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.
I was there with my camera. I didn’t have a picture of Trump. For all four years of his administration, he hid behind walls and phalanxes of Secret Service agents, never interacting with the real city. He rarely even left the White House, which he turned into a fortress during the tumultuous year of 2020.
Flashing red and blue lights appeared, blocks away. His post-presidential motorcade was smaller than expected. When he was President, motorcycle cops blocked intersections for his progress through the city, trailed by media trucks, communication vehicles and an ambulance – all the trappings of empire, roaring through the city as a helicopter hovered protectively overhead.
Now, he was reduced to a motorcade of just six vehicles, escorted by a couple of cops with lights and sirens, fighting their way through Friday night traffic on L St.
The black SUVs didn’t look much different than the Ubers that had been dropping off passengers at Shoto, the fancy sushi place across the street. People continued to come and go from the restaurant, Washingtonians accustomed to the continuous presence of sirens in the city.
Only a cluster of Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) officers at the side entrance of the Hilton were a clue that a VIP was arriving.
When Trump emerged from his SUV, I couldn’t see him, though he was less than a hundred feet away – far closer than I ever imagined. It was dark and he was surrounded by agents and his entourage.
I glimpsed a hunched figure and a shock of orange hair. I clicked away but none of my photos came out, so I shouted, “Fuck you, Trump!”
During this whole scene of yelling and sirens, a hotel staffer in gray had sat on the curb playing a game on his iPhone, ignoring everything. Amazing.
There is no better city for people-watching than Washington, DC. The arrival of Trump was high tension – me and AP keyed up, police officers in protective mode and bystanders suddenly pausing on the sidewalk.
But once he was inside, everyone relaxed. Not knowing that he would ramble for more than an hour in front of the Concerned Women of America on subjects diverse, we waited for his return.
We had a very interesting discussion with the MPD officers about crime, drugs and kids. Drivers kept pulling into an empty parking spot near the side entrance, oblivious to the massive security presence, and then getting annoyed when the police waved them off.
A couple of tourists came up to us and asked us what was going on.
“Trump is inside,” AP said with careful neutrality. To say his name is the ultimate litmus test. There is no neutrality; everyone has picked a side.
“Oh god,” they replied. They hated him.
And they were so excited to have the ultimate Washington experience of seeing an ex-President and his motorcade.
The police had come to attention. Lights and sirens were being turned on, there was activity around the side entrance.
“Stand back,” I told the tourists. “It’s about to get loud.”
Anarchy Princess fired up the speaker on her cart. If you’ve been to anti-Trump protests, then you know this song, the chorus of which now echoed off the buildings of L St.
Fuck Donald Trump
Fuck Donald Trump
Yea, yea, fuck Donald Trump
I didn’t even try to get a photo this time; instead, I concentrated on my yelling and obscene gestures. The motorcade went right by me, the orange head of Trump behind a window, just feet away. They made a left on 15th St and the sirens trailed off.
“Well, that was exciting!” the tourists said.
Anarchy Princess packed up her gear. She was going to follow Trump to his second speaking engagement of the evening in Woodley Park.
I was going home. Satisfied. Ever since witnessing the Trump mobs on January 6th in my neighborhood, in my city, I’ve wanted payback.
And I got a small measure of it on that night on L St.
The pro-January 6th “prisoner vigil” outside the DC Jail has long been a comedy of right-wing dysfunction but it reached new heights of ridiculousness last night.
George Santos came to visit Freedom Corner and the chuds demanded action from him, as if the Congressman could do something about judges and juries delivering long prison terms to the Proud Boys and other insurrectionists. He’s not going to be in Congress much longer and soon may be inside a jail himself.
He was far more interested in the newly-famous Anarchy Princess and crossed the street to get a selfie with her. After she trolled Peter Navarro with a “Trump Lost” sign, she’s rocketed from zero Twitter followers to more than 44,000 in less than two weeks, and you’ve probably seen her all over your TV, especially if you watch MSNBC.
As Santos left, he was heckled by another powerful woman, Patricia Eguino, who taunted him about his future in prison. She is currently an ANC Commissioner but will one day be Mayor.
"An embarrassment to New York!" yelled DC Commissioner Patricia Eguino (D) (who was a counter-protester at the Capitol on January 6, 2021) at Rep Santos as he left the DC Jail.
