writer, photographer, web person from Washington, DC.
Author: Joe Flood
Joe Flood is a writer, photographer and web person from Washington, DC. The author of several novels, Joe won the City Paper Fiction Competition in 2020. In his free time, he enjoys wandering about the city taking photos.
drink 7 cups of coffee (or another fall-type beverage), and
document your coffeeneuring (either photos, Strava tracks, journal entries, control card, etc.).
I’ve been doing the Coffeeneuring Challenge for years. I wildly ambitious plans for Coffeeneuring 2022. I was going to take epic rides to new coffee places far outside of my home of Washington, DC. In the end, that didn’t happen.
But I still got to bike a lot and drink great coffee. I lived the Coffeeneuring Dream.
Date: October 21 Distance: 11 miles Bike: Brilliant Cooper Coffee: Philz
A beautiful fall day with some disappointing and expensive coffee at Philz in Navy Yard. The great thing about biking in DC, however, is running into people you know. It’s much easier to stop and chat while you’re on a bike versus being in car. While I was by the Anacostia River, Ted and Jean rolled up and said hello. They were also busy coffeeneuring on a mild October day.
Date: October 23 Distance: 9 miles Bike: Brilliant Cooper Coffee: Compass
One of the habits I picked up during the pandemic was crossing the river for coffee on Sunday mornings. For long stretches of 2020, you weren’t allowed to dine indoors in DC so I’d bike to Virginia so I could be inside with coffee. My route takes me over the Potomac River and close to Teddy Roosevelt Island, where I stopped and took a walk.
Date: October 30 Distance: 7 miles Bike: Brilliant Cooper Coffee: Compass
I went back to Rosslyn the following Sunday, not realizing that I’d have to cross the path of the Marine Corps Marathon! It was a beautiful ride down streets closed to cars and the fog-draped Key Bridge. But then a river of people to cross, an endless stream of runners in Rosslyn. Fortunately, this Virginia city has skyways, relics of a 1970s-era scheme. I carried my bike up a set a steps, over a pedestrian bridge, and down the other side.
4. Logan Circle
Date: November 2 Distance: 3 miles Bike: Brilliant Cooper Coffee: The Coffee Bar
The problem with going out for coffee in DC is that sometimes there’s no place to sit. The Coffee Bar is a super-cute neighborhood coffee shop, an Instagram dream in fall with the changing leaves, but its photogenic nature means that it’s often full of people taking photos and drinking coffee when I want to take photos and drink coffee. I had to sit on a park bench.
5. Del Ray
Date: November 4 Distance: 15 miles Bike: Specialized Sirrus Coffee: St. Elmo’s
I have two bikes: a belt-driven, three-speed Brilliant Cooper (aka Belty) which I use for short trips and a Specialized Sirrus (the real bike) for longer ones. I took the Sirrus to the Del Ray neighborhood in Alexandria, VA. I love this route for it takes me down the Mount Vernon Trail, which was absolutely peaking with fall color.
6. Rock Creek Park
Date: November 10 Distance: 26 miles Bike: Specialized Sirrus Coffee: Firehook
The Capital Crescent Trail – Rock Creek Park Loop is an incredibly popular one among DC-area cyclists. The Capital Crescent Trail is a rail trail that runs from Georgetown to Bethesda. From there, you take city streets down to Rock Creek Park, which winds its way back to DC. During the pandemic, the National Park Service closed Beach Drive in the park to cars. They recently announced that it would remain closed – a victory for the people!
7. Downtown DC
Date: November 19 Distance: 6 miles Bike: Brilliant Cooper Coffee: Puro Gusto
Free is the most beautiful word in the English language. Pure Gusto, an Italian cafe, sent me a coupon for a free drink. Perfect timing. On a frigid day, I biked by the Downtown Holiday Market and then got a cappuccino.
That’s a wrap for Coffeeneuring 2022! Here’s to another great year of biking and drinking coffee! It’s a great way to stay busy during these cold months and discover new coffee places.
