They are gathered. The sermon begins.
AUSTIN — This story is a compromise between common sense and documentary instinct. Every photograph is socially distanced. The quotes come, in part, from the courage of the workers at Fox 7 News and the channel, which posted live footage.
Thursday at 11:45 a.m., Congress Avenue at the Governor’s Mansion is empty aside from a state trooper who motions me through a red light. I walk into a parking lot. The faces look familiar — perhaps from other right-wing rallies I’ve documented. Two men stare at me as I take this picture. One has his hand on his gun. I wonder if full beards might provide protection from Covid-19.
A car arrives blaring vaguely familiar music. It’s the song of angry men from Les Misérables, sounding downright Wagnerian in this context, a recording brought to us by a part of the Alex Jones’ cast.
Will you give all you can give
So that our banner may advance
Some will fall and some will live
Will you stand up and take your chance?
The blood of the martyrs
Will water the meadows of France!
His feet appear to walk in rhythm with the anthem.
A small child walks past the car with a Jim Morrison’s quote, “Whoever controls the media controls the mind.” A black king cab labeled “INFOWARS IS FORBIDDEN INFORMATION” is parked behind.
Anti-vaxxer women arrive with their children. A man with a yellow “Don’t Tread on Me” flag strides through. The bloody fetus photograph moves past state troopers with masks and bicycles.
They are gathered. The sermon begins.
“Jesus Christ, our lord and savior, creator of a billion galaxies said very clearly and very effectively that you have to be armed if you want to be a Christian. It’s that simple. And Thomas Jefferson, one of our founding fathers, he said that you should take frequent walks and that your rifle should be a companion on those walks.
I urge everybody to get a copy of the Communist Manifesto and read that through, and then get a copy of the Constitution and read that through. They’re both very short reads. You can read the Constitution in an hour. Read those two and then ask yourself, which form of government do we have here today?”
It’s Doc Greene come in from Houston. He’s the same man who, about a year ago, took a gun into the Houston Public Library because “we have a bunch of homosexuals molesting children.”
Why does a man blow into the shofar, the ancient Jews’ ram’s horn trumpet? Surely it’s not a call to repentance. He blasts us, calls it the “biblical (battle) trumpet,” and announces himself as an Alex Jones Prayer Warrior. The instrument makes the sound of a dying cow.
“Jesus is rejoicing in Heaven right now. He gave us our freedoms. He gave us our rights.” He blows once more and begins to pray for the separation of Donald Trump from the Bilderberg.
“Dr. Fauci is getting a hundred billion dollar grant from Bill Gates. Bill Gates bought off the NIH, CDC, WHO… fire Dr. Fauci and open up America again in the wonderful name of Jesus.”
A woman joins him at the megaphone.
“I am a nobody but sometimes it takes a nobody to get shit fucking done. A hundred years ago John D. Rockefeller started the modern medical system. John D. Rockefeller got together with Carnegie and they created the American Medical Association.” She’s drowned out by the crowd chanting, “Let us work.” She continues, “This is not medicine. This is not healing. Get out in the sunshine and bake. This will heal the immune system. Fast for 48 hours…”
On and on she screams in rage until she finally runs out of steam. I hear someone in the crowd say, “The cowards who have closed America are little dogs that are peeing on themselves.” The shofar takes over once more. “Bill Gates is promoting satanic rituals.”
I hear cow bells, then halleluiah and Alex Jones in the same breath. I hear, “Sandy Hook, Halleluiah Alex Jones we love you in Jesus name… This communist takeover… Dr. Fauci and Bill Gates. We will break the fascist microchip with the love of Jesus, by the power of the holy spirit in the mighty name of Jesus let America be free again.” The cow bell rings once more.
I feel as though I can’t take much more. “Guess what motherfucker, I have an immune system,” says a woman to her friend. She’s getting a little too close to me. I know I need to leave for my sanity as well as self-preservation.
I am no longer even vaguely amused.
Why don’t these state troopers tell them to distance themselves? They surely would break up a left rally that violated a state ordinance. Arrest and fine them all. I catch an imagined whiff of tear gas. Part of me wants to say, good, let them die of Covid-19, but I know full well that’s not how it works. I think of all the workers who will be forced into contact with these sociopaths: the custodial workers and health care workers, the nursing home attendants that care for their parents and grandparents, the grocery delivery people and postal workers and transit workers and my union sisters and brothers. I hear one woman proudly announce, “We’re building contractors so we get to work anyway.” Harpies I think, “Evil harbingers of stench and foul decay, contaminating everything they come in contact with.”
The crowd has become forever associated with the plague: deadly, irrational, and uncontrolled, an orchestrated force of evil whose sole intent is to push us back into that awful world that created this time when we can’t hold each other, can’t know each other, can’t cooperate as sisters and brothers, can’t enjoy a beautiful planet, couldn’t fulfill even the simplest social obligations to the public good. I think of that old world of inequality and injustice; of landlords and banks; corporate exploiters and petty bosses; bad food and hungry children and just think no, not until we can begin to organize something healthy, something honest, something better.
[Anne Lewis is a documentary filmmaker whose films include On Our Own Land (DuPont-Columbia award), Fast Food Women (POV), Justice in the Coalfields (Gold Plaque, Intercom), and Morristown: in the air and sun about factory job loss and the rights of immigrants. Her latest film A Strike and an Uprising (in Texas) looks at the pecan shellers’ strike in San Antonio in the ’30s and the union uprising in Nacogdoches in the late ’80s (audience award, Hecho en Tejas, Cine Las Americas) She serves on the executive board of the Texas State Employees Union TSEU-CWA 6186 and teaches at the University of Texas at Austin.]
- Read more by and about Anne Lewis on The Rag Blog.