Who Invited the McCloskeys?
Overall, the first night of the Republican National Convention took a surprisingly serious tone. Senator Tim Scott (R-NC) delivered a fantastic keynote address. The president himself had a pretty solid night. Even Charlie Kirk, the young-blood death rattle of Boomer-brand conservatism, was surprisingly polished and tolerable.
But it wouldn’t be 2020 if there weren’t a few stellar flashes of absurdity. Gavin Newsom’s ex-wife doing her best impression of Winston Churchill as a Miss America contestant is a serious candidate for the evening’s most ridiculous moment. But Monday’s crown jewel has to be the recorded address of Mark and Patricia McCloskey, two personal injury lawyers who rose to national prominence for waving guns at protestors outside their home in St. Louis earlier this summer.
The husband-and-wife team are perhaps the two most recognizable faces to emerge from the civil unrest of the last two months, after George Floyd himself. To the left, they have become figureheads of white privilege, stomping in front of their enormous mansion with a clear threat of violence against peaceful demonstrators. To the right, meanwhile, they have become folk heroes: honorable Americans exercising their Second Amendment rights to defend their home against a legitimate threat.
When St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kimberly Gardner—who has a well documented history of political bias and activist prosecution—brought felony charges for unlawful use of a weapon against the McCloskeys, conservative passions intensified, and such prominent Republicans as Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO), Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt, and even President Trump rushed to declare their support for these valiant home defenders.
By all appearances the charges were bunk, as Mrs. McCloskey’s handgun was inoperable at the time she was sticking it in people’s faces, and Mr. McCloskey was rather more restrained in wielding his rifle. But there’s still good reason for conservatives not to hitch our wagon to the McCloskeys’ horse—just because they’re not racist criminals doesn’t mean they’re not malicious idiots.
Virtually every public statement the couple has made clashes with some demonstrable fact of the actual event. Their central claim is that they were genuinely afraid because protestors tore down the gate to their private neighborhood. They have even circulated images of the damaged gate to support this allegation. But this version of events is contradicted by video evidence, which shows the marchers proceeding through an open, undamaged gate.
So too is Mark McCloskey’s assertion that “the only thing that kept those mobsters, that crowd, away from us is that we were standing there with guns.” But the group had a predetermined destination: they were on their way to protest outside the house of Mayor Lyda Krewson, who had just publicized the names and addresses of people calling for police reform. The video shows just that: as the marchers first turn onto the street, they actively swing away from the McCloskey’s property, clearly on their way somewhere else. It is only when the couple rush out, weapons in hand, that demonstrators turn toward them and begin to verbally engage.
To say that they rushed out is an understatement: Mark McCloskey can be seen on the porch with his rifle almost immediately upon the group’s arrival. It calls into question his claim that the couple “weren’t concerned about it until it got up to the point where the Kingshighway gate was and [they] realized there was no security, no police, nothing to keep them from coming in.” In fact, he has contradicted himself directly on this point, readily admitting that he had the rifle waiting just inside the door well in advance of the moment protestors reached the gate.
Likewise, Patricia McCloskey claims that the reason these two people, and only these two, were taking action against the protestors, while police stayed unresponsive and a neighborhood security guard stood inactive just down the street is that the guard “would have been scared to death.” A photograph by Laurie Skrivan of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch shows that same security guard, smoking a cigarette, casually (and politely) holding open a gate for the demonstrators as they exit the neighborhood on the other end. Scared to death? Not quite.
When we take the whole picture into account, it doesn’t look heroic (the right-wing narrative) or villainous (the left-wing narrative)—it just looks ridiculous. Nothing dangerous was happening, and no sensible person would have thought otherwise. (Just ask that security guard.) They charged out of their mansion—Mrs. McCloskey, for her part, looking genuinely unhinged—to fend off an imaginary foe. Mr. McCloskey’s grave demeanor throughout the episode suggests that he takes himself very seriously in this battle with the “out-of-control mob.” But a barefoot, Brooks-clad Don Quixote is probably not the hero we need right now.
This wasn’t just a moment of panic, either. The couple have a history of this kind of behavior that goes back much farther than the June 28th protests. The Post-Dispatch has documented a decades-long record of over-aggressive territorial claims and irrational hostility toward perceived offenders. This has most often manifested in a profligate slew of frivolous lawsuits, but at least once before Mark McCloskey has pointed a gun at a neighbor who stepped on a plot of grass which (get this) McCloskey didn’t even own, but claimed by squatter’s rights.
It would all be laughable if waving guns around at people wasn’t, you know, dangerous. What is laughable is the couple’s speech for the GOP convention—both the fact that it happened, and the content of the address. Mrs. McCloskey led with a dire warning: “What you saw happen to us could just as easily happen to any of you who are watching from quiet neighborhoods around our country.”
I’d like to ask her: What exactly happened to you? People walked past your house. (The horror!) Whatever followed couldn’t actually happen to any of us because the rest of us don’t go around brandishing handguns at pedestrians! (Now, before anybody gets mad at me for calling the protestors “pedestrians”—no, I’m not really on their side, either. I’m of the opinion that more than one person can be wrong at any given time. In fact, I’m of the opinion that most people are wrong at any given time.)
Once they had sufficiently credentialed themselves as “that couple with the guns,” the McCloskeys launched into a full-throated defense of suburbia against alleged attacks from the left—single-family zoning reform, defunding the police, etc. It’s a fairly straightforward attempt to court suburban votes that Trump is worried about losing to Biden in November. But it’s hard to imagine a more tone-deaf way to go about it.
What lunatic of a party operative thought that the best way to win over average people was to commission two ultra-wealthy, childless lawyers to broadcast to our screens from their Italianate mansion, stoking fears about Marxist revolution—a threat that disappeared before much of the voting public was even born—urban anarchy spilling into gated neighborhoods, and the dangers Joe Biden poses to the American family? They seem just as reasonable here as they did during the gun episode—that’s not a good thing. And their appeals to defend some shared way of life aren’t exactly bound to resonate with that portion of the public that does not live in Gilded Age estates constructed by the Busch family.
The McCloskeys are a meme: we know who they are because Mark was barefoot, overweight, and overdressed, and Patricia had a crazed look in her eyes, an inability to take her finger off the trigger, and a wardrobe to match the Hamburglar’s. Nobody—especially nobody on the fence about November—takes the “righteous home defenders” spin seriously. Who did the RNC expect to win over by treating the butt of an internet joke as serious advocates in a presidential election?
If they’re our best hope of defending the American way of life, I’m not too optimistic about our chances. And if they’re any indication of the way of life we’re defending—well, let’s just say I’ll be slower to the trigger than the eager Mrs. McCloskey.