Revisit the hope and despair of 2020 with the Black Lives Matter Memorial Fence Artifact Collection at the MLK Library in Washington, DC.
If, during the dark days of summer 2020, you had told me that the protest signs covering the fence around the Trump White House would one day be in a museum exhibit, I would’ve been surprised.
Surprised that we were still alive, that museums existed and dissent was permitted.
None of which seemed certain in June, 2020, after Trump had Black Lives Matter protesters beaten in Lafayette Park in Washington, DC.
Trump Builds a Fence
I had seen the fence go up. Trump felt afraid, even after flooding the city with thousands of paramilitaries, so a fence was built. Not just around the White House, but the whole complex, stretching from 15th to 17th St and from H Street down to Constitution Avenue, putting public spaces like Lafayette Square and the Ellipse behind chain-link.
As the fence was constructed, armed yahoos faced off against BLM protesters on 16th St.
Armed yahoos – I have no other way of describing them, for they were men in riot gear, but no identifying badges or IDs, clad in a mish-mash of khaki vests and jeans.
To this day, I have no idea who they were. The city was full of mysterious armed men in a variety of uniforms. Supposedly for security. Unlike January 6th, the National Guard protected the Capitol and the city’s monuments and memorials. Blackhawk helicopters thundered over my apartment building, making it feel like I lived in Baghdad.
On June 5, 2020, Mayor Bowser painted Black Lives Matter on 16th St in yellow letters so large that they were visible from space.
The Fence Becomes a Memorial
And the fence along H Street, built for Trump’s protection, became a platform for expressing opposition to the regime. Soon it became covered in signs, every BLM march adding more, until the signs were so thick that you could no longer see the White House.
It was known as the Black Lives Matter Memorial Fence. BLM protest groups gathered here before marching up 16th St, led by a go-go band on a truck. Victims of police violence came to memorialize their losses. Americans who grieved for what their country had become attached their hand-made messages to the fence.
Black Lives Matter Memorial Fence was a tourist destination, a place for solemn reflection, our version of the Berlin Wall. Sometimes, photographers would bring stepladders so that they could peer over the fence and get photos of the dictator trapped in a prison of his own creation.
As documented in the exhibit at the MLK Library, Trump mobs tore down the signs on several occasions. They were replaced. During the “stop the steal” rallies in November and December 2020, Proud Boys vowed to destroy the fence. When the police blocked off the streets, the thugs attacked random people and vandalized a church.
When Biden’s victory was announced on November 7th, it was where DC came to celebrate. I had been at the Wharf at the time and by the time I reached BLM Plaza, it was jammed with thousands of people. I watched people drinking champagne and taking gleeful selfies. On the spot where I had seen armed yahoos face off against demonstrators, a shirtless man stood on a bus platform, leading the crowd in chants. It was one of the greatest days of my life.
The Fence is History
After Biden’s inauguration, the fence came down. DC had Lafayette Park back, as I wrote in The Washington Post.
The signs that covered Black Lives Matter Memorial Fence were preserved and are now on display at the MLK Library in Washington, DC.
They look so neat and clean in the quiet, climate-controlled library. When viewing the exhibit, the outcome seems so certain, that Trump would lose, possessing the quality of inevitability, like other civil rights struggles.
But it was anything but certain, as anyone who lived through 2020 can tell you.
Early in the book, he describes the visit by President Kennedy to the country in 1963. The ultimate Irish emigrant who did well somewhere else, the Irish were bewitched by his glamor and sex appeal. Mad scenes were reported across the country as Irish nearly trampled the President. And the contrast between the youthful American leader and the elderly Irish leaders is striking.
During his visit, Kennedy says, “Most countries send out oil or iron, steel or gold or some other crop, but Ireland has had only one export and that is its people.”
But what if Ireland didn’t need to export its people? What if young Irish could find economic opportunity in Cork and Dublin rather than New York and London?