"I flipped the seat that your party failed to keep!" Santos replied.
But the evening was not done yet. One of the chuds, Jericho Steve, recently assaulted Anarchy Princess outside the United States Courthouse where the J6 trials have taken place.
This was an assault that was seen on CNN and recorded from multiple angles. The chuds came to DC more than a year ago with the 1776 Restoration Movement yet they still haven’t learned not to film their crimes.
He got a late night visit from Park Police investigators, who seized the flag pole that Jericho used to assault AP. All this talk of standing up to the deep state but he just wilted when confronted with a pair of officers.
America can sleep easier now that the flagpole that Jericho Steve Girard used to assault @SatireAP is is custody of the U.S. Park Police.
The encounter was helpfully filmed by the chud known as Meatwad. Yes, the same Meatwad who inspired AP to troll Peter Navarro leading to her viral fame. He rode on a train for 26 hours just to get back to DC for this moment.
You can’t make this shit up. To add a new character this late in the second act, and make him so central to the drama, is such a brilliant turn that not even Shakespeare could pen. This is why Freedom Corner has such a devoted audience (of trolls) who follow along at #freedomcorner.
And let’s not forget the voodoo. Earlier in the day, Biketifa chalked a series of curses on the sidewalk at Freedom Corner designed to upset Jericho Steve and the others. It did.
And then a few hours later, the police showed up at Jericho’s van.
So maybe I was wrong about chalk. It can hurt you. Voodoo is real. The chalk never lies.
As I watched all of this unfold last night on Twitter and YouTube, I thought: this is only 2023! What kind of craziness will arrive with 2024 and the most consequential election of our lives, when America will choose between democracy and tyranny?
UPDATE: Sept 14, 2023
Things can always get weirder on Freedom Corner. The night after the Santos stunt, Congressman Matt Gaetz arrived. Unlike Santos, he was willing to appear on camera and gave a short speech on releasing the J6 tapes (do they really want that? It would be a boon for Sedition Hunters.)
Gaetz didn’t spend more than five minutes there but the ubiquitous Meatwad managed to get in the shot several times. He is the Zelig of Freedom Corner.
What happens when four friends bike for six days in Europe?
Let’s find out! Joined by my friends Rachel, Shira and Neeraja, I recently completed the Amsterdam to Bruges on Wheels trip through Natural Adventures.
Day 1: Amsterdam to Bodegraven
After a hearty breakfast, we rolled out from Amsterdam. While the trip was booked through Natural Adventures, it was fulfilled by Dutch Bike Tours who provided hefty Juun bikes that we would come to know far too well. Each bike had a handlebar bag and a side pannier. The bikes had wheel locks and chain locks.
Bike touring is hugely popular in the Netherlands. At our hotel, we met some Canadians who were doing the same trip we were doing. We’d see them over the next six days, hopscotching each other as we rode. There was also an Italian couple who we met that first day, all of us paused at a crossroad trying to decipher directions.
Biking in the Netherlands is easy and safe. Dutch Bike Tours provided us a printed guide for each day. On the back of the guide was a series of numbers: 85, 17, 23, 44. These corresponded with the bike routes that we had to take. We had also loaded the routes into Ride with GPS and Strava to ensure that we stayed on track.
Dutch Bike Tours transported our luggage from hotel to hotel; all we had to do was bike.
Once we got out of Amsterdam, cars disappeared. We were in a quiet, serene world of canals, windmills and farms. It was how quiet everything was that I would remember most from this trip.
We had our first little splash of rain (a recurring theme of this trip), went over our first ferry and were entranced by a hand-operated bridge over a canal, the four of us filming as a young family got off the boat, raised the bridge (it had a massive counterweight), motored forward, and then lowered the bridge.
Day 2: Bodegraven to Dordrecht
The next day was the worst day.
We awoke to pouring rain. My handlebars had gotten progressively wobblier the first day. I thought we could fix it ourselves (Rachel brought a bike tool) but we couldn’t seem to tighten the stem. After calling Dutch Bike Tours, we rode to Gouda (pronounced Gow-da) where they said we could find a bike shop to fix it.
I rode through the rain, my handlebars loose and floppy. I had to be careful turning because my front wheel would go one way and the handlebars the other. When we got to Gouda, I had to jump off my bike as the wheel went sideways.
