The Republican National Convention Day Three: RNC Smackdown, the spectacle of open carry, flag burning, and more
By J.M. GIORDANO AND BRANDON SODERBERG
Jul 21, 2016 | 4:03 PM
In professional wrestling, the "heel" is the villain who gets booed by the audience, absorbing all the hate and making the "face," the hero, look better. And last night on the RNC stage, Ted Cruz had his heel moment as delegates on the floor jeered and hissed at the Texas senator and former Republican candidate for president. Looking like a blob fish in an expensive suit, Cruz took the podium and greeted the delegates with a wave and a thin smile. He then delivered a slithery speech about the state of the country and never even endorsed Trump. The side effect: This made Trump, in some ways, the face—for a little while at least. Within 23 minutes, Cruz turned a national political event into an episode of the '80s WWF staple "Piper's Pit."
For those who don't know: During the height of its popularity in the '80s, now-deceased WWF superstar "Rowdy" Roddy Piper hosted a pseudo-talk show in between matches where he would pretend to ask other wrestlers serious questions. But soon the whole thing devolved into chaos and Piper would destroy them with some sort of wrestling move or some other assault, such as hitting Jimmy "Superfly" Snuka with a coconut. The guests always acted if they didn't see it coming, such is wrestling.
It seems like Cruz, who, like Piper, is a Canuck, had been watching a lot of "Piper's Pit." Cruz took what have should have been a begrudging endorsement of Trump and instead talked about the glory of America, ending with "vote with your conscience up and down the ticket" (Newt Gingrich, who followed Cruz, tried to contort Cruz's "conscience" line into an endorsement, so I guess that makes Newt the Mean Gene Okerlund of the RNC?). Cruz didn't say the word "Trump" during his entire speech and the non-endorsement was a conservative head-butt that came out of nowhere.
And the crowd went wild. It was reported that Cruz's wife had to escorted out of the convention floor for her own safety. A camera panned up to where Trump was watching the speech and caught his angry scowl. The only thing that would have made this moment more perfect would have been if Ohio Gov. John Kasich was standing behind Cruz with his arms crossed and nodding his head like some anti-Trump tag-team partner.
But the convention is far less self-aware and playful than '80s WWF: This is not all an act. These guys mean this shit. Then again, pro wrestling is nothing new to presidential hopeful Donald J. Trump. In 2007, he "took on" WWE owner Vince McMahon during the Battle of The Billionaires. Watching the video now, it's hard to tell the difference between the crowd at the RNC and the crowd at the match. Was Cruz's performance condoned ahead of time by the Trump people, who reportedly read the speech beforehand, to give the candidate a "villain"? Or was this planned as a counter to people in the party who have endorsed Trump? We'll never know. But it was awesome to watch Trump get the smackdown. (J.M. Giordano)
Around 4 p.m. yesterday, a bunch of people were arrested near the entrance to the RNC following a flag burning. The details are all over the internet, but in short: Gregory Lee "Joey" Johnson, who infamously burned an American flag at the RNC in 1988 (leading to a Supreme Court case that made flag burning protected under free speech and not a crime) along with members of RevCom, burned an American flag.
Immediately, police charged and tried to put the fire out, and a scuffle ensued resulting in 18 arrests including two for felony assault of a police officer. What was far more compelling than the flag burning—which was pretty much impossible to see witness due to the throngs of media waiting for something like this to happen—was the aftermath. The area near the flag burning was yellow-taped off, evidence markers were put down, and CSI showed up, gloves and all marking and collecting evidence. It was officially a crime scene. It was a bit absurd. You've seen this joke floating about on Twitter already no doubt, but a few activists on the scene also quipped that this crime scene seemed to be way more delicately handled than the scene where Tamir Rice was shot by members of the Cleveland Police Department. As cops and highway patrolman stood around blocking access to the taped-off area, scrawled in sidewalk chalk with arrows pointing at the cops and guardsmen was "POLICE STATE." (Brandon Soderberg)
Last night, Laurie Arbeiter and Sarah Wellington, two members of the group We Will Not Be Silent, whose black signs with stark white text and a white box around them (slogans include: "Queer power," "White supremacy is terrorism") have been frequently seen around, confronted a very creepy dude selling what he calls "Gifts for Republicans."
The books are basically painfully unfunny parodies of Dr. Seuss books—one of which depicts President Obama as the Cat in the Hat (but really, he looks more ape-like) and another, Hillary as the Wicked Witch of the West. After We Will Not Be Silent called attention to the man's books, it got the attention of others, and one woman passing by, upset with the books, confronted the man, who shot back insults and at one point put his hand in the woman's face—a photo Arbeiter showed us made it look as though the man had put his palm against the woman's face. She was upset and a bit terrified.
A state trooper, who was also a woman, comforted the woman and admitted she too was shocked by all the misogyny floating around the convention, be it t-shirts ("Trump That Bitch" being a popular one) or the hate speech coming out of people's mouths.
None of this mattered much to the book seller, who once the state troopers left began with a kind of Bill Gates-meets-Scott Adams demeanor chanting, "Racist, misogynist books for Republicans."
We Will Not Be Silent continued to call attention to him, which of course drew more of a crowd. And since this is the RNC, that crowd was mostly sympathetic to the guy. One guy who kind of looked like a Nazi vampire lawyer with all the blood drained out of him questioned why caricatures of Republicans are never a problem for this group but caricatures of Democrats are, as if that's was the problem and not the whole Obama-as-monkey thing on the cover.
A woman the Nazi Vampire Lawyer was with, meanwhile, gingerly asked if anybody wanted some nachos, trying to diffuse the situation. Earlier in the day, We Will Not Be Silent were at Public Square countering the Westboro Baptist Church. Wellington also told us that she was chatting with many of the merch sellers, most of whom aren't even Trump fans but hey, you got to make a buck. We Will Not Be Silent were sympathetic and asked one seller how much he'd have to make today to pack it up and go home. He said "$400" and the group purchased $400 worth of shirts. Wellington held the bag of shirts up proudly. We Will Not Be Silent weren't sure what they were going to do with all the shirts yet but might plan an action using them. (BS)
A longtime Cleveland resident told me on Sunday that he didn't even realize Ohio was an open-carry state. He added that if you'd only watched the news as of late, you'd think Cleveland is the sort of place where people are walking around with AR-15s all of the time. I heard this same sentiment repeated all week.
The open carriers you see near the RNC are, for what it's worth, making a spectacle of open carry and at times almost leaning into live TV shots trying to get more attention. If you see a big crowd of people surrounding one or two people, it's probably either a dude brandishing a gun or a few people engaged in an endless argument about why Trump rules or sucks.
The most interesting open carrier is Micah Naziri, who has an AR-15 (specifically, a .300 Blackout with a short barrel) with a "supressor" (better known as a silencer) on it slung around his shoulder (in 2015, Cleveland loosened its open-carry laws to allow noise suppressors as well). Naziri in particular grabs a lot of attention because he didn't fit the profile of the open carrying Trump supporter: He's Muslim and anti-Trump. Of course, that means he fit a different profile: At one point he was questioned by Secret Service, he says, and asked to show the paperwork for the supressor. (BS)