Deciding to Stay
O’Toole’s parents were part of the generation that decided to stay, rather than emigrate. This was despite the stultifying hold the Catholic Church had on the country, which ruled in matters large and small, from who could get divorced (no one) to what plays could be performed. Most Irish writers lived abroad, for they could find a freedom in England or Italy that they couldn’t find at home.
And underneath the traditional, thatched roof view of green Ireland hid an a archipelago of Catholic horror, from industrial schools for poor children to Magdalene Laundries for wayward women. This was institutionalized slavery and sexual exploitation. According to the Church, what went on in these prisons was not sinful; telling the truth about them was, for it undercut the faith among the believers. We Don’t Know Ourselves: A Personal History of Modern Ireland uncover this habit of “compartmentalizing” these unspoken horrors in Irish society.
When I was in Ireland, I visited the Irish Workhouse Centre. Poor people turned themselves into the workhouse when they had no money. Families were separated. Men, women and children worked manual labor (like breaking rocks) for their daily gruel. And this wasn’t just some Dickensian-era cruelty; the workhouse was still operating in the 1920s.
This was around the time my Flood ancestors left the country. In America, we like to think that immigrants are in search of abstract causes like freedom. But, for my family, it was probably emigrate or starve.
What Would Ireland Be?
The Irish leaders of the 1960s – the “conservative revolutionaries” of the Easter Rising and the Catholic Church – realized that the country had to change before the population collapsed.
But if Ireland modernized, what kind of country would it be? West Britain? An American outpost? Part of Europe?
The answer: all of the above.
Ireland has inescapable trade links with the United Kingdom, a constant exchange of people and goods. In the 1980s, American investment arrived, with call centers and manufacturing plants blossoming around the country, during the short-lived Celtic Tiger days. (O’Toole has a very funny chapter on the excesses of the era, like the Riverdance phenomenon, when Irish-Americans shamelessly fused tradition with rock and roll into a global sensation.) And Ireland has worked hard to be accepted into the European Union, despite the skepticism of fiscally-prudent Germany.
We Don’t Know Ourselves: A Personal History of Modern Ireland ends with a country that is very different from the one that my family fled. The power of the Catholic Church is no more. The veterans of 1916 are just memories. Brexit has flipped old animosities around, with the possibility that Northern Ireland opts out of the UK and returns to the EU through union with Ireland.
And a power shortage, too. Power cuts are expected this winter, as Europe struggles with the economic turmoil created by Putin’s war.
But it’s a place where you can cross the country in a modern train in three hours. And sit in a Cork bar with the band so close that you can reach out and touch them while you drink a five euro Guinness surrounded by French teens practicing their English.
Ireland doesn’t need to export its people anymore. Instead, the world is coming to Ireland.
What Europeans don’t understand about America is that we’re no longer the brash, confident Reagan-era country that they remember. Instead, we’ve become two nations – Red and Blue – with vastly different politics, cultures and outlooks.
A European friend described to me an American experience that puzzled her. She wore a mask to the Grand Ole Opry, not wanting to risk getting other people sick.
Virtually alone in her mask, she got dirty looks from the elderly folks in the audience.
Because wearing a mask is a signifier of Blue America. It means that you “follow the science” and believe that covid is real. You must certainly voted for Biden and are pro-abortion. Wearing a mask is a provocative act in the Red State of Tennessee.
Traveling around the country, you’d could determine how an area votes just by the presence of masks. Not just between states but within them as well. Washington, DC, where I live is very pro-mask and never votes Republican.
Yet, if I travel south across the Potomac, the masks disappear and they won’t reappear again until I get to a blue dot of a city like St. Petersburg, FL.
It’s like that with every issue in America now. There’s a red side and a blue side.
You see it news stories, like how a mural upset parents in Michigan. In an innocuous piece of art, some parents saw Satanic symbols and dangerous support for diversity. In a public forum, these parents harassed school officials and the young artist until the mural was changed.