After stopping at two bike shops, neither of which could fix the Juun, we called the company: they’d bring a replacement at 1.
We passed the time wandering through the beautiful medieval streets of Gouda and visiting the Gouda Cheese Experience.
My bike was delayed so it wasn’t until near 4 PM that we got on the road again. We had thirty more miles to do. While in Gouda, we had all purchased new rain gear to cope with the steady Dutch downpour.
I was glad to be rolling again but the weather was a miserable mix of rain and wind. All of us got cranky. At one point, I thought we were close to the hotel. When I was told it was another six miles, I almost lost it. Only finding a half-eaten stroopwaffle in my raincoat kept me going. I ate it under a bridge as the rain poured down.
To add insult to injury, the sun came out once we reached the hotel.
Day 3: Dordrecht to Willemstad
In retrospect, I’m glad the worst day was the second day. After that, I was thankful for any non-raining moment and confident I could handle anything that the Netherlands could serve up.
It was a dreamy bike day. After biking through the tranquil green spaces of De Biesbosch National Park, we stopped for lunch in the cute market town of Zevenbergen. Like nearly all Dutch towns, it has a car-free city center full of shops and historic churches. We bought more clothes (it was in low 60s for much of the trip) and lingered over coffee.
After lunch, we biked to Willemstad, a fortified town built inside a seven-pointed fort with thick walls and a harbor filled with pleasure craft.
We went to a creperie for dinner, virtually the only customers. All of the Netherlands seemed to be on holiday in August. A lot of places were closed and finding open restaurants was a challenge.
Day 4: Willemstad to Schuddebeurs
This was the day of wind.
The country had been growing steadily more remote as we traveled south and then east from Amsterdam. We rode into hefty winds blowing off the North Sea as we traversed narrow causeways lined with massive windmills spinning in the stiff breeze.
But it was not raining. I was happy to pound away into the wind as long it was sunny and dry.
We were now in Zeeland, land that the Dutch had wrested from the ocean, much of which was below sea level and protected by massive dikes.
During the trip, we stayed in all kinds of hotels, from self-service modern places along the highway to historic inns with winding spiral staircases.
The Hostellerie Schuddebeurs was the most interesting of all. Surrounded by farmland, the hotel is secluded among trees that form a barrier against the constant wind. A historic manor (it is more than three hundred years old), it is renowned for its restaurant. I had the best piece of salmon I have ever had in my life – and that was just the appetizer! It was a tranquil respite from the tour.
Day 5: Schuddebeurs to Vlissingen
By this point, we were seasoned bike travelers with a steady routine. The four of us would meet for breakfast at eight, where we would eat as much as possible (the breakfasts were all delicious on the tour). On the first day, I had laughed at Rachel for packing herself a little sandwich from the breakfast buffet for later but now I was a devotee of the idea. I had an emergency cheese supply in my handlebar bag. You really can’t eat enough on a tour.
We’d roll out at nine. By now, we were unfazed by the rain and stopped in the village of Zierikzee for pictures of the historic port.
Then we had the 5k long Zeeland Bridge to cross, which the guidebook described as having “stunning views over the Oosterschelde on both sides.”
When we reached the bridge, it seemed to stretch out into the open ocean, with swirling whitecaps below.
An ambulance crew was parked at the foot of the bridge, removing a cyclist who had been knocked over by the howling gale that was blowing perpendicular to the span.
We decided to walk but then, halfway across, threw caution to the wind (literally) and biked the rest of the way.
The great thing about the Netherlands is that all the bike routes are safe. Even average bike infrastructure there is nicer than anything we have in the United States. We changed our route to get away from the foaming sea.
After a ferry ride (and an encounter with the Canadians, who looked refreshed since they were on e-bikes), we reached the charming village of Veere, which was once home to Scottish wool traders. We also initiated a new tradition: the afternoon waffle.
This was a really interesting day for outside of Middelburg, the capital of Zeeland, we rolled through housing developments which looked like American “new town” suburbs but without the crushing weight of cars and innumerable parking lots. Instead, people used bikes, buses and trains. And it was so quiet.
Then it was an easy roll down a canal to Vlissingen, a town that looked rough and industrial until we got to the beach. It was Florida on the North Sea, with people playing volleyball and a few hardy swimmers wading into the ocean. We had dinner on the beach under glorious skies.
