“This is the new normal,” said Helen Brosnan, a Washington resident who said she often encountered rallies in front of the White House on her way to work at a progressive nonprofit group. She was sipping iced coffee at a brunch spot called A Baked Joint. Next to her was a table of rowdy Juggalos.
“Brunch and a protest,” she added.
Among the brunching Juggalos was Jake Jones, known as Sidehawk Ninja to his fellow rap-metal fans. He sat on a curb nibbling on a $3 piece of multigrain toast and complaining about the $5 orange juice. His five-inch lime-green mohawk stretched sideways, from ear to ear, like a tiara, bobbing forward as he rapped expletives. He keeps it upright with real glue, he said.
Another Juggalo, Jeremy Baca, a 27-year-old with a Hatchetman tattoo on his arm, said the followers were “hippies — just rough around the edges.”
“It’s weird music, that’s why weird people like it,” he said. He had come to Washington with his girlfriend, the rainbow-dreadlocked Valarie Wakefield, whom he met when both were exiled from the school cafeteria in seventh grade. “Everyone here is one of the outcasts from high school — the ones the prep kids picked on. We rally around this music, but we aren’t violent.”
The Juggalos — the name comes from an Insane Clown Posse song called “The Juggla” — were classified as a gang after self-proclaimed members committed a series of crimes. The Insane Clown Posse, along with several fans and the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan, filed a lawsuit against the Justice Department, alleging discrimination. A judge dismissed the case, but the A.C.L.U. is appealing.
After they reached the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, the marchers heard testimony from fellow Juggalos who said they had lost their jobs, military status and even children because they had been listed in gang databases.
An older man climbed atop a ledge and unleashed onto the crowd a sticky round of the tribe’s drink of choice, Faygo soda, inciting cheers. A face-painted toddler in a clown costume snuggled on the lap of a stranger, and his father — in a Clown Lives Matter T-shirt — nodded approvingly.
“Look at that, even my little guy knows we’re all family,” he said.
To the east of the Reflecting Pool on the National Mall was a much smaller rally more in line with the sorts of protests that have filled the summer, like those about Black Lives Matter, science and climate research, immigration, women’s rights, and President Trump’s tax returns.
The Mother of All Rallies was billed as “not a left or right rally,” though it featured the familiar Trump Unity Bridge, and its speakers deplored “sanctuary cities” and endorsed the president’s transgender ban for the military.
“I’m just blessed to be here, so blessed,” Denise Bradshaw of Omaha said as she adjusted her lawn chair and fiddled with the Trump pins on her chest. “Our country is at a precipice, and I want to be able to say I didn’t sit back and watch our nation circle the drain. We want MOAR!”
The event’s title was a play on “Mother of All Bombs” — a name for the gigantic munition that the military recently dropped on terrorists in Afghanistan — but its organizers sought to avoid violence by forbidding Confederate flags.
Counterprotesters, led by a tuba player, headed into the downtown area from the north, joined by supporters of young undocumented immigrants and activists who had marched from Charlottesville, Va. The group’s event, organized on Facebook and titled “White Supremacists Out of Washington!”, had deemed the Mother of All Rallies as “the first gathering of the far right” since the racially charged Charlottesville violence last month.
From all angles, the groups converged on the Mall, the backyard of the leader of the free world (who, at the time, was at his resort in New Jersey). At the center of the storm was one unlucky wedding planner, pacing at the steps of the D.C. War Memorial, her clipboard tucked under her arm as she raised the volume of the classical music on a portable sound system. Wedding guests mingled, periodically looking over their shoulders as the bride wove through the protesting crowds.
The elegant occasion had been booked with the National Park Service long before the rallies — back when it seemed it would be an ordinary Saturday in the capital.
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