“Local mob censors student artist,” would be the headline from NPR if this was any other country. It would be an example of how intolerant other countries are – but not us, the enlightened United States. It’s hard to admit when you’ve become the primitives.
How can this be America? Footnotes are needed explain this story to non-American audiences:
Rural areas in Michigan are heavily Republican (Red).
The Republican Party has been taken over by QAnon.
QAnon is a conspiracy theory that blood-drinking global elites are trying to impose a liberal world order through media manipulation, vaccines with tracking chips and other nefarious means.
QAnon is like a religion in which adherents see signs and symbols everywhere, from the currency to middle-school murals.
Parents with QAnon or conservative beliefs want to dictate what gets taught in schools, seeking to eliminate unpleasant facts like slavery from the curriculum.
And one more: The Cruelty is the Point.
What kind of person humiliates a kid in a public forum? Because that’s what parents did, as they stood up to condemn a teenager.
The Republican Party no longer has a platform. Cruelty is the only thing that remains. The cruelty is the point.
If you’re a Republican, you want to punish “enemies” like transgender kids, Biden voters and mask-wearers at the Grand Ole Opry, all in an attempt to roll back the clock to an America that never existed.
That’s what Europeans don’t understand about America. The brash, Reagan-era country that tore down walls and took on an evil empire is no more.
We’re two countries now. A Blue America that is tolerant and democratic. A Red America caught in conspiracy theories.
Washington, DC, has enjoyed Capitol Bikeshare (CaBi) for twelve years now.
It allows me to live downtown without a car. Surrounded by Cabi stations, I use the system constantly. It’s the easiest way to get around DC and it allows you to make more trips to do more things than you ever could do with a car.
Here’s how I’ve used Capital Bikeshare :
Multimodal Commuting: For years, I took the Metro to Silver Spring. But the first part of my trip was a half-mile ride on bikeshare to the U Street Metro. Twice a day, I would be on a CaBi.
Commuting Bail-Out: During my commutes, when the Metro would break-down, I’d bail out, exit the station and get on a CaBi to continue my journey home.
Recreation: With a bike always available on the corner, I’ll take CaBi down to the National Mall to see the sunrise or just to ride around the neighborhood.
Coffeeneuring: Bikes and coffee is a lifestyle and there’s a biking challenge that celebrates this: Coffeeneuring. It’s an annual, international affair where riders are challenged to ride to seven coffee shops over seven weeks.
Bike to Bar: Sometimes I’ll bike to a bar and then walk or Uber home. No worries about a DUI that way.
Bad Weather: While I do love CaBi, I have real bikes, too! But if the weather is rainy or nasty (like when the city coats the streets in salt before snowstorm), then I’ll let CaBi get dirty instead of my real bike.
Night: I also prefer to use CaBi at night because they’re so big and bright, even the highest driver can see them.
Safety: Drivers seem to notice me more when I’m on a Cabi and treat me better. I’m not a “cyclist”; I’m a person on a bike when I use a CaBi.
Theft Avoidance: I kept my bike once locked up overnight outside Union Station and someone slashed the tire trying to steal it. Now I take CaBi to the train station.
Airport: Biking to DCA is a dream! You make a left off the Mount Vernon Trail, go through a tunnel, and you’re at the airport, with a convenient CaBi station right there. And the ride home at night past the monuments is breathtakingly beautiful.
Rewards: The short-lived Bikeshare Angels program was perhaps a little too good, allowing riders to rack up too many rewards. The new rewards program is not as generous but you still get rewards like e-bike credits for taking bikes to places where they are needed.
These are just a few of the ways that I’ve used Capital Bikeshare. I genuinely like the bikes. Their wide tires and heavy frames seem ideal for the potholed streets of DC.
One downside of CaBi is availability. I’m fortunate to live in the flat part of the city. Those uphill see their bikes disappear downhill and then they don’t always come back. Capital Bikeshare trucks bikes back uphill to meet the demand but it’s a constant struggle.
