CAIRO, IL (TMI) — Somewhere between the hyper-partisan bullshit that pours from the mouth of every shit pundit with a microphone, an American story is emerging, and a choice is beginning to present itself.
A few months ago I was having dinner with a Trump supporter in a hotel lobby in Phoenix, prior to a Turning Point Action event where the former President would be speaking. She was convinced that everyone who acted amiss on January 6th was a bonafide Antifa operative, hell-bent on besmirching the irreproachable name of her beloved Donald John Trump. I tried to explain what I witnessed with my own eyes, but she wasn’t having any of it.
“Trump supporters would never act like that”, she said authoritatively, as though she had been there for every mismanaged manner of action that day. For her, there was no other conceivable explanation. Her President, and those who support him, are perfect in every way.
I’m sure she had hours worth of listening to other people who weren’t there – all of them bolstering her irrefutable belief – but I just didn’t have it in me to engage in any sort of meaningful argument on the matter. In the land of the deceived and the home of the ignorant, no amount of first-hand perspective can compensate for the preponderance of propaganda being force-fed to the public.
The steak was ok, but the conversation was top notch insanity.
I digress. Back to the matter at hand.
Here we are: An imperfect nation, full of imperfect people…waiting for some sort of messiah to put themself on a cross, and save us from ourselves. Regardless of self-proclaimed (or otherwise authoritarian) designation of political persuasion, the yearning for leadership is the only thread of commonality which seems to be holding this country back from going completely over the cliff and falling into the abyss of an anything but amicable Balkanization of the Union.
If the BLM riots of the summer of 2020 taught us anything, it’s that nothing unites a movement quite like martyrdom. The mindless masses love fresh blood.
It’s highly unlikely that George Floyd would’ve had anything to do with some of the more horrific events that followed his death. From my limited understanding of his life, his concerns never seemed to reach beyond the daily struggle which so many Americans share: paying the rent, finding our next meal, and staying out of jail in the process.
I reached out to his family’s attorney, seeking to interview his sister, but have yet to hear back. The search for a wider context isn’t easy, but the American consumer has never been particularly concerned with that level of detail; especially when they’re being incited to act out by the very power structure that placed Derick Chauvin’s knee on George Floyd’s neck. One can only sense that the willingness of the martyr to give their life for a greater purpose is of little historical significance.
It was at the aforementioned rally in Phoenix where Ashli Babbitt’s mother Micki first entered my own perspective of understanding. I can’t recall right off-hand who it was that introduced her. It may have been Rep. Paul Gosar. I could look at my notes. Quite frankly it doesn’t matter; politicians chase death like no other profession. Even a gonzo journalist can’t keep up with that level of opportunistic narcissism.
And besides, amidst the worshipful cries of “We want Trump!”, it is Micki’s humanity that bears remembering, and her daughter’s untimely death at the hands of Capitol Police Officer Michael Leroy Byrd. Yet another tale of American martyrdom; another sacrifice on the alter of freedom and societal progress. It’s a good thing he had three names. The tinfoil hat wearers will stick to that detail with every ounce of their being. It’s easy to dehumanize these events; a perfectly rational course of action in this overstimulated world we inhabit, but after years of watching death, rape, and torture on our TVs, while munching popcorn, goldfish, and whatever the fuck else we stuff our fat American bodies with, is it even surprising that we find people giggling at the murder of a 14 year Air Force veteran, who once gave up her own safety and security to defend this American unexceptionalism?
I suppose the disdain for the veterans who went to the Capitol that day is what continues to disturb me the most. I’ve never given that much for my country, and most of the people who mock those who did, do so from their positions of privilege; paid for with the blood of those who have.
Damn our inability to reflect on the mess we’ve made. Damn our stupidity. Damn our lack of compassion. It’s probably time to learn from the people we’ve lost, and those who feel their absence the most. This very search for understanding has guided my travels for the last three years, but as we watch the social media shit feed continue to tear truth to shreds, this mission…this mandate becomes ever more important.
4 days ago, I found myself in Freeport, Texas, at a small memorial for Ashli Babbitt.
The number of attendees at the Bridge Harbor Yacht Club was nothing extravagant but there was a sense of family unlike any event I myself, have ever attended. The large majority of those who had come to celebrate Ashli’s birthday each had their own stories of loss related to January 6. I myself have spent many an evening weeping at what that ill-fated day meant for the future of our freedom, federal prosecution is but a side-note. An array of speakers professing their hopes, dreams, and of course, their losses; from Tayler Hanson, the red haired, young journalist who held Ashli as she took her last breaths, to her loving husband Aaron, who spoke of the loss of his soul when his wife was murdered that day, the pain in the room was palpable.
