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The star of the evening was…a dog.
Outfitted with a patriotic blindfold and a personal miniature Jeep, Dixie the Praying Dog took the stage for the rally’s opening prayer.
Her prized trick—bowing toward the ground and “praying”—earned coos from the audience. Some whipped out their phones to record her as they prayed along.
It was an absolutely ridiculous, cheap gimmick. But gimmicks are all they have. And sometimes, they work.
“I’m just a truck driver, right?” said one organizer.
Another gimmick—it doesn’t actually matter to convoy participants how many “real” truck drivers are leading the caravan. All they need are the cell phone pics for their Facebook feeds. Even organizers noted the convoy was mostly not trucks.
“My kids race dirt bikes, right? That’s what I know. But there are some doctors back here […] very, very intelligent people. In fact they’re the same people that the government entrusted to figure out how to fix this, and then told to shut up.”
The crowd roared.
Hundreds had packed into the farm equipment warehouse, with a plan to later unfurl a giant American flag visible from drones above.
Part religious revival, part Facebook boomer Woodstock, the duct-taped caravan’s mission is illusory.
Mandates are, for the most part, over. From the beginning, Joe Biden’s administration has prioritized economic recovery over virus control. Cities are dropping mask requirements left and right. And as one reporter who followed the convoy’s journey early on noted, few (if any) businesses are checking vaccine cards anymore.
What hasn’t returned, however, is a pre-pandemic way of life that many still desperately cling to.
Calls for “accountability” and “justice” don’t ring hollow to these people; they’re front and center to their demands. They don’t just want an end to vaccines and masks, to government control over their healthcare decisions, to Joe Biden’s presidency—they want their old lives back. And the problem is—nobody is telling them that’s impossible at this point.
In fact, their nostalgia for a recent past is every fascist’s dream.
A crowd with fresh wounds, motivated by faith, is primed for delusion, hatred, and violence.
Since the Monrovia rally, she’s been disavowed by “The People’s Convoy” organizers. It is unclear why. But her presence ignited the audience. They hung on to her every word as she spun a harrowing tall tale about rescuing young women from human traffickers in southeast Asia.
“Where we go one, we go all!” someone shouted.
It’s a popular phrase among the QAnon cult. Members believe elite Democratic politicians like Nancy Pelosi and Joe Biden are trafficking children for sexual abuse and human sacrifice. Their conspiracy theories about politics went more mainstream in the lead-up to the January 6 Capitol riot, when GOP members across the country declared 2020 election results a fraud.
One of those politicians, Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita, spoke at the rally.
His criticism of the U.S. education system may have fallen short of an outright call for a fascist takeover of schools, but anyone with sense can read between the lines of his speech about American exceptionalism. The fear of replacement and longing for a return to a white Christian nation was palpable.
Indiana is also now poised to join 10 other states in banning trans women and girls from school sports.
Rally organizers also brought out a lineup of health “experts” who, by every definition, are nothing but swindlers.
Since Trump’s ascent to power, right-wing spaces have been full of them. Unregulated, chaotic social network feeds bring people with poor information filters into contact with opportunists looking to capitalize not just on fear, but on existing prejudice and bigotry.
“Oh, I don’t watch the news anymore,” my rideshare driver said on the way back to my motel room on Wednesday night. “There’s so much fear everywhere. I just find out about things from Facebook.”
At the core of it all, there’s something much darker than your average American capitalist grift (though there is also plenty of that going on).
White nationalists have found a way to control the narrative, to take over conservative politics from within in a way they’ve been scheming to since the abolition of slavery and the civil rights movement dashed their dreams of a majority white, Christian, patriarchal country. All they need are more viral posts on social media, more bodies on the ground, and more of their own in school board seats.
So far, they’re making progress.
I was around eight years old when I first learned about the rapture.
A devout evangelical relative who was babysitting had put on Left Behind: The Movie. Billed as a “Christian thriller,” the corny low-budget film depicts an end time event where all obedient and true believers are raptured up to Heaven. Everyone “left behind” on planet Earth must endure war, torture, and the rise of the Antichrist.
An apocalyptic battle for the future of mankind follows. It is an era of political turmoil and environmental disaster, of good versus evil, and one that certain sects of evangelical Christianity really, sincerely believe is already beginning today.
So great bedtime viewing for a child, naturally.
“Am I going to be raptured?” I asked as I was being tucked into bed that night. “I’m scared.”
“Oh sweetie, all you have to do is believe. If you have Christ in your heart, that’s all that matters.”
She turned off the lights. I laid awake that night, quaking with fear at both the thought of being raptured and being left behind.
I wasn’t sure which was worse.
We’re not the first to point out the Trump movement’s ties to apocalyptic evangelical fundamentalism.
In a pre-January 6 Rolling Stone piece from 2020, Alex Morris outlined just how deep these associations go. And, like me, Morris describes a childhood fear surrounding the apocalypse. Neither of us are unique. Millions of Americans hear these fire-and-brimstone speeches in their church pews every week.
What’s changed since 2020? Why does it feel like the fringe is getting fringier?
We’re nearing one million dead from COVID-19. Major war in Europe. Businesses struggling to find workers and shutting down. An election certification interrupted by a righteous riot. An entire way of life obliterated—not just by a deadly respiratory illness, but by organized political abandonment.
In a sense, it may be that “the rapture” has already happened.
The forgotten ones left behind are putting on their armor, preparing for every battle as if it’s their last.
It’s anyone’s guess which one will be.