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Press, protesters, QAnon: the scene outside Ghislaine Maxwell’s trial

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Each morning draws a crowd of onlookers as Maxwell’s own movements remain a mystery

Ghislaine Maxwell’s sex-trafficking trial in New York is an early morning affair, reporters, court artists, protesters and onlookers gathering as early as 6am each day to get in the courthouse or, in some cases, simply to get their message out.

Related: Ghislaine Maxwell was ‘No 2’ in Jeffrey Epstein’s hierarchy, pilot says

When the doors of the court open at 9am – and at lunch and 4pm – a line of black SUVs ferries well-turned parties in and out, a reminder, perhaps, that in some eyes at least this is about a public display of accountability for the crimes of Jeffrey Epstein as well as Maxwell’s trial on a set of criminal charges.

If or until she takes the stand in her own defense, Maxwell remains a mystery. She is in court, seen by a few in the chamber but by most everyone else via court sketches.

People line up to enter the court for the Ghislaine Maxwell trial on Tuesday.
People line up to enter the court for the Ghislaine Maxwell trial on Tuesday. Photograph: Carlo Allegri/Reuters

In fact, the Briton hasn’t been pictured in public since a shot was posted of her at an In-N-Out Burger in Los Angeles in August 2019, 10 days after Epstein, a ghost who haunts the federal charges against the 59-year-old Briton, was found dead in the grim Metropolitan detention center, steps away from where Maxwell is being tried.

Federal prosecutors staged no perp walk – a custom of New York law enforcement. The sole picture of Maxwell released in recent months showed her with a bruise under her eye, an image released by her lawyer, Bobbi Sternheim, to illustrate claims of poor detention conditions.

Related: Lisa Bloom on working for Weinstein: ‘Attorneys represent a lot of distasteful people’

Reports from inside the court say Maxwell has appeared carefully coiffed and swathed in cashmere, hugging and air-kissing her defense team when she is brought into the chamber.

It’s not clear how Maxwell, held in custody in Brooklyn, is brought to court each day. Observers who arrive before dawn have yet to see a Federal Bureau of Prisons van bringing her across the icy East River.

But if Maxwell remains for now something of a cipher, the scene around the trial, filled with victim’s representatives or those looking to use it as a platform for their own purposes, are much in evidence.

On Tuesday, Lisa Bloom was outside court again. The attorney is representing several women among approximately 150 people who have been paid a total of $150m from the Epstein Victims Compensation Program – whose administrators have been subpoenaed by Maxwell’s lawyers.

Bloom, who helped the disgraced Hollywood mogul and convicted rapist Harvey Weinstein respond to his accusers, claimed lawyers for Maxwell wrote a “love letter” to Epstein when they said in opening statements he was akin to a “21st-century James Bond”, or even a biblical Adam to Maxwell’s Eve.

Sarah Ransome departs the court on Monday.
Sarah Ransome departs the court on Monday. Photograph: Carlo Allegri/Reuters

“I think the lowest point for the defense was saying that Jeffrey Epstein was a 21st-century James Bond,” Bloom said, after the financier and sex-trafficker was portrayed as a “charming, intelligent and wealthy and a wonderful donor to the arts”.

On Monday, the first day of the case, the steps outside court played host to followers of QAnon, one rapping such conspiratorial beliefs, the group now a near customary presence in any situation likely to attracted a media presence.

So was an alleged Epstein victim, Sarah Ransome, pursued by a Netflix camera crew orchestrating her angles. Maxwell’s sister Isabel was seen arriving and later came close to being knocked over in a frenzied scrum of TV cameramen, pushing for pictures and comment.

As prosecution witnesses are called – on Tuesday, Lawrence Visoski Jr, Epstein’s former pilot, described the Boeing 727 known to some as the “Lolita Express” as a “recreational vehicle” – scenes outside the trial are likely to settle down.

It’s close to 17 months since Maxwell was arrested at a hideaway in New Hampshire. Soon enough, she will either appear on the courthouse steps after being acquitted, or face decades in a federal penitentiary.

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