The Big Hunt is a Ghost

The Big Hunt is closed forever

Unlike Donald Trump, Joe Biden and Kamala Harris patronize restaurants in Washington, DC.

Recently, they got takeout from Ghostburger, a pop-up burger joint near the Convention Center.

If they went a few blocks west, they could’ve visited a real ghost: The Big Hunt.

This used to be a mainstay of the downtown bar scene, filled for happy hour during the week and for football on the weekends. It was a grungy, 90s-era place decked in a fake safari motif, with jungle murals painted on the walls and tiki torches.

Sprawling over multiple levels, it had a basement with a low ceiling where I once went to an epic Halloween party. Another time, I got dragged down there to see burlesque – one of those happy chaotic moments you’d find at the Big Hunt.

It was not slick, it was not polished, it was wonderful.

And unfortunately it closed during the Covid Shutdowns of 2020, giving up their lease in October of that year.

Yet, like a ghost, it lingers on Connecticut Avenue, their unlit sign facing the  busy street. Peer in the window and it looks the same, though battered and neglected, almost as if you could wipe down the counters and start serving beer again.

Covid accelerated trends which were already in effect, sending DC’s nightlife east to 14th Street. And sending its white-collar workforce remote. The offices that went sent dozens of young staffers to the Big Hunt for birthday parties and going-away celebrations are empty most of the week.

Mayor Bowser aims to change that. She wants the feds back downtown. The new Republican Congress wants federal workers back at their desks, too. People in the rest of the country are probably puzzled why DC is still remote.

I recently started a new government contractor job. Everything was remote, including the orientation. Gone are the days where you dress up for your first day of work, meet your coworkers and go to lunch. Instead, you login to your computer and get to work.

Which was fine by me, a seasoned professional, but if I was just starting out, I would feel very disconnected. What’s the point of working in a city if you’re not in a city?

Human contact is important and new workers are being cheated out of the downtown experience, that close collision of people and ideas, often fueled by alcohol.

Not that I want to return. I’ve had my fun. But I wouldn’t begrudge others the chance to connect with peers, coworkers and friends, to build meaningful and engaging moments. That in-person exposure to new experiences is how growth occurs.

The Big Hunt is a ghost on Connecticut Avenue, a reminder what was lost and is still missing three years after covid struck Washington, DC.

All the Light You See is from the Past

ALL THE LIGHT YOU SEE - ALICIA EGGERT
All the Light You See by Alicia Eggert

“When was that?” is the most common question you hear in our post-pandemic era.

The years of 2020/2021 are a blur of memories, a kaleidoscope of boredom and panic with the first days of Covid Time crystal-clear (remember the empty grocery store shelves?) but later periods inaccessible, like a hard drive that has been wiped clean.

What was I doing in 2021? There was the intimate horror of January 6th in DC and then a long blank spell until a Sunday morning in March when I biked across the city to Rosedale Recreation Center to get my J&J vaccine.

I can picture the gymnasium with precision. A socially-distanced line of folks waiting to get shots. A check-in station with a pair of health workers. Nurses at desks. “Do you want the shot in your left or right arm?” And then a fifteen minute wait as I looked around the scene, a sense of relief settling over me: at last, life could get back to normal.

Of course, it never did, for the days lost to Covid Time were gone forever.

I recently went on a walking tour of Georgetown Glow, the outdoor public art exhibition featuring light installations alive in the darkness.

This isn’t the first year for Georgetown Glow. I’ve seen it in other years and I recalled one winter when they had pieces along the C&O Canal, reflecting off the still water.

“When was that?” I asked the curator, for I could not recall the year. We were standing outside an installation called the Butterfly Effect, which were big glowing butterflies placed in front of Grace Church.

Was it before the pandemic? During the pandemic? Did Georgetown Glow happen in 2020 or 2021?

The time just slid away, as if years had been stolen from me. Thank god for Flickr, where I keep my photos. I was able to check there. They had art along the canal much further back than I realized: 2015.

And looming over the present is the fear: what’s next? I certainly didn’t expect that Donald Trump be President, a pandemic would shut down the world or that fascists would attack the Capitol.

That’s a lot of Black Swan events. And all in year: 2020.

Last night, I met friends at Martin’s Tavern. It’s a Georgetown institution that’s been open since 1933. You can sit in the booth where JFK proposed to Jackie Bouvier.

Martin’s is a neighborhood spot, tourist destination and an old rich white people playground all in one. And it was absolutely packed on a Friday evening, with people on all sides of us as we squeezed into a non-JFK booth.

“There’s going to be a war in five years,” one of my friends said as an opener. He believes it will be with China. “So drink up!”

In other words: YOLO.

The most striking part of Georgetown Glow is All the Light You See by Alicia Eggert which lights up the darkness along the Potomac River. The web site describes it best:

Light takes a moment to travel from one point to another, and to reach our eyes. The travel time varies – from eight minutes for the light from the sun to reach the earth, to millions of years from a star at the edge of our universe. This means that the information that light brings us is always dated. This is the focus of All the Light You See; a poetic statement written in light that changes meaning with a small intervention. Part of the text in “All the Light You See is From the Past” occasionally switches off, simplifying the message to “All You See is Past.” The installation is a reflection on mortality, reminding us that in no time at all, we, too, will belong to the past.