Despite this, given the crowded roads and Metro mishaps, Capital Bikeshare is still the most reliable transportation system in the city and one that deserves increased investment from city leaders.
Cults are defined by language, according to Montell, which only insiders can understand. Scientology has terminology like valence and thetan that is baffling to outsiders. This is by design, a secret knowledge that only cult members can access.
Language is also a way of identifying the elect. For example, right-wing groups refer to themselves as “Patriots.” Anyone who supports this movement to overthrow the government is a “Patriot” while anyone who opposes them is “Antifa.”
Calling yourself a “Patriot” makes anything possible, even attacking the Capitol. Or as “Patriots” might call it, a normal tourist visit.
Cultish also makes the point that there’s no such thing as brainwashing. There are age-old techniques at manipulation and peer pressure but even in Jonestown, not everyone drank the koolaid. Followers argued with Jim Jones, even after years of indoctrination by him. Some were forced into suicide while others ran off. People retained their free will.
Fortunately, most cults never reach this point. Most just fall apart due to their own internal splits. Followers don’t always follow.
The 1776 Restoration Movement has split into three factions:
Santa. After being evicted from their West Virginia parking lot/squat camp, the erstwhile 1776RM cult leader “Santa” went to Ohio, where he has filmed videos describing a fantastic organization that doesn’t exist while his elderly mother does chores in the background.
The Patriot Q Faction. The QAnon members of the group leased land in the WV mountains, which they intend to improve into a terrorist training camp/Country Bear Jamboree for fellow “Patriot” groups who want to storm the Capitol again.
The J6 Cult. Those without the means or will to leave the DC area have joined the cult around January 6th prisoners held at the DC Jail, where they harass corrections officers and make a nuisance of themselves.
The Human Cost
On this blog, I have mocked the 1776ers for their fumbling attempts at treason. Watching them on YouTube, it seemed like the craziest, dumbest reality program ever.
Yet, if you look behind the drama of the livestreams, their lives are appallingly sad.
Before 1776RM, these were folks who had jobs, family and indoor toilets – all of which they have lost due to their association with the cult. Early on, cult leaders put out a call for people to sell everything and join them in the name of freedom – and some did.
One woman cashed out her 401K and quit her job to join the group; now she’s semi-homeless. There’s photos of another 1776er online, showing him happy and partying with friends; he now shambles alone through the woods, muttering to himself, like a live-streaming Sasquatch.
Others have been tangled up in legal complications for assaulting counter-protesters or seen their online reputations destroyed by association with the group.
This is the wreckage of the 1776 Restoration Movement, a swirl of human flotsam left in the wake of this right-wing movement.
The people who joined this group were not brainwashed. They joined willingly. Most left months ago, for practical reasons or because they decided that the cult wasn’t for them.
The tattered remnants of 1776RM, who haunt the streets of DC with battered, flag-bedecked vehicles, can leave at any time. They retain their free will. All they have to do is turn their cars around and head home.
While I confidently wrote the obituary of the 1776 Restoration Movement, it never actually ended!
Storming off saying, “I quit!” would be the end of most things but for cult leaders, it’s just another tool in the toolbox. Leaving or threatening to leave is a way to keep followers in line by forcing them to contemplate the bleak life that awaits them once the shared hysteria comes to an end. Better to stay in the security of the cult than risk a shattering return to reality.
The Christo-fascist 1776 Restoration Movement didn’t end but instead splintered and splintered again, growing progressively smaller and moving to increasingly remote locations, like the woods of a campground and their West Virginia basecamp/parking lot.
And after being evicted from the National Mall, cult members have drifted away, the leaders exiting with their ill-gotten loot while the followers try to regain their health after ingesting rat poop.
The dregs of the dregs have remained in the DC region, attaching themselves to new cults, like the vigil for January 6th insurrectionists at the DC Jail or just shouting at people from street corners.