Day 6: Vlissingen to Bruges
The day began with a minor mechanical issue on Neeraja’s bike. I stood around and watched as Shira and Rachel fixed it.
After some confusion (we couldn’t figure out how to get across a canal), we rolled our bikes onto the ferry to Breskens. Bikes were kept on the lower deck and secured by a clever little knotted rope.
We were all anxious to get to Bruges so we ignored the meandering directions along the coast for a more direct route, stopping in Sluis for lunch and Damme for the requisite waffle break, leaving the Netherlands and crossing into Belgium. Only a slight difference in the road signs told us that we had entered a new country.
After donning our rain gear for one final shower, we pedaled into Bruges, arriving in glorious sunshine.
An ancient market town (home to the world’s first stock exchange), it had its golden age in the 14th century as a trading center. Known as the Venice of the North, it is criss-crossed by canals.
And it is absolutely beautiful, like rolling into a Medieval dream as we reached the market square at the heart of the city.
We were all very, very ready to get off the bikes.
So, we decided to climb some stairs, going to the top of the Historium Tower for a photo opp.
After dropping off the bikes at the bike-themed Hotel Velotel, we went back into the heart of Bruges for a delicious dinner (and chocolate) to celebrate.
Every great adventure has its challenges, if only to make the reward that much sweeter. I will never complain about the rain again. Here’s what I took away from the experience:
The Netherlands is a heaven for cyclists but it’s also paradise for walkers, runners, kids, families – everyone. It’s a country that didn’t pave every square inch but made the conscious decision to use buses, trains and bikes instead. This makes Dutch towns safe, quiet and pleasant. We could bike side by side and talk, not worrying about cars.
I pictured leisurely rides through the European countryside; this was much more difficult, due to the wind and the rain. Rachel, Sheera, Neeraja and myself are regular cyclists used to doing distances but this was a challenge. 30 miles doesn’t sound like much until you bike against 30-mph winds.
It was a remarkably affordable trip, averaging around $200/day, including hotels, luggage transfers, the bikes and meals.
I had never been on an overnight bike trip with other people but the Bike 2 Belgium crew got along really well. There’s something about a shared adventure that brings people together.
On the last day, I wanted to get rid of those hefty Juun bikes but I also wanted to keep going into France. I’m already thinking about my next bike adventure.
The Anarchy Princess video is a simple tableau: a woman standing up to a grabby man. With her shades on, AP cooly holds her “Trump Lost” sign out of the reach of Navarro, adding the rejoinder, “Bro, you’re already facing charges.”
After a judge ruled against him in his criminal contempt case, former Trump advisor Peter Navarro attempts to snatch a "Trump lost" sign from a protester at his press conference.
Two people in a frame. A famous man and an unknown woman expressing her First Amendment rights.
It’s such a simple video that no explanation is needed. You can see it on screen: a man is trying (and failing) to bully a woman.
But there’s a lot of backstory behind this seemingly simple moment.
Navarro had just lost his court case on executive privilege. He was one of the architects behind the January 6th coup attempt, author of the notorious Green Bay Sweep designed to disenfranchise millions of Americans and install Trump as President for Life.
She had seen Meatwad, a Freedom Corner regular, hold up a pro-January 6th sign up during a live broadcast and decided to duplicate the idea when Navarro came out to address (and insult) the media.
But you don’t need to know any of that, because the video itself tells the story: a woman standing up to a powerful man.
You don’t need sound to understand the AP video. A flustered man turns around and tries to grab a sign while a woman holds it out of reach. A simple conflict captured in a few seconds of video.
The same is true for my viral video. Part of its success was due to the framing. Filmed by Skyflyer Channel 8 News (who isn’t credited), it presents me seemingly alone on a red bike standing up against a phalanx of Proud Boys.
This is a visual language that we understand from movies and TV shows. The lone hero.
Of course, this is a simplification, because just out of frame are about forty police officers on bikes. And a couple of other hecklers. But we don’t see that, for the video is taken from my perspective, over my shoulder, as if you’re the one facing off against the fascists.
This is the most important element to going viral.
As soon as I saw AP’s video, I knew it was going to go viral. It was simple, visual and inspiring. She won her little battle with Navarro and he looked like a fool.
“This girl is AWESOME” was one of the early comments. And then the video took off, going from C-SPAN to the Republican Accountability Project to the Young Turks, getting amplified by almost the same set of channels which blew up my video in May.
