovered several other instances of similarly fabricated images showing Trump either under arrest or being arrested while investigating this image, mostly generated with Midjourney.

Edited Image of Trump in Orange Jumpsuit in Front of Grey Background 

One of the more widely-shared Donald Trump mugshots depicts him standing in front of a blank grey wall, again wearing orange clothing. There are no obvious errors in the background or when it comes to Trump’s face, which might explain why it has been frequently shared on social media since April 4, 2023. 

However, a reverse image search shows that this image first appeared in a New York Magazine article in 2020, speculating on the possible legal jeopardy faced by the former president. The image caption clarifies that it is a digital composite created by Joe Darrow from two photographs available on Getty Images.

Image Created by Trump Campaign for Merchandise 

One of the less convincing Trump mugshots currently circulating was shared by the official handle of Trump’s campaign itself on Twitter. The campaign shared an image showing the former President holding a placard in front of a height chart with the caption, "Order your Official Trump Mugshot T-Shirt Today!"

The details in this image make it clear it is not genuine. For instance, in addition to its modified lighting, in this image, the chart behind Trump indicates his height is 6 feet, 5 inches, while a 2020 medical examination put it at 6 feet, 3 inches. 

A reverse image search reveals that the image of Donald Trump in this graphic was copied from an old official photo. A version of it, published on the White House website, has been archived and can be accessed here. This copy retains metadata showing it was taken at 9.54 a.m. on December 15, 2016. 

Would you like to submit a claim to fact-check or contact our editorial team?

Global Fact-Checks Completed

We rely on information to make meaningful decisions that affect our lives, but the nature of the internet means that misinformation reaches more people faster than ever before