There would not be a 1776 Restoration Movement without YouTube. Live-streaming is a way of life for the cult. They are 100% dependent on it to get their story out into the world, connect with followers and, most importantly, raise money.
To watch one of the 1776RM livestreams is like PBS pledge week, with constant appeals for “superchats” and “buy me a coffee.” except the money is going for gas and vape juice. Easy money if you’re a popular streamer. No wonder they are so attached to the grift.
It’s also a way of inflating their importance. During encounters with the police, the 1776ers would tell the officers, “I have 2000 people watching this right now. Do your job!”
Does YouTube care that they’re empowering civil war? No. Unless you’re violating copyright or doing something completely illegal you have free rein to livestream whatever you want.
The next insurrection will be televised. I can picture it now: thousands of livestreamers, iPhones aloft, storming the Capitol as YouTube profits from the end of democracy.
Protect Your Mental Health
The experience of having the 1776ers in my city made me a little nuts. I became obsessed with the wannabe insurrectionists, actively working toward their failure.
I was not alone. This was a Live Action Role Playing game (LARP) where you got to play a character in a titanic struggle of good against evil. The 1776ers were fighting to save the country while the counterprotesters were combating an evil, pedophile cult.
Talking to friends about this, I sounded like a fanatic, as I described the outlandish characters and ridiculous situations of this real-life soap opera.
“Remember, you have more to lose than they do,” a friend reminded me. Unlike the insurrectionists sleeping in their cars, I had indoor plumbing, air conditioning and cable TV.
Also, I think the pandemic made everyone a little nuts. Telling people to stay inside and worry for close to two years did terrible things to this nation’s collective psyche. The loss of routine, relationships, sunlight and income unhinged this country.
Now that the plague is over, and people realize that they’re not going to die, everyone wants to fight, looking for payback for the things that they lost during the shutdown.
Or maybe just to feel human again, after so much time with only the digital world for company. Suddenly, people have a desire to connect, even if it’s only a fist connecting to a face.
The 1776 Restoration Movement came to a dramatic end on August 3rd in Washington, DC.
It wasn’t the followers who deserted the leader but, instead, David “Santa” Riddell announced that he was leaving his own cult. Condemning their infighting and lack of discipline, he rose dramatically from his lawn chair to paraphrase Davey Crockett with the announcement that, “You can go to hell, I’m going to Ohio.”
After less than a month of protest in DC, it was suddenly over, as Santa picked up his chair and left, leaving his followers glumly and silently in the dark.
The Christofascist cult that was the 1776 Restoration Movement had failed. Who defeated it? Suspects include:
1. The Trolls
Life was easy on the National Mall for the 1776ers before the trolls arrived. The Park Police let them sleep in their cars and basically camp in front of the National Gallery of Art, in violation of park regulations.
Waking up in the morning, the 1776ers would climb out of their vehicles for a free breakfast as they enjoyed a spectacular view of the sun rising over the Capitol. There would be a brief “activity” like walking around with their anti-government signs and then they were free to sit and grift for money, live-streaming themselves sitting in chairs as the donations rolled in. Then more eating, a Santa lecture, karaoke and to bed in their air-conditioned cars.
While they had been trolled before by counterprotesters, they were not prepared for the unholy alliance of Defender of Ants and Anarchy Princess. Circling the camp in a van, Defender sang, “This is how legends are made” before assailing the 1776ers individually with specific and personal insults. A veteran of the People’s Convoy, he knew and hated the 1776ers for the unforgivable sin of sheltering sex offenders in their group.
Santa knew he had violent pedophiles in 1776RM but he justified keeping them in, claiming that he knew best. He would not renounce or expel them.
Anarchy Princess, from the left of the political spectrum, was a figure so triggering that all she had to do was walk by the 1776 camp to get them in an uproar. They believed that she was a witch (“witchtifa!”) and blamed her when one of their cars caught on fire.
