What was supposed to be the biggest planned news story for photojournalists in September (not counting the acts of God like hurricanes and earthquakes) turned out to be a dud. While most of America was obsessed with Mayweather vs McGregor, every photojournalist I knew on the east coast was prepping for MAGA V JUGGALO.
All the regular sites hyped it up: Salon called it the Coachella of countering rallies – they all wrote stories hyping how it was going to be a standoff of our times. At first it was just that there was to be a pro-Trump rally and a Juggalo rights march the same day in the same city – Washington, D.C. That was weird enough for me to send a pitch into NationofChange, but then came the rumors of the increasingly ‘infamous’ Antifa joining the fight.
That suddenly made it not just a simple two sided boxing match, but a WWE tag team match that could ONLY have been dreamed up in the fevered mind of a doped up Vice.com editor.
As the day of infamy grew closer and closer – the bad news (for photojournalists) kept pouring in. First it wasn’t likely that the Antifa were going to show. Then it was that the Juggalos made a peace deal with the “Mother of All Rallies,” the MAGA crowd. That ended any thoughts that a surreal battle of make-upped JNCO wearing music fans would be throwing Faygo bottles at Trump supporting white Nationalists on the lawn of the White House.
The Mother of All Rallies ended being less than that. Arriving at the scheduled start time at the “MOAR” rally, there was a sparse showing of Kekistan promoters, Fred Perry polo shirt wearers and ‘Don’t Tread on Me’ flag draped white men and women of varied ages.
Although, in my experience, the MAGA crowd shows up early for events, there was still loads of time before the main speakers hit the stage.
Immediately I came upon a well bearded man with American flag aviators, a classic red Make America Great Again baseball cap and a large ‘Don’t Tread on Me’ flag over his shoulder. Considering the website for the event requested that people only show up with American flags – that upon itself was interesting.
Joshua Glaspie, founder of Patriots for America USA told me that MOAR was “…unlike any other rally in the history of the United States. This is the largest gathering of ardent American patriots… of America’s most ardent patriots. This is like a condensed soup of Americana… It’s going to be a great time full of patriotism, full of love and full of diversity.”
His emphasis on “diversity” in the statement was not something that I found to be true.
The MOAR rally was very similar to most of the Trump rallies I’ve been to over the last two years – white. Like, whiter than a Klan Rally after the local Walgreens had a sale on bleach.
The next person I happened upon was, as far as I could tell, a simple free speech troll. He didn’t really have any politics to stand by just wanted to express that everything was free speech, including hate speech, and it was all just fun.
This resident of Kekistan told me: “Hate speech is free speech, I don’t agree with it but you’re just going to make yourself look like a jackass to everybody. If you’re going to look like a jackass, you’re going to look like a jackass – and it’s better to look like a jackass because, as been said many times, bad ideas should be exposed to the light of day so they can be argued not fought. And a big problem is a lot of people being physically attacked or having their careers ruined because just a shitty comment…”
My experience from Charlottesville was different than his was – but he wasn’t the only one with strong opinions on their specific definition of free speech at this rally.
There was these friends that countered back and forth stories that they’d heard – and were convinced were true via Alex Jones site “InfoWars.” Even though I told them that I was physically at Charlottesville and didn’t see or even hear of the busloads of Antifa and Nazi’s bring dropped off at the park… claiming it was all a staged event… it didn’t matter.
One mans youtube video is better than any journalists own experience.
There was a lot of patriotic singing… which I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised by. The first great sing-along was music blasted from the “Trump Train.”
Lee Greenwood’s God Bless The USA was scream-sung by someone through PA system speakers attached to a flatbed that had “TRUMP MOAR” in cut out wooden letters, a human size statue of liberty that had lost an arm and signs that stated Trumps many slogans from the campaign.
Oh, did I mention the flags? It had a lot of them in different forms. Trump flags, American flags, the ‘Blue Lives Matter’ incarnation of the American flag. Also, for some reason, a motorcycle.
Singing along to the patriotic melody on the Trump Train were members of the Bikers for Trump, a group that often provided freelance security at Trump rallies.
And by freelance I mean, they weren’t there in any official capacity; they just grabbed protestors and pulled them out of the arena.
As the day went on, the patriotic music continued. Children were forced, in some cases physically, to get on the stage and sing the national anthem.
The scene looked as though it was a sort of nationalistic hostage situation – children with blank eyes staring at the crowd of 1,500 or so people, hats in hand singing back at them.
As one of the few members of the non-right-wing press that I could see by the stage, it was pretty clear that I was alone in being horrified by the scene… Everyone else was entranced.
After Charlottesville, I don’t do well in crowds of people waving flags and chanting – so I took my cue to head over to the gathering of Juggalos on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.
As I took the long walk along the reflecting pool, I came into hearing range of the speaker who was talking passionately at the stage. He was talking about how this group of Juggalos was his family. In some ways more than his real life one – as he could always count on them. He talked of the kindness of the Juggalos at Insane Clown Posse concerts, brining extra food for those that spent all their money to get to the show, providing a place to crash for those who couldn’t afford a motel…
Getting closer, I saw the painted faces, the ridiculously flamboyant costumes. There were couples hugging and friends in circles sharing stories.
This was the rally happening in Washington, D.C. today that was, according to the Obama Justice Department, the dangerous one. Juggalos are “a loosely-organized hybrid gang, [and] are rapidly expanding into many U.S. communities.”
The 2011 National Gang Threat Assessment puts them right along side the Ayran Brotherhood, the Bloods and the Crips.
The reasons given on the document were simply a handful of examples of crimes that people that are Juggalos committed. Unlike most of the other gangs listed in the assessment, which discusses large scale organized federal crimes, none were listed for the Juggalos. Even the image for the group is comical, as I’m relatively certain the gun in the photo is a prop gun.
I wish I could say that I was exaggerating the differences, but this “gang” was peaceful and pleasant. Happy to pose for photos and pleased to explain what they thought a Juggalo meant.
I doubt, under a Jeff Sessions Justice Department, this group of Insane Clown Posse fans will get the change in classification that they want, but this march and concert went a long way to changing their image in the eyes of a lot of journalists that attended, including mine.
It should be noted that the ‘peaceful’ MOAR rally had its own militia guarding the event, and many police officers on horseback and around the outskirts of the event.
The only violence that I heard of that day was a MAGA hat wearing man grabbing a flag from a Juggalo. She was tearful and just simply asking why the man did it. Like a child, he was forced by police to apologize to her. The woman took the apology, but didn’t believe it.
Neither did I.