Covid Time, like all time, is gone and cannot be recovered.

No one knows what is next. Black Swans may abound or we may have seen the last of them.  All we can do is make the best use of the time we have.

 

2022: The Year of YOLO

tulips with the Supreme Court in the background
Tulips at the Supreme Court

After surviving the despotic reign of Donald Trump and the scourge of covid, I was determined to live my best life in 2022.

In other words: YOLO.

As I doomscrolled through the bad pandemic days of 2020, and witnessed the violent 2021 assault on my city by Trump mobs, I told myself that if I survived this chaos, I would do two things:

  1. Drink in bars again.
  2. Ride trains in Europe.

That was my idea of YOLO.

At the start of 2022, DC was still under covid restrictions with mask and vax mandates still in place. I had masks stuffed in pockets and bags, to use when I wanted to go inside Whole Foods or elsewhere. And I had a photo of my vaccine card to show when I wanted to sit down with a cup of coffee.

I could avoid the mandates by crossing the river into Virginia. It was a short bike ride to place where I didn’t need to show my papers.

Restrictions like this carried on in Washington long after the rest of the country had abandoned them. It was the year that downtown was hollowed out.

The Office Experience
Some of us are old enough to remember when offices didn’t just exist on TV

Despite this, nightlife boomed. While the offices of K Street were empty, the bars and clubs of U Street were packed.

I wasn’t the only one eager to YOLO. People were willing to follow DC’s covid rules just to experience the oldest pleasure of all: having a drink with friends.

When the containment regime fell apart in the spring, with mask and vax mandates overturned by the courts, even DC relaxed the rules, though Mayor Bowser warned her wayward children that she would return them if we were bad (she didn’t).

After almost two years of relative isolation, I started to get back my busy urban life. I could write and drink coffee in coffee shops again. Sit at the bar at McClellan’s Retreat and talk to the bartender. Eat in restaurants. None of this was good for my waistline; that’s the price of the YOLO lifestyle.

#BikeDC

My bike social life returned, too. Bike to Work Day came back though who was going to an office anymore? White collar DC was remote or, at best, hybrid. I was happily 100% remote. In May, I commuted to Bike to Work Day stops in Virginia and DC before rolling home to my laptop.

And then came Open Streets 7th St, a big beautiful chunk of the city going car-free on a sunny summer day. This was also the year that the Metropolitan Branch Trail boomed, a bike trail and a beer trail through the heart of DC.

Evidence of Trump continued to be erased from Washington, like a disgraced Pharaoh written out of history. We got the Old Post Office back, his name pried off the front of the building in the middle of the night lest a crowd gather and cheer.

The White House complex was no longer a fortress. The fence around Lafayette Park disappeared. The protest signs that once covered it were put on display at the MLK Library. Uniformed Secret Service officers who beat peaceful protesters in 2020 now posed for photos with tourists. All was forgiven, apparently.

#1776RM

Summer brought a new comedy sensation: The 1776 Restoration Movement.  In the spring, the so-called People’s Convoy tried to shut down DC in protest of covid restrictions. They failed, defeated by the Capital Beltway, a 64-mile long ouroboros of never-ending traffic that broke up and scattered the convoy, leaving the truckers angry and soaked in their own urine.

But not everyone wanted to go home. The dregs formed a much smaller group, The 1776 Restoration Movement (1776RM).

You’re going to restore 1776, when we were British? It made no sense. Their incoherent anti-government ideas obscured the truth: these were Trumpkins trying to spark another January 6th. They hoped to be the vanguard of another coup attempt.

I wrote about them, because I delighted in mocking the follies of this tiny group of QAnon cultists. And I was not alone, there was a whole community of folks devoted to trolling 1776RM both online and in real-life.

When the group came to DC, to sit in lawnchairs on the National Mall, a Suicide Squad of left and right-wing trolls arrived to harass them, both sides of the insanity live-streaming on their phones and yelling at each other with bullhorns. You could watch it all on YouTube, a choose your own adventure where you got to see the perspective of the trolls and the trolled.

everyone knows it's a cult

It was the most popular content I wrote all year. Readers loved stories about the ongoing incompetence of the bucket-pooping 1776RM and the entertaining counterprotestors (with names like Anarchy Princess and Defender of Ants) that aggravated them to distraction.

For you web nerds, these blog posts had the best SEO of anything I’ve ever done, regularly appearing in the top five search results for 1776 Restoration Movement. While I made sure to use the term in the page title and in the body, the SEO secret is that you can’t fool Mother Google. Write good, informative content.

Eventually, they left the Mall, after the Park Police threatened to tow away their cars (vehicles are the American weakness).

My work made fun of 1776RM. After they left, I wondered if I contributed to the problem. More conflict led to more YouTube views which meant more donations for their streamers. Without the drama provided by the trolls, they don’t have anything interesting to say.

