The gloriously incompetent 1776 Restoration Movement has gone from humiliation to humiliation, as they struggle to connect with a disinterested public and are trolled online and in real life.
When the People’s Convoy of truckers collapsed in May, not everyone wanted to go home. A tiny remnant coalesced around David “Santa” Riddell, a middle-aged Proud Boy, who promised radical action. He would lead a massive convoy into Washington, DC.
Calling themselves the 1776 Restoration Movement (1776RM), this faction, never more than a couple dozen strong, relocated to a parking lot in Bunker Hill, West Virginia. Nearly all the trucks left, leaving the convoy reduced to mostly passenger vehicles covered in QAnon messaging and American flags.
The main issue that animated the orginal convoy disappeared too, as covid mask and vaccine mandates were lifted by the courts.
Santa and his motley crew aimed for something different, an end to democracy and a restoration of a “constitutional republic.” This meant returning the country to the 19th century.
While the People’s Convoy had been more egalitarian, 1776RM was firmly under the control of Santa, who determined what they did, who could stay in the compound and what they believed.
The Office Meets January 6th
The difference between their wild ambitions and their parking lot existence became a source of mirth for me and thousands of others following the #1776RM hashtag on Twitter. They live-streamed on YouTube everything they did, from their morning meetings to their trips to Walmart.
Channels like Just a Lazy Gamer and Meanwhile sprang up to document this comedy of conservative failure, providing clips of their infighting and incompetence, sort of like The Office meets January 6th.
1776RM constantly fell victim to trolls. The camp got excited when an anonymous benefactor promised to deliver 100 Subway sandwiches. All day they talked about these sandwiches; none arrived. A scammer promised that he would lead trucks from Texas to join them, if only they would send him money. He took their money and mocked them. The camp thought they booked evening entertainment with a band called “Johnny Troy and the Hayseeds” that unsurprisingly did not exist.
I mocked them as well, dipping into their chats to make fun of the constantly vaping Santa, their bucket-pooping (finding toilets has been a problem) and their inability to learn.
None of this mattered because every day brought a new hope, another slim reed, Santa at his morning meeting sharing yet another Facebook story about someone who heard from someone else that another convoy was coming.
Watching this, it seemed preposterous. People were sitting in a tent next to a noisy highway as Santa said that the parking lot would soon fill with hundreds of trucks. How could anyone believe this?
It didn’t matter what Santa said. He could’ve promised reinforcements from the Moon and people would’ve stayed.
Why? They wanted to believe.
Followers Are Leaders
Cults are not about the leader, they are about the followers.
It was the women that drove the movement. They were the ones who organized the meals, booked the fake bands, printed the flyers and brought in the portable toilets. Santa merely provided the inspiration for all this volunteer work.
People join a cult, not because they’re enthralled by a leader (who is often quite ordinary) but because a cult provides meaning and a sense of community.
To the outside world, 1776RM looked like a bunch of white people living in tents next to a highway. But to people inside the cult, they were key players in a battle of good against evil.
After months of planning, they finally took action on July 4th, when they used their cars and trucks to briefly block interstates in Maryland and Virginia. Santa promised that they would be on the national news; they weren’t. They barely made the local news, lumped together with another group that blocked the Beltway that day too.
That night, they celebrated in their parking lot, recounting the details of their highway blockade like it was a great battle.
On July 6th, they drove their motley collection of vehicles into Washington and parked in front of the National Gallery of Art. Thinking that they had gotten away with blocking the highway, they would now occupy DC.
I went down there to confront them. I live in the city. I saw the Trump mobs on January 6th. No way was I going to let that happen again.
But when I saw them in person, it was such a pathetic arrangement that I said nothing. A dozen or so vehicles and some old people sitting on benches, livestreaming each other – that was the 1776 Restoration Movement. It looked dull and pointless, a blip in the life of a busy city of 700,000. If you don’t know anything about them, you’d just think they were another weird protest group.
After I left – it was too hot for that nonsense – Santa was arrested by the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD), who calmly walked him away and took him into custody, prompting a paroxysm of rage among the sedentary 1776RM. He’s wanted by Maryland for blocking the highway.
Santa was released the next day and got to experience the classic reunion with his followers outside the courthouse moment, something that is a staple of the local news. Drug dealers, murderers, politicians – there’s always that shot of them walking out of the courthouse and into the arms of friends and family.
Santa told his followers about how well he was treated and that he talked to the detectives for hours. They really understood, he said. Very naive to talk to the police, for the legal system is not done with him; he faces charges in Maryland.
1776RM is incompetent but it also contains dangerous elements. Two of their most prominent livestreamers took part in the January 6th attack on the Capitol; one of them called the insurrection amazing.
The livestreamers make money from online donations. These online supporters think that Trump will return to office, that DC is nothing but a movie set and that 1776RM should go free the January 6ers held in the local jail.
Protesting the Protesters
I’m not the only who hate-follows 1776RM.
Later in the week, a pair of brave incredible women went to protest the protest, standing near the 1776RM folks on the Mall and heckling them for being insurrectionists.
While 1776 RM had spent months yelling at people with bullhorns, they couldn’t take a dose of their own medicine. Getting up from their lawn chairs, they yelled at the women and lunged at them, trying to drive them off. One of the more unhinged members of the group, Xray, slapped at one of the women.
I watched all this all unfold on the livestream. Once my work day was over, I rushed down there, arriving just in time to see Xray arrested. “I’m going to Hains Point! I’m going to Hains Point!” he shouted, as the Park Police took him away. Hains Point is where the Park Police jail is located.
Xray was released a few hours later. This doesn’t mean he’s not in trouble; it just means that the police aren’t holding him in jail.
For their next action, 1776RM surprised me. They walked somewhere. I didn’t think these car-campers were capable of it. Leaving their vehicles behind, they marched to the White House with a banner. Then they read their grievances with a bullhorn, shouting across Pennsylvania Avenue at a couple of uniformed Secret Service officers.
While they were gone, MPD towed away Xray’s truck for investigation, prompting him to freak out and do the unthinkable for a member of this movement: go dark. After turning off his livestream for a few hours, he resurfaced in an undisclosed location, in the woods somewhere, ranting about being targeted by the CIA.
I can’t believe I know so much about these idiots.
Fortunately, the 1776 Restoration Movement is falling apart like the People’s Convoy did. Disorganized and fundamentally lazy, its members are drifting away while Santa and others are dealing with legal problems.
Yet, the need for meaning in American life remains. Another right-wing cult will take its place because the followers demand it. They are just waiting to coalesce around a new leader and resume the struggle that gives meaning to their lives.
UPDATE: Trolled again! Another amazing woman took over one of the group’s livestreams and shared some truth with viewers.
“They’re protecting child molesters.”
— Meanwhile (@Meanwhile007) July 13, 2022