The MAGA Army Tries to Drag America to Hell – Dear Leader Trump’s toy soldiers make one last stand on the streets of Washington, DC

Flags are an impor­tant part of fas­cism. I nev­er real­ized how impor­tant until I was enveloped by them. Red Trump flags, and blue Trump flags. Red, white and blue Amer­i­can…

Flags are an impor­tant part of fas­cism. I nev­er real­ized how impor­tant until I was enveloped by them. Red Trump flags, and blue Trump flags. Red, white and blue Amer­i­can flags. Red Con­fed­er­ate flags. Blue police flags. Yel­low ​Come And Take It” flags, and ​Don’t Tread on Me” flags. Flags on sticks, and flags on jack­ets, and flags wrapped around shoul­ders like shawls. Big flags, and big­ger flags, and mul­ti­ple flags stacked atop one anoth­er. The young man tot­ing six full-sized flags on a tow­er­ing, bend­ing pole as he rode on an elec­tric uni­cy­cle was impres­sive, until you saw the oth­er young man stand­ing atop the roof of his mon­ster truck wav­ing a gar­gan­tu­an Trump flag as his sound sys­tem played pro-Trump rap music, framed by the back­drop of the sun­set over the U.S. Capi­tol build­ing. The back of the truck was full of more flags. 

The Mil­lion MAGA March in Wash­ing­ton, DC on Sat­ur­day did not have a mil­lion peo­ple, but it had a mil­lion flags. You couldn’t take two steps with­out one of them smack­ing you in the face. Free­dom Plaza, the block-sized ele­vat­ed space where the faith­ful gath­ered, had the qual­i­ty of a fun­house maze, with flags tak­ing the place of mir­rors. It was dis­ori­ent­ing. A flash of red, a flash of blue, and in every direc­tion, a sea of coro­n­avirus. It was a sit­u­a­tion built to instill the sort of over­whelm­ing patri­o­tism you feel right before you go to war and die. 

On Sat­ur­day morn­ing, down­town DC was even more desert­ed than usu­al, save for the knots of red-hat­ted tourists grav­i­tat­ing towards the White House, bustling through the emp­ty, echo­ing blocks. As gang­sters say dur­ing dan­ger­ous times, ​Only cops and fools were on the streets.” As it grew clos­er to noon, the plaza took on the atmos­phere of a coun­ty fair writ­ten by Stephen King, where all the bar­be­cue stands were replaced with MAGA ven­dors and the square dance tent was an end­less loop of Lee Green­wood. Women sang along to ​I’m Proud to Be an Amer­i­can” as they wait­ed in lines for the Port-o-lets. Peo­ple shout­ed through mega­phones about Joe Biden being a pedophile, to wide­spread acclaim. It was a big revival, a place for believ­ers to bond. ​My sis­ter said her kids are gonna be ridiculed at school, and have to fight for their morals and val­ues,” one mid­dle-aged woman con­fid­ed to her neigh­bor. ​Oh hon­ey,” the younger blonde woman in a red Trump beanie stand­ing next to her com­mis­er­at­ed, ​We live in Delaware. It’s scari­er there.”

The men all seemed to look like they hoped some­thing vio­lent would hap­pen. Amer­i­ca is a land that encour­ages mar­tial fan­tasies, and here they all con­verged. There were lots of hel­mets and body armor and tac­ti­cal vests and tac­ti­cal gloves and tac­ti­cal pants with lots of pock­ets and cara­bin­ers. Some of these men looked like they used to be in the mil­i­tary and missed the action, and oth­ers looked like they played a lot of Call of Duty and had elab­o­rate war fan­tasies, but all of them seemed like the kind of per­son who would take a job as a jail guard in order to get the oppor­tu­ni­ty to beat some­one. There were the Oath Keep­ers, hulk­ing sol­dier types, and Proud Boys, the yel­low-and-black-wear­ing celebs of the far-right, who peo­ple kept ask­ing for self­ies with; and there were lit­tle hud­dles of less­er gangs, the skin­ny ​Amer­i­can Guard” guys car­ry­ing home­made shields, and the old men with ​Sheep­dog Nation” hood­ies adver­tis­ing itchy trig­ger fin­gers, and the bik­ers whose vests read ​Born To Ride For 45” and whose patch­es read ​Hillary Clin­ton Amer­i­can Trai­tor Bitch.” There were young tat­tooed guys walk­ing around with box­ing mouth­guards in, and mid­dle-aged men in ​Q” shirts rant­i­ng on side­walks, and count­less thou­sands of men wear­ing base­ball hats, beards, wrap­around shades, and camo, the uni­form of the delu­sion­al Pro­tec­tor class. There was a cou­ple walk­ing a Dober­man wear­ing a har­ness that said ​SECU­RI­TY.” The dog was clear­ly not Secu­ri­ty. But it was part of the fantasy. 