Also, 1776RM is more violent and stupid than portrayed in my work. Putting down in words what they do and believe gives the group a coherence and logic that they lack. Since getting kicked out of DC, and without conflict from trolls to spur donations, 1776RM has scattered to the backwoods.

#Doomscroll

During the bad pandemic days of 2020/21, I doomscrolled, compulsively checking my phone for covid news and predictions. In 2022, I became obsessed with following #1776RM on Twitter, as the online world monitored and mocked the follies of the group.

American capitalism exists on an addiction model (we don’t make anything anymore). It captures some through vaping, gambling or opioids. It caught me through social media, a Palantir that confirmed my beliefs and provided me a world of endless information.

I needed a break.

Fortunately, the end of the fiscal year brought me one as my government contracting job ended and I was free to travel to Ireland.

My homeland! The green country that my ancestors left just a couple of generations ago.

train in Cork
Train station in Cork

There I fulfilled my second YOLO dream: riding a train in Europe. I spent two weeks taking trains around this friendly country and going to pubs in Dublin, Galway, Limerick and Cork.

And I read, the rails being conducive to reading. A book on my lap as the green countryside rolled by the windows.

I got my focus back, which had been shattered by living in Washington during the madcap Trump and covid eras. Long days alone as I explored museums or  walked through towns alive with music helped me be more present in the moment, pulling me back from the online world to the real one.

The Year of YOLO is over.

And with my focus back, I’ve started work on another novel. A story of the post-pandemic era in America. The title is of course:

YOLO

 

Coffeeneuring 2022

bike at The Coffee Bar
Belty at The Coffee Bar

For Coffeeneuring 2022, I biked to seven different coffee shops in and around Washington, DC.

Now in its 12th year, the Coffeeneuring Challenge is a worldwide sensation.

The rules are simple:

  • between October 7 through November 20, 2022,
  • ride your bike to 7 different places,
  • at least 2 miles round trip each time,
  • 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.

  1. Navy Yard

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.

Ted and Jean
Ted and Jean

2. Rosslyn

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.

Teddy Roosevelt Island
Teddy Roosevelt Island

3. Rosslyn

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.

foggy morning for the marathon
Runners on Key Bridge

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.

The Coffee Bar on S St NW
The Coffee Bar

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.

the Mount Vernon Trail is a fall dream
The Mount Vernon Trail

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!

bike in Rock Creek Park
Rock Creek Park

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.

Untitled
Me with a new friend.

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

Black Lives Matter Memorial Fence

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.

scene outside 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.

toasting Biden Harris

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.

What Europeans Don’t Get About America

VOTE

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.

Why?

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:

  1. Rural areas in Michigan are heavily Republican (Red).
  2. The Republican Party has been taken over by QAnon.
  3. 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.
  4. QAnon is like a religion in which adherents see signs and symbols everywhere, from the currency to middle-school murals.
  5. 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.

Twelve Years of Capital Bikeshare Fun

me and Cabi on H St

Now celebrating its 12th anniversary, Capital Bikeshare is the most inexpensive and reliable transportation system in Washington, DC.

Imagine paying a flat fee of $95 to go wherever you want in Washington, DC, and its suburbs. No more worrying about parking tickets, searching for Ubers or consulting Metro schedules.

Instead, you just go on a transportation system that’s available 24/7, in all weather, and you never have to worry about traffic jams.

Did I also mention it will keep you in shape? Your annual membership entitles you to spinning classes that feature challenging (real) hills and the thrill of being part of a rolling community.

It’s Capital Bikeshare, the cheapest and most reliable way of getting around Washington, DC. While the Metro may be on fire, and the roads jammed because it’s a Monday, Capital Bikeshare rolls on.

CaBi rainbow

An idea so brilliant that you think some tech tyrant like Elon Musk would’ve come up with it. Nope. He’s too busy boring tunnels through bedrock to shave a couple seconds off car trips.

Instead, bike sharing began with communal experiments in the 1960s and since then has been adopted by cities worldwide.

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.

CaBi at DCA

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.

How Cults End: The 1776 Restoration Movement

1776 Restoration Movement cult meeting

All cults end in death.

That was my assumption, prior to reading the excellent Cultish: The Language of Fanaticism by Amanda Montell.

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

This is the case of the 1776 Restoration Movement (1776RM), the rump descendent of the People’s Convoy. This small group, which briefly car-camped on the National Mall in the name of freedom, has recently shrunk even smaller.

The 1776 Restoration Movement has split into three factions:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

And then there’s this very sad thread on Rose, kicked out of the cult, whereabouts unknown.

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.

The 1776 Restoration Movement: Odds and Ends

All that remains
All that remains of the 1776 Restoration Movement

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.

The Revolution WILL Be Televised

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.

I had to disengage because their cult craziness was contagious.

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.

Next: How Cults End: The 1776 Restoration Movement

Who Defeated the 1776 Restoration Movement?

1776 signs

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.

everyone knows it's a cult

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.

Next: The 1776 Restoration Movement: Odds and Ends