Rounding out this Suicide Squad (how they referred to themselves), were additional convoy veterans like Jersey Jay, Freedom Squirrel and Lori Arnold. They hated Santa and his squalid cult for turning their freedom movement into a joke, referring to the 1776ers as the “1776 Retirement Movement.”
The night belonged to them. The 1776ers could not stand their nonstop mockery and begged the Park Police to do something about it. The Park Police set up a designated protest zone, where Defender and friends yelled insults for hours, ensuring that the 1776ers got no sleep.
2. The 1776 Restoration Movement
The 1776 Restoration Movement’s greatest enemy was the 1776 Restoration Movement.
On the final night before the cult dissolved, Santa said, “I can’t fight you and the government.”
Meaning that managing the lazy, entitled and hotheaded members of the movement was an impossible job, like herding cats, but some of the cats were religious zealots while others are drunken felons. All were incompetents, easily triggered by trolls and constantly falling prey to scams.
Under pressure from the counterprotesters, one of Santa’s “security team” attacked Defender and was arrested. Another one assaulted one of their own livestreamers – an ally of the movement. The 1776ers tried to intimidate their critics by zooming out of darkness on rented scooters, everyone yelling, shouting “Scootertifa!” and live-streaming themselves, with the police trying to keep people apart, like an episode of Reno 911 but set on the National Mall.
On the final night, the 1776ers abandoned their “back the blue” beliefs to turn on the police, demanding badge numbers and threatening to take the law into their own hands. It took a dozen officers to keep the 1776ers from attacking four counterprotesters who were merely shouting insults from across the park.
3. The People of DC
I’m a street photographer. I love taking photos of this dynamic city, particularly all the protests that occur. Women’s March, Black Lives Matter, Pro-Trump demonstrations, anti-Trump demonstrations – I’ve captured it all.
The one group that ever harassed me was the 1776 Restoration Movement.
“Hello, Joe,” was all it took. A counterprotester said hello to me and suddenly all the 1776ers swarmed around me and blasted a bullhorn in my face. Individually, they are uninspiring, but together they make a dangerous mob.
They acted like the street and “lawn” in front of the National Gallery of Art belonged to them. While they had a permitted spot for demonstrations, they preferred to hang out in the shade near their vehicles. All day they sat there and filmed people they deemed suspicious. “Possible antifa,” they’d say on their walkie-talkies as a tourist walked by their encampment.
Santa created a red-shirted security team to patrol “their” area. At night, they would hide behind trees and follow women around.
They had an enemies list and they doxxed and swatted people they didn’t like, revealing their personal information online and telling the police that they were going to harm themselves.
When the NPS permit came up for renewal, complaints poured in from the people of DC. Topics included their creepy Gestapo tactics, sleeping on the Mall when no else was allowed to, their unsanitary food preparation, their gas cans and piles of garbage, the pedophiles, the kids and dogs they had in hot cars and the fact that they were J6 insurrectionists.
The Park Police then announced that they would enforce the ban on sleeping in cars at night on the National Mall. If the 1776ers were caught sleeping in their cars, they would be arrested and their vehicles would be towed.
This action struck fear into the heart of the 1776ers. Their cars are everything to them, not just transportation but also their homes. They have everything in them – food, clothes, personal items. Without their cars, they are mere pedestrians.
Vehicles are both the strength and weakness of the convoy movement. A dozen people marching is unimpressive; but a dozen vehicles in a convoy is menacing.
If your town is overrun by a convoy, threaten to tow their cars. They will leave.
Who Defeated the 1776 Restoration Movement?
I’m going to say the trolls, who put intolerable pressure on the 1776ers causing them to crack. Who knew mockery was so powerful? You have to love an underdog story, too.
And that people from completely different political backgrounds could come together in common cause is remarkable in this divided time.
I never thought I’d talk amiably with someone in a MAGA hat on the National Mall but that happened. One afternoon, I talked to the trolls, asking them about the People’s Convoy, why it broke up and what happened to the people who were in it (moved on to similar causes). They asked me about what I thought about the 1776ers and we bonded over our shared hate of the layabouts.