These were the shit­kick­ers of Amer­i­ca, and those that wor­shiped them. Noth­ing about them is hard to under­stand. If you have seen a high school bul­ly and his crew of friends goad­ing him on, you have encoun­tered this type. What I can­not explain is why this juve­nile sort of action movie men­tal­i­ty exerts such a strong hold on so many Amer­i­cans. Maybe we have a cri­sis of mas­culin­i­ty, or maybe we are a dam­aged nation cop­ing poor­ly with trau­ma, or maybe this is just our nature, dat­ing back to the ear­ly explor­ers who sailed in to mas­sacre the natives because they could. Maybe all of the above. What I do know is that there is a very pow­er­ful under­cur­rent run­ning just below the sur­face of main­stream pol­i­tics right now that can best be described as an over­whelm­ing desire to have a rea­son to kill every­one on the oth­er side. Per­haps it has been too long since we had a big war that required a draft, and all of that blood­lust is pour­ing into Amer­i­ca itself, like an infec­tion. We had the Com­mu­nists as ene­mies, and then we had the ter­ror­ists, and now, lack­ing a dis­tinct boo­gie­man to soak up our aggres­sion, we have thou­sands and thou­sands of peo­ple who dress up as sol­diers and roam the streets of Amer­i­can cities, wait­ing to attack… who­ev­er. Trump’s achieve­ment has been to remove any real polit­i­cal pre­text from our nation­al polit­i­cal feud, leav­ing only a pile of hate that can be direct­ed at any ene­my that’s con­ve­nient. Antifas­cists? Black Lives Mat­ter? Democ­rats, judges, the FBI, the Board of Elec­tions? All can fit the descrip­tion of ​Ene­mies who don’t want Amer­i­ca to be Great Again.” We left ratio­nal­i­ty behind a long time ago. Trump has suc­ceed­ed in build­ing his lunatic army. That was who this day was for. 

The good news is that his army is not big enough. Tens of thou­sands of peo­ple showed up for the MAGA march, but most of them were just reg­u­lar fam­i­lies whose brains have been poi­soned by Face­book, or old peo­ple whose brains have been poi­soned by Fox News. That so many of these peo­ple would feel it nec­es­sary to trav­el across the coun­try to march up Con­sti­tu­tion Avenue and inform the world that ​I’d Rather Get Covid-19 Than Biden 20” is dis­turb­ing on a human lev­el, but not cause for undue alarm. They want­ed to parade past the Dear Leader’s bar­ri­cad­ed hotel and gen­u­flect to its façade, to grov­el rather than to fight. The real shit­kick­ers were a minor­i­ty. If this was Trump’s ral­ly­ing call for sol­diers to res­cue him from his elec­toral fate, it was not a suc­cess. The size of the Women’s March held the day after Trump’s inau­gu­ra­tion in 2017 made this march look like an inti­mate gath­er­ing of friends, at a men­tal hospital. 

By late after­noon, the MAGA peo­ple all trick­led away, some of them mak­ing the mis­take of walk­ing through Black Lives Mat­ter Plaza, where they were jeered at ruth­less­ly. They jeered right back. As dark­ness fell, a line of police took up posi­tions across that Plaza, and two more lines of bike cops stood on K Street, keep­ing a small group of antifa peo­ple a full block away from the Trump peo­ple who were milling around by McPher­son Square. A block north, at the Cap­i­tal Hilton, more cops stood guard, as a group of MAGA peo­ple peered out the lob­by win­dow at the scene on the streets like vis­i­tors at the zoo. I stood around for an hour or so and saw noth­ing more vio­lent than a col­lege girl taunt­ing a very embar­rassed-look­ing riot cop for hav­ing some­thing that looked like coke in his nose. Short­ly after I left, bands of Proud Boys start­ed maraud­ing through down­town, beat­ing peo­ple up. Some­one got stabbed. All of this was ampli­fied fran­ti­cal­ly on Twit­ter, and then ampli­fied again by the Pres­i­dent him­self, but it was not out of the ordi­nary by the grim stan­dards of 2020 street pol­i­tics. Try­ing to under­stand an entire protest via Twit­ter is like try­ing to under­stand Moby Dick by repeat­ing the phrase ​Call me Ish­mael” at high­er and high­er vol­umes until you are deaf. If you cede the total­i­ty of its mean­ing to the shit­kick­ers, you are not try­ing to learn very much. 

What peo­ple want, more than food and water and sex and drugs, is a pur­pose. They will attach them­selves to all sorts of deranged things in order to feel like they are ful­fill­ing that pur­pose — that they are a part of some­thing mean­ing­ful. Don­ald Trump pro­vid­ed that for a very large num­ber of peo­ple, and that fact alone should make all of us dis­ap­point­ed in this coun­try. Amer­i­ca has always seen its peo­ple as a means to an end, the end being mon­ey or war. It has nev­er both­ered to pro­vide a mass pur­pose beyond that. Into that void stepped MAGA world, just the lat­est reli­gion promis­ing an expla­na­tion for our con­fused existence. 

On the side of a street in down­town DC on Sat­ur­day morn­ing sat a tiny woman wrapped in a TRUMP 2020 flag that was big­ger than she was. She had stuck up hand-let­tered card­board signs on the bus shel­ter where she was lay­ing. One of them read, ​How in the Hell do undoc­u­ment­ed peo­ple get Hous­ing in the USA and Amer­i­cans are home­less.” None of the MAGA peo­ple paid her any atten­tion, and nei­ther did any­one else.


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