There is a hunger for inspiring videos. We want to see good triumph over evil. We want to see the January 6th coup plotters and Trump dead-enders punished.
The AP video provides encouragement for all who stand up against fascism. It tells people to be brave. It shows that anyone can be a hero.
You Can’t Make a Viral Video
When I rolled up to the Patriot Front on a red bike, I expected to see Anarchy Princess yelling at them.
When she wasn’t there, I decided that I needed to represent. I live in DC and saw what happened on January 6th. No way are we going to let fascist groups march through the city unhindered again.
I didn’t know I was being filmed. Going viral was a complete surprise.
In addition to being simple, visual and inspiring, viral videos capture something ineffable in the zeitgeist. They connect with an unexpressed need in the audience. They are creatures of the moment, like fireflies, magical and briefly luminous.
You can’t make a viral video. But you can make videos that are simple, visual and inspiring. The audience will make them viral – or not. They decide how to make a viral video.
Well, it’s over. For real, this time time. With a typically dramatic video, the kind that long-time viewers of this series love, David “Santa” Riddell announced the end of the 1776 Restoration Movement. He dismissed the board, turned off the auto-renewal membership grift and dismissed the national team.
The reasons are many. Since being driven off the National Mall a year ago, the Christofascist cult has struggled for relevance, and has resorted to increasingly desperate schemes to gain attention, like live-streaming the birth of a new #1776RM member.
Yes, you read that correctly. A #1776RM organizer filmed herself in a tub giving birth while a crawl at the bottom of the screen encouraged donations to her Cash app.
Meanwhile, elderly members of the group drove around the country in an RV, stopping in small towns to sit in lawn chairs and wave flags. This was their outreach strategy. Trolls online called it the “Traveling Old Folks Home.”
Viewers Got Bored
But even the trolls, the most devoted #1776RM viewers, got bored, feeling that the series lacked the conflict and drama of the National Mall occupation in the summer of 2022. They moved on to mocking Freedom Corner, a more dangerous little group of insurrectionists.
On Twitter, I posted a “looking back” series of tweets from a year ago, during the group’s heyday. It’s amazing comedy. The poop bucket, “Your car’s on fire!”, “Penis-shaped picture of my mom,” the nightly battles against trolls and each other – no wonder it was such a highly addictive series to the thousands of people around the country who tuned in to see the latest twists and turns of this soap opera of right-wing dysfunction.
It was something you couldn’t explain to others, lest you be seen as the crazy one. “Biketifa saw Flopper so he started flopping around on the ground while Anarchy Princess yelled, ‘Flop, flop, flop!'”
Filled with memorably dumb characters, absurd fuck-ups and wild turns of phrase, it didn’t seem real. My conspiracy theory is that it was the work of the greatest improv comedy troupe in history. Why else would people film their own humiliation?
It would make a great Netflix series. And maybe it will one day.
Twitter is full of #1776RM memes and songs – and there is more, much more, hidden away in private forums, a whole community of folks devoted to satirizing the fascists.
It Was the Friends We Made Along the Way
So, maybe it was the friends we made along the way? It certainly provided entertainment to me, and meeting some of the trolls online and in-person was a plus. #1776RM brought together people from wildly disparate backgrounds for the purpose of chud mockery.
The trolls won. And now there is a network of folks experienced in disrupting fascist groups. Good preparation for 2024, and what will be the wildest election year of our lifetimes.
It’s been three years since I published LIKES, my little book of short stories about social media obsession.
LIKES began as a pandemic project in 2020. Suddenly without a social life as covid shut the world down, I searched for something to keep me busy.
After publishing THE SWAMP, a novel about Obama-era DC, in 2017, I had been working on short stories. I’m one of those people who always needs to be writing something; I find it relaxing.
At the beginning of 2020, my short story Apartment 101, appeared in the City Paper Fiction Issue. I thought I could put together this story and others into a collection of DC tales and self-publish them like I did THE SWAMP.
What should be included? Which should go first? How long should the book be?
My stories went into a folder in my computer and then I copied and pasted them into a Word doc. After moving them around, I noticed that there was one theme I kept coming back to: social media.
There was a story that I liked – Twitter Famous – that I wasn’t going to include because it was set in FL and not DC. But what if I changed my book into a collection of short stories about the perils of social media?
