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RICHMOND, Va. – In the main hall for a conservative rally titled “Take Back Virginia” this week in the state capital, speakers promoted pre-election conspiracy theories, warned of a coming civil war with liberal states and proclaimed that President Biden should be arrested for treason.
But in the back room of the event, that grim tenor gave way to the kind of dark celebratory tone often found at one of former President Donald J. Trump’s signature gatherings — eat, drink, and laugh. The sounds of a football tailgate merge with political grievances.
As a political reporter for The New York Times, I’ve been to nearly two dozen such events, including Mr. Trump, smaller events like this one, or impromptu festivals like “Trumpstock” for Mr. Trump in Northern Arizona. Each time I am reminded of how these occasions are constructed to hardly feel like a political event.
Mr. Trump has filled his signature rally playlist – which his die-hard supporters have come to remember – with a variety of music including opera, rock and even “Memories” from the musical “Cats.”
The Virginia event, where Mr. Trump delivered an address by phone, served meatballs and cheese platters, and had a cash bar where customers could watch speakers from across the room. At one point, two patrons exchanged petitions about election integrity, informing each other of ongoing efforts to nullify the 2020 election while ordering a glass of wine.
However, the most striking reflection of how Mr Trump’s most ardent fans have adopted his personality and grievances is in the clothes. For some in attendance, it is not enough to speak on behalf of Mr. Trump to go to an event; their presence also requires wearing something that mimics some of his political calling cards — mocking his political opponents, using vulgar language and openly embracing political incorrectness. At some events, I’ve seen people wearing particularly chunky T-shirts holding their own photo lines, while others are queuing up for selfie after selfie.
In Virginia, I spoke to three men—all dressed fairly typically for an event like this—about what they decided to wear and how their clothes reflected their political beliefs.
These interviews have been abbreviated and slightly edited for clarity.
James Thornton, 47, from Virginia
“I am open to both sides. But if I go to the other side, they don’t like me. I want to hear their side and they can hear my side. This is how society should be. Don’t close things because you can’t answer.”
“Education is the most important to me. The Critical Race Theory and the LHBT What I Don’t Mind. I don’t care if you’re gay. It’s when you push your mind on my mind. Where do your rights begin and mine end?”
“It’s not that I hate Democrats. It’s their agenda and what they’re pushing. I am a hardworking person. And I see that my tax money does not benefit me at all. It benefits a species that doesn’t want to give 100 percent and makes the effort. I know not everyone is like that. Undoubtedly, some people need help. But when I see a 27-year-old smile and say, “I’m getting help,” I say, “What! That’s what I pay for.’ You know I used to have a sticker that said, ‘Keep working – welfare millions depend on it.’”
Val Yurachek, 52, from Virginia
“I worry about our freedoms. The American people want what this country is based on, which is our freedoms. And all these mandates and forced vaccinations, that’s not America and that’s not freedom and that’s not our God-given rights. Rights come from God. And that is what the Constitution is based on.”
“We don’t want to go down the road of a socialist or communist country. My family came from a place with one of those regimes, and that’s not something we want here.”
“I was in the Marine Corps. And my father was also in the Marine Corps. And as Americans, we love our country, and the flag and eagle represent that. I don’t want to put everyone under a blanket and say that only one party supports that. But if you’re going to support America, and you’re going to support patriotism, the conservative side — the Constitution — that’s the group that has to do it. The left has gone too far into communism and socialism.”
Robert Levy, 62, from New Jersey
“We started the T-shirt company last summer. First it was a few shirts, then we put up a sign to fight the Covid restrictions – and it was a big hit. ”
“It has become easier to sell anti-Biden stuff. Because of the horrible things he does, people on both sides of the aisle are sick of what he does. If you are not brain dead, you are not supporting this kind of policy.”
“We have to go to these kinds of events because if we tried to sell on Facebook we would be knocked down. Because they don’t like the message. We have to dance to the music. We need to find our people who have our political beliefs.”
“Our biggest seller is a shirt that says ‘Stolen Property’ with a picture of the White House.”
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