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

Hamilton Nolan

Photos by author

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.

Hamil­ton Nolan is a labor reporter for In These Times. He has spent the past decade writ­ing about labor and pol­i­tics for Gawk­er, Splin­ter, The Guardian, and else­where. You can reach him at Hamilton@​InTheseTimes.​com.

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