I deleted Apartment 101 and put my social media stories together.
Feeling that attention spans had been shattered by the internet, I wanted the book to be brief. Not a big novel that would scare people. Something that non-readers would read.
At the time, I had a little more than half of the stories in LIKES. I wrote and tweaked some more to fit, such as Avocado Toast.
Likes, the story that I conclude the book with, was written last, after I had settled on a title. I played around with a couple of different titles before concluding that the book was about the pursuit of social media fame. Or likes.
I had read about the perverse incentives built into Facebook and Instagram, these rat puzzles of rewards that we mindlessly contribute to, and I wanted to write something about how those incentives were initially devised. Thus, my story Likes, which goes back in time to show how the trap was set.
Designing the cover myself, using a photo I had taken during the Georgetown Glow neon display, I published the book in print and Kindle in August 2020.
Little did I know that reality would imitate art and that I would go viral like one of the characters in my book. And that the experience of going wildly viral (or fungal, as a friend said) would lead to a lot more people reading my little book about social media.
Which is why art is so important. Creating LIKES not only occupied my mind during the dark days of 2020, it was a vote for the future, and whatever it might bring.
Covid was still a part of the national conversation. Vaccine requirements for work were still in place and masks were required in many public places – including airplanes.
“End the mandates” rang out as a convoy of trucks and cars headed across the nation toward Washington, DC. This was the People’s Convoy, a copy of the right-wing movement that had originated in Canada.
But not everyone was ready to go home. A couple dozen formed a new group, the 1776 Restoration Movement, vowing to do what The People’s Convoy couldn’t: shut Washington down.
After a month of fundraising, and being trolled, #1776RM as it became to be known on Twitter, blocked a few lanes on the Beltway and then moved into DC to “occupy the lawn.” They would sit in lawn chairs and sleep in their cars along the National Mall until the constitutional republic was restored.
One year ago today, I wrote about them for the first time, amused by the contrast between their mighty goals (ending democracy) and plebeian existence (pooping in buckets).
It was a real-life case study of how cults form and dissipate. Watching them bicker and fall apart, I wrote:
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.
Which is exactly what happened. Most of the #1776RM cultists left DC. The few that remained joined a new and more extreme cult: Freedom Corner. This group of insurrectionists chant the name of Ashli Babbitt nightly outside the DC Jail as they demand freedom for convicted January 6th terrorists.
Freedom Corner is more threatening than #1776RM ever was. Their leader was arrested for assault, they prompted a prison brawl and they’ve attracted unstable individuals like Taylor Taranto, who was recently arrested in the woods behind Obama’s house. Before joining Freedom Corner, he was a member of #1776RM.
Freedom Corner is being torn apart by the same kind of infighting that doomed the 1776 Restoration Movement. As these right-wing cults grow more extreme, they grow smaller and more paranoid, until they’re left with just a few loyal adherents mumbling to themselves, trapped in a conspiracy-soaked world of their own creation.
I was a Twitter early-adopter, after seeing it demonstrated at SXSW in 2008. I was skeptical, at first (what is this for?) but quickly fell in love. Early Twitter was full of techies and the uber-connected. People shared bug fixes and what they were having for lunch.
It helped me write my first book, Murder in Ocean Hall. Working in coffee shops, I’d post how many words I had written that day. The encouragement I received from others kept me writing.
Like many things in America, all that went to shit in 2016. Trump touched Twitter and it died.
A slow death, the platform becoming ever more poisonous and hateful, an arena for public shaming and organizing online lynch mobs. This is the Twitter I wrote about in LIKES, my book of short stories about social media addiction.
I remained on Twitter, the joy long since gone, but the compulsion remaining.
Threads is the first time I’ve felt social media joy again. It’s shiny, new-toy syndrome but at the moment, Threads feels more positive and real than the bot-choked hellspace that is Twitter under Elon Musk.
Yes, I am replacing one billionaire tyrant for another, the deceptive benevolence of Mark Zuckerberg for the unmasked fascism of Elon Musk.
And I realize that nothing is free, that I am the product, that Zuck is mining my data and preferences to resell for pennies to corporate America.
But if you’re going to use social media, shouldn’t it be fun? And shouldn’t it be Nazi-free?
