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Standing Their Ground in Well-Manicured Yards

The Trump presidency has been a literal call to arms for excitable whites who view nonwhite people as inherent threats.

Laurie Skrivan/St. Louis Post-Dispatch/AP

The first time I glanced at the images, I thought, My God, the Naval Academy is under attack. It was the only way my brain could process what I’d seen: a middle-aged white man wielding a semiautomatic AR-15 rifle, just outside the gated portico of a vast, shimmering beaux-arts structure whose lofty pillars, red-bricked decking, ornate windows, and greenery-filled terrace boxes seemed reminiscent of buildings I’d once marched to on Annapolis’s turn-of-the-nineteenth-century military campus. It didn’t seem so far-fetched: Sunday was, after all, the second anniversary of the murder of five Annapolis Capital Gazette staffers by a crazed gunman.

But then I noticed that this gunman—who wore a form-fitting pink polo shirt tucked into spacious flat-front khaki slacks—was barefoot outside the grand portico. He was also holding his AR-15 left-handed, even though it was a standard carbine with its ejection port on the right side, meaning that if the polo-sporting gentleman had fired his gun, with every discharge, it would have spit a spent, white-hot bullet casing directly into his nipples. Clearly, he didn’t carry this gun very often, a fact made all the more obvious by the frequency with which he pointed its business end toward his wife, who was also barefoot, beside him, wielding a small semiautomatic pistol loosely in her hands, like a once-cherished dream that now might burst and dry up at any moment.

This was how most of us met Mark T. and Patricia N. McCloskey—armed multimillionaire attorneys, longtime GOP and Trump donors, and new poster children for the American white citizenry’s fear and loathing of the nonwhite population. On Sunday evening, they stood in front of their mansion—a gaudy early-1900s “Renaissance palazzo” built by connected friends of the Busch beer family—and confronted the peaceful anti-police-brutality protesters who’d had the temerity to pass the McCloskeys’ tony manicured yard while marching to the St. Louis mayor’s house.* The St. Louis Post-Dispatch laid that method out thusly:

The couple, Mark T. and Patricia N. McCloskey, stood outside with weapons. They are personal-injury lawyers who work together in The McCloskey Law Center and own a million dollar home.

“Private property!” Mark McCloskey shouted repeatedly at the crowd, as he held a rifle. “Get out! Private property, get out!” Patricia McCloskey pointed a small handgun.

The McCloskeys nervously waved their weapons at the nonthreatening crowd, which included a Black man wearing a shirt that read “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot”—a throwback to the nearby 2014 police killing of teen Michael Brown and the subsequent orgy of racist militarized police violence in Missouri that summer. But despite the McCloskeys’ dangerously inadequate muzzle discipline and their execrable attempts at intimidating and threatening marchers who posed no earthly threat to their stately domain, they have men—top men—on their side. Later Sunday, after Donald Trump had taken time out of his busy golfing schedule to supportively tweet video of an aged Florida campaign supporter on a gold cart screaming “WHITE POWER,” he retweeted video of the McCloskeys stupidly standing their ground.

This—as I have reported for most of my career now, since the unpunished slaying of Trayvon Martin by a criminally negligent, inherently dangerous, obsessively racist armed vigilante—is what “Stand Your Ground”–style gun culture has always been about: free license for white people to indulge in and act violently upon their most irrational fears and suspicions. Last night, the Twittersphere was aflutter with McCloskey defenders, arguing that the couple were simply exercising their supreme American rights: In this view, the Second Amendment, Stand Your Ground, and the Castle Doctrine—as in, “a man’s home is his castle”—permit armed Americans to essentially shoot anyone anytime on their own property, all the way out to the sidewalk. That’s not quite correct, as some lawyers have pointed out, and it’s also a non sequitur, since no one invaded the McCloskey compound, although a few brave souls did attempt to talk them down and encouraged the crowd of marchers not to engage the armed idiots.

But the entire appeal of the Trump presidency, like Stand Your Ground, has been to flatter the id-impulses of excitable whites when they construct nonwhite people—their existence, their persistent presence, and their agency—as inherent threats to public safety. This is the raison d’être of the modern Trumpist Republican Party and the gun lobby, whose favorite past spokeswoman made her bones by fantasizing on talk radio about urinating on the corpses of dead Afghans. Regarding the McCloskeys’ attempt at frontier justice in their upscale neighborhood, that ex-NRA spokeswoman, Dana Loesch, said it was “weak sauce to act like marching through residential neighborhoods isn’t an escalation of tactics we’ve seen the past month where daytime protests diminish into nighttime riots.” This is how Loesch demonstrates that she’s uninterested in truth, safe firearms operation, and the proper usage of the English word diminish.

It is also an ethos among Trump’s “Second Amendment people” that will grow long after Trump is dead. For evidence of this, one need look no further than Arkansas senator and folksy war addict Tom Cotton’s recent public thirst for an outside military occupation to pacify the unruly stateless natives of the District of Columbia, a cynical attempt to “own” liberals and capture Trump’s base by being as racist and dishonest as possible.

These conservatives are so bigoted that they don’t want the equal protections of a classically liberal civil society: They want the guarantees that come with a de facto monopoly on social violence. Who among us can reasonably doubt that, if he were forced to read Frantz Fanon’s The Wretched of the Earth, Tom Cotton would shop an op-ed declaring that the French simply hadn’t killed enough Black Algerians to establish “stability”? Similarly, this era of militant fundamentalist whiteness should force Americans to ask: Who needs dog whistles, or even legal institutions, when you have AR-15s, gas-powered golf carts, and “Keep America Great” flags?

Certainly not the millions of Americans like Mark and Patricia McCloskey, who, despite their wealth and advantages, have permitted themselves to be driven into paroxysms of fear and victimhood by their conservative white political benefactors. That fear—that they are no longer a silent majority, or a majority at all, assured of keeping what they have—has been brought to a crescendo by the pro-gun, anti-welfare right wing of American politicos who, four years ago, threw their support behind a scabrous, rapacious old bigot from Queens who once boasted that he could shoot someone in the middle of Fifth Avenue with impunity. The rest of us missed it, but when Trump said that, what a certain kind of armed American heard him say was that they could shoot someone in the middle of their Fifth Avenue. Trump’s desire to impose his will on other people by violence is what makes him relatable to the McCloskeys of America. You can only laugh so much at people this ridiculous and well-armed; the genius of the modern firearm is that even the inept can use it to kill. It’s like the presidency that way.


* Due to an editing error, a previous version of this story referred to the march being on “public streets.”