The Republican Party has a preoccupation with turning the pathetic and petty into symbols of righteousness: It’s the clumsy sleight-of-hand that renders Donald Trump, a slovenly person who can’t seem to correctly walk down a flight of stairs, an avatar of masculine swagger, or reimagines a smirking bully as a heroic soldier in the fight for free speech. This is a symbiotic relationship between the president and the base he’s eager to winkingly please: A similar fantasy inspires grown men to cosplay in bulletproof vests and claim they’re defending the republic, allows adherents of QAnon to go so far with the delusion that they’re fighting a holy war against the Deep State.
But few people are more illustrative of this tendency than Mark and Patricia McCloskey, litigious and mean-spirited people who are famous primarily for being terrified out of their minds by an ordinary event, and secondarily, for not knowing how to use their guns particularly well. Since late June, when the McCloskeys’ emerged from their mansion to wave guns at peaceful St. Louis protestors, the couple has transformed from a meme about white fragility into something of a conservative icon, in part thanks for a media tour touting a factually dubious version of the event to outlets like Fox.
In a short video broadcast last night during the Republican National Convention, the McCloskey went through the victorious motions of people who have found themselves finally vindicated after decades of being told, correctly, that they’re pieces of shit. Having traded the ill-fitting polo he wore as he brandished his gun at peaceful protestors for a blue blazer, McCloskey and his wife offered some (obviously wildly incorrect) free association about radical Democrats and home defense. They spoke of the imminent threat of “Marxist revolutionaries” who want to “abolish the suburbs.”
In the McCloskeys’ telling of the viral incident that launched them on to the national state, violent “rioters” were allowed to pillage without reprimand while the heroic McClosekys were charged with a crime for defending what was rightly theirs. What their bravery was intended to accomplish hasn’t been definitively addressed: In some interviews, the couple says they feared for their lives. In others, they’re protecting their home from people who, in the face of such a capitalist construct as property, became violent and “enraged.”
In truth, it is legally inadvisable to wave a gun at peaceful protestors with your finger on the trigger, and the attorney who brought the charges, Kim Gardner, treated the couple with delicacy, offering the option of counseling rather than jail time as part of her reformist approach. The state’s attorney general himself has sided with the McCloskeys, indicating he’d like to see the case dismissed.
But any accounting of the McCloskeys must feature the avalanche of reports detailing the aggressive circumstances that led the couple to occupy their St. Louis mansion and spend years filing lawsuits out of what appears to be a deep well of compulsive paranoia—a history that doesn’t lend itself to the rehabilitation of assholes into heroes. These are people who, according to a recent report from the St. Louis Dispatch, sued to gain control of their mansion, filed defamation suits against family members, and allegedly took legal action to keep a gay couple out of their neighborhood. Their neighbors dislike them; their families no longer speak to them. By most accounts, they’re mean and scared people who happened to walk into a moment when being mean and scared is a political demographic worth targeting.
They’ve sued over a German Shepherd, a triangle of grass in front of their house, a brochure, and a car. In 2013, McCloskey personally destroyed a bee-keeping project kept by a neighboring synagogue, leaving a note that he’d recoup attorney’s fees if the remnants weren’t cleaned up the next day. Even the weapon Patricia McCloskey waved at protestors was obtained by less-than-honest means: According to The Trace, the handgun she was inexpertly holding was a left-over exhibit from a case the couple litigated against its manufacturer, which involved faulty guns.
These aren’t righteous warriors protecting their homes, or even people who appear to care much about the Second Amendment: They’re terrified, vindictive charlatans who’ve done battle with everyone they know. It’s probably that quality, more than the lip service they pay to the Castle Doctrine, that makes them such good symbols of the suburban Republican Boomer under siege. And the RNC knows exactly how to use people like that.