After going viral for being Red Bike Guy, I received thousands of new Twitter followers. My following on Threads is much, much smaller.
But does that matter? No. For the moment, the interactions are more positive. More real. More like the early days of Twitter before Trump and Elon ruined the platform.
I’m on Twitter and Threads. But one is more appealing. Millions of other users are starting to feel the same. Twitter will drift away like past social networks and ultimately be forgotten.
In the days before January 6th, everyone in DC knew that something terrible was going to happen. Trump supporters had been in the city the month before, when they had run riot through the streets, vandalized a church and beat up people they believed to be Antifa.
I had seen it myself, witnessing a group of Proud Boys threaten teenagers on Black Lives Matter Plaza. Only the presence of the police stopped the Proud Boys from assaulting the teens.
In the days before the sixth, there were threats all over cyberspace, with maps of the Capitol posted and talk of weapon dumps. They weren’t hard to find, either – threats had been posted to Twitter and shared with the FBI and other agencies.
On the day of the sixth, Mayor Bowser ordered people to stay indoors for their safety, since violent Trump mobs were expected downtown. Everything was boarded-up and nearly everything was closed (except for greedy hotels hosting the rioters).
What happened next was a failure of imagination. The Capitol Police couldn’t imagine that a mob of people who looked just like them would attack, despite all the evidence submitted to the contrary.
History has repeated itself with Freedom Corner, the nightly vigil outside the DC Jail where January 6ers chant the name of Ashli Babbitt and demand the release of prisoners from the “gulag.”
Again, citizens have done the detective work. Reported to the police, FBI and other agencies that January 6th terrorists had organized the protest, were steeped in Qanon and had stalked and attacked counterprotestors.
Ashli Babbitt’s mother Micki Witthoeft got close to livestreamer Anarchy Princess as they arrived at the jail.
AP gave her the finger, and Witthoeft swiped her hand and pushed her away by the backpack.
So, it was no great surprise to anyone who has been watching Freedom Corner that Taylor Taranto, who has been hanging around DC since last year’s trucker convoy, was arrested for threatening President Obama. Those kinds of threats are a nightly occurrence at Freedom Corner.
You didn’t need to be a counterintelligence officer to figure it out, either. All you had to do was follow #freedomcorner on Twitter and you could watch Taranto live-streaming himself (video saved by Anarchy Princess) stumbling through the woods behind Obama’s house.
The leaders of Freedom Corner now claim that Taranto was never part of their movement, despite the hours of footage showing him there; he even marched in the Memorial Day protest for Ashli Babbitt.
Freedom Corner claims to have kicked him out. Which they did, but not because he was a violent psycho, but because he gave an interview to DOA and stated his belief that Ashli Babbitt was still alive. Being violent or crazy won’t get you kicked out of the cult; being a heretic will.
It’s time to take Freedom Corner seriously. They are a nest of traitors seeking to foment another insurrection. And they are spinning off terrorists like Taylor Taranto, who they motivated to violence through their nightly cult rituals.
Taranto isn’t the only violent member of Freedom Corner – far from it. If you look at the vigil, you can see a couple of other Tarantos in the making. Let’s hope that the police do something about it this time.
I didn’t even know that I had been filmed. I thought the cameras would be on the fascists, not me.
We looked through the video. It was hilarious, the way that @mrsminthrope2 had edited my insults together, added captions, and closed on, “You like General Custer’s illegitimate son.”
By Saturday evening, it already had tens of thousands of likes and hundreds of comments and reactions.
Should I identify myself? In the video, I was labelled as Red Bike Guy, for I was riding a red Capital Bikeshare bike.
As I read the comments with Neil and Rachel, delighted by each one, we realized it was too late. The threaded comments went from “Who is this hero? He must be protected!” to “That’s Joe Flood!” with a link to my Twitter account.
My anonymity was gone.
“You’re a well-adjusted introvert,” a friend once told me, correctly summarizing that while I could do very extroverted things, I needed my alone time.
Sunday morning, I felt overwhelmed by the attention. Lying in bed, every time I opened Twitter, there were 20+ notifications. I was gaining followers by the thousands. The TikTok video had been posted to Reddit, shared and shared again, with me frequently tagged. Comments were pouring in.
The day before, I had considered creating a TikTok account to thank people for their encouragement, but the video had some many comments that it now seemed impossible to respond them all.