Of course there were smiles, albeit pained and defensive; speaking volumes more than the tears of words were able to express. Certainly there was overwhelming sadness, and anger at those who were deemed to be responsible for the loss of her life. A small group of Patriots remembered who she was, how she died, and what her death might possibly mean for the future. Donald Trump sent a message, expressing his unwavering support for the family, and others did the same. Many felt that justice had not been served in the matter, and there was plenty of discussion as to how it could be attained.
Ashli’s mother spoke in a way which only a grieving mother can: with absolutely no fear of any potential for punishment.
“Fuck off and die, Nancy Pelosi,” she said as a matter of fact.
In a world where free speech is being curtailed, and federal agents traverse the country, breaking down doors, her loss has enabled her to speak with no filter. As she told me later, they’ve already taken her daughter; they’ve lost all ability to punish her further.
After the official event had ended, attendees continued to speak to one another. Proud Boys were gathered to provide security for agitators that never showed up, but the solidarity in purpose was supremely evident.
Once the small crowd began to disperse, I found myself drinking Yuengling at a table with Newsmax’s Johnny Tabacco. He was having a cocktail and watching his New York City Giants take on the Dallas Cowboys. The last few years have left me giving zero fucks about football, but I have to admit: watching grown men play a child’s game will always be a nice distraction. I found myself simply enjoying the game, like a Thanksgiving round of catch with my old man.
A few minutes after having a seat I gave comment to his co-host, and founder of Citizens Against Political Persecution, Cara Castronuova, who had set up her camera in the lounge. I’ve never been particularly good at sound byte commentary; I’m far too much of an ent for that jazz. If you don’t know what an ent is, you should probably read more Tolkien. No one is on my side, little orc.
She asked me why I had come to the memorial. I said it was the right thing to do. Ashli didn’t deserve to die that day. Too many people pass judgement from the comfort of their sofa.
Many had already left when the idea of dinner came up. I decided to stay…it only made sense for me to have some food while I was there. Fried oysters and mud bugs; fresh fish and some other sort of breaded goodness was on the menu.
I laughed with Edward Smith, an Irish accented preacher who claimed to be from Idaho, about the silliness of assumption, and the wickedness of the world we live in.
I briefly recounted the tale of my path to gonzo journalism.
Ashli’s mother entered the room, and hugs were to be given to all. Expression of understanding is impossible, but she handled each bereavement with grace and understanding. She walked as an example for us all. She may very well be the best of us.
A few minutes later, she pointedly sat down at my end of the dinner table, where we both came to understand a bit more about each other. I briefed her on how I came to find myself at the Capitol that day, and how I was just down the hall when I heard a gunshot. I told her of my legal troubles. She listened intently, and offered her support.
After losing her daughter, she continues to give.
Micki Witthoeft is a small woman; kind, beautiful, and bold. By nearly all accounts, her daughter Ashli was much the same. Regardless of what some may say about her motivations on January 6th, it would be impossible to argue that she lacked courage. To spend any time in the presence of her mother is to understand where this courage was formed.
As we attempted to converse against a steady wave of well wishers, Micki told me of a dream she had been given; a vision of the future; a message from beyond the grave.
Sometime after Ashli’s death, she had been guided in her sleep to a place where her daughter had been waiting. There she saw her, clear as day.
She was in prison, and Ashli told her mother she had been sentenced to death. Frantically and against all logic, Micki seemed to think the only reasonable course of action was to put Ashli in her purse, safe from this sentence where she could be snuck out of hell, back home to her family, where she belonged. It was at that moment when the purpose of the visit began to coalesce. Ashli wasn’t alone. There, in the prison with her, were the dozens of others who now begged for their mother to release them.
With no previous concern for those who were caught up in the trap that day, Micki found a new purpose: Political prisoners must be set free. America is better than what we’ve allowed it to become.
I took her dream to heart, with full understanding of how crazy some may believe it to be. I told Micki that anyone who doubts her authenticity in the matter is quite welcome to fuck right off. We shared some nervous laughter at the thought.
So now, as I write from the place where the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers join, I ponder the direction of America. Something about this point, where Jim and Finn had sought to find freedom, has me pondering greater consequence. It’s easy to think of the things that divide us, like a river which splits as we all swim headfirst, against the current. It may be convenient to think about separation and secession, but perhaps we are going about this all wrong. America has always been a confluence of culture; a place where separate identities and past experiences meet to form a common identity. Perhaps the path to freedom isn’t about fighting the current. Perhaps we would be better served by coming together and finding our place in the natural progression of things. With an open eyed understanding of what we stand to lose, maybe it’s possible to follow our destiny and become one mighty river, unabated in it’s course to the freedom of the open sea.
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