The 1776 Restoration Movement did bring people together, but not in ways that they expected, uniting enemies on the right and left and bringing them together in conversation.
The 1776 Restoration Movement has fallen in love with Washington, DC, the city that they vowed to destroy.
Led by David “Santa” Riddell, a Proud Boy, and filled with January 6 rioters, the 1776 Restoration Movement (1776RM) is a right-wing cult that vowed to destroy DC. A remnant of the failed trucker convoy, they first threatened to shut down the city by blocking the highways; Washington was not impressed. They then rolled their motley collection of vehicles into the city, which they intend to occupy until the federal government was abolished and the clock rolled back to 1859 or so.
Instead, they’ve encountered a series of humiliations, from a desultory turnout for their marches to being trolled on their own livestreams.
You Can Always Go Downtown
Despite this, they’ve remained in the city. Why?
Because they’re having too much damn fun. If you watch them on their livestreams (they compulsively stream everything live on YouTube), you can see how much they enjoy life in Washington, DC.
You’re not allowed to camp on the National Mall. But because they’re a “protest” the Park Police have looked the other way. The 1776ers sleep in their cars and monopolize the parking in front of the National Gallery of Art.
Imagine: sleeping for free in DC. Climb out of your car in the morning and enjoy a gorgeous view of the dew-soaked National Mall at sunrise. A couple of elderly ladies prepare breakfast for the group and all you have to do is endure a sermon from Santa. After that, take a stroll up to the Capitol and wave American flags around.
Afternoons are open. Pull your lawn chair into the shade and nap for a while. If you get too hot, get into your car and turn on the AC. Or maybe you rent a scooter and go to theJefferson Memorial.
Hungry? Snacks are available from the coolers in the 1776RM encampment. There are also a number of food trucks nearby, offering gyros, tacos, chicken and burgers. There’s also a cafeteria inside the National Gallery of Art with a gelato stand.
But what about entertainment? If you like people-watching, 1776RM is for you. Camped out in their low-slung chairs, 1776ers watch a nonstop parade of runners, cyclists and tourists being active in DC.
Plus, the trolls! There’s always some drama going on in the 1776 Restoration Movement, from “antifa” protesters like Anarchy Princess coming by to roast the movement to incredibly complex, internecine feuds among various right-wing factions. It’s like Game of Thrones, but for fascists.
All this conflict means money for the livestreamers, who continually ask for “superchats” ($$ gifts) from their supporters watching at home. And nearly all the 1776ers are streaming, everyone pointing a camera at everyone else, to get their share of the grift.
America Loves DC
Now, Santa is threatening to leave because they’re not getting enough people at the protest. They’re down to a dozen cultists.
But they can’t quit The Swamp. It’s way too much fun.
Why go back to ordinary life when you can have a free vacation on the National Mall? Enjoying a beautiful park, taking scooter rides around, getting tacos from a food truck – you can’t do that at home.
Yet, as anyone who has traveled recently can confirm, cities are more popular than ever. Fox News says they’re super dangerous but Americans can’t stay away. In DC, there are lines down the block for museums, vast school groups posing for photos in front of the White House and dinner reservations are at premium. There is so much demand that I’ve been to coffee places that ran out of coffee and bars without beer.
Cities are where things happen. It’s where you go to start a new career, find a mate or just lead a different life. Cities are a collision of differences and out of those encounters spring new ideas that propel civilization forward.
The conservative critique of cities is preposterous. Without its cities, America would be poor and provincial.
Note too that Republicans hate cities yet choose to live in them, being ashamed of their passion for metropolitan life. They can’t stay away.
I can’t quit you….
The 1776 Restoration Movement is no different. Living in Washington is a heck of a lot more interesting than life in the country. Despite their threats, they are not going to leave. They like it too much. The 1776 Restoration Movement has fallen in love with The Swamp.
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 the Capitol Police jail.
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.