I decided to go for a bike ride, a long leisurely ride down the Potomac River to Old Town Alexandria, using my personal (non-red) bike.
What I like about biking is that it occupies your brain completely. As long as I was moving, I didn’t need to think about my loss of anonymity as I became Red Bike Guy.
My Twitter account had grown from 2k to 10k, with a similar increase in Instagram. Suddenly, I had thousands of new followers from around the world. Should I still share my hyper-local interest in DC-area bike trails and sandwiches?
I decided to use my powers for good, and to share places in DC which people may not have seen, like the lovely Frederick Douglass Memorial Bridge.
Though not in real time, for suddenly I was more conscious of my security.
While I had written a book about likes, and had an earlier (and much smaller) brush with going viral, it was the intensity and duration of the online storm that surprised me.
I was featured on Washingtonian Problems, a funny Instagram account that focuses on life in the nation’s capital. The story had gone from being an online curiosity and had escaped out into the real world.
And into my world, for many of my friends, neighbors and past colleagues subscribed to Washingtonian Problems. Thank you’s poured into my Instagram.
I had thousands of new Twitter followers, one of whom was a producer with the Rachel Maddow show, who got in touch with me for an interview.
We talked for about fifteen minutes about my experience on the Mall.
I didn’t think it would be used on the program but watched anyways. And, suddenly, at the very end of the hour, my words were splashed across the screen as Rachel Maddow said my name again and again.
It was the most surreal experience of my life.
But the week was just beginning.
I’m fortunate to be surrounded by an excellent network of people.
Key among these people have been my friends Neil and Rachel who have gone on this journey of viral fame with me. It’s good to know people who are techies and designers. I’ve known them for years and we operate as a mutual support system.
Excited at my new celebrity, they set up a web site for me, RedBikeGuy, and Rachel created an amazing logo and t-shirts so that fans could share in the fun. (And if you like tarot, check out her cards on Etsy.)
And I got my first, “I know you from the Internet!” as I shopped at CVS.
After being interviewed for a great article in The New Republic, I was contacted to appear live on CNN.
Me? This is CNN?
A car picked me up and took me to the studio near Union Station. I was not nervous for I was just so fascinated by every element of the process (this will all be great content for a future novel, I thought). They put me in a room with lights and a camera as I responded to questions over an earpiece from Sara Sidner in New York.
My dad asked me if I had ever done public speaking training, for I was so clear and concise. I hadn’t but, in a way, my life had prepared me for this moment.
My career has been in communications, so I know that reporters demand prompt responses. I’ve been a freelance writer so I know how to construct a story. Also very helpful was my volunteer work with the DC Shorts Film Festival, where this introvert had been thrust on stage more than once. Talking to a packed theater as you wait for ballots to be counted is much scarier than appearing on a remote shot.
Another good PR lesson is to have a headshot and a bio handy, in case of viral fame. At the start of the week, I took a selfie with Capital Bikeshare, anticipating that reporters might need it. I noticed too that reporters mined the about page on my web site for more information about me.
A friend asked me if I would make a Capitol Hill bike ride. I was going to be out of town, however. “A retweet will do,” he replied. LOL. I was wanted just for my new-found fame.
After a day of all this media attention, I went to a Greek place to relax. I was sitting outside eating a gyro when my heart stopped.
Mark Hamill had tweeted about me. That was the thing that really got me, sending this craziness to a different level. I had been endorsed by Luke Skywalker.
Later, I went to meet friends at a cocktail bar where I was greeted, not as an alcoholic, but as a minor local celebrity. One of my friends mentioned that her mom had seen me on CNN at 2 AM. My story was being run and rerun around the world.
“I forgot how the Internet worked,” Neil said.
Our RedBikeGuy t-shirts had been ripped off almost instantly, with the designs duplicated and sold on other web sites. Neil sent takedown notices.
I was leaving town, on a pre-planned trip to Florida, turning down a chance to appear on MSNBC to see my family.
In my email were a bunch of other requests, including the offer of a cape.
National Airport is the best airport in the country (people in DC don’t call it Reagan National). Located just off the Mount Vernon Trail, you can bike there, with a Capital Bikeshare station next to the parking garage.
I packed light so I could ride a CaBi to the airport. Getting on one of those familiar red bikes for the trip, I heard, “Are you him?”