The first thing I noticed at the latest stop on the ReAwaken America Tour in Las Vegas in mid-August was that the T-shirts are getting nastier. “Size Matters” blared one man’s shirt over enlarged images of bullets of various calibers. “It’s RINO Season,” read another, with an image of Trump carrying a long gun. Another man’s T-shirt featured dozens of white male soldiers and the words “Diversity is Destruction” across the bottom. There was the old standby, “God, Guns, and Trump.” And then there was “BLITZKRIEG.”
Launched in 2021, the ReAwaken America Tour is where truth and irony go to die in the face of megachurch-size portions of paranoia. It’s the kind of place where people tell you with a straight face, “Don’t let them microchip you.”
Clay Clark, a conspiracist who has made his name pushing horse-drug cures for Covid, got the roving series of conferences going during the pandemic, and they have taken on a life of their own. Partners in the project include Mike Flynn, the disgraced former national security adviser, and election fraud funder Mike Lindell. Eric Trump is a frequent guest speaker, and Robert Kennedy Jr. delivered presentations at several ReAwaken America events before launching his run for president. Among the guest speakers in Las Vegas were Alex Jones, the infamous purveyor of the most heinous conspiracies; Shari Tenpenny, identified by the Center for Countering Digital Hate as one of the top 12 most influential Covid deniers; the actor and election-lie promoter Roseanne Barr, and a slew of demon-haunted “spirit warriors” from the Christian nationalist movement.
The Las Vegas conference was the third such event I attended in person, and it was by a significant measure the most bloodthirsty. The rhetoric coming from the podium was even more violent than the slogans on the T-shirts.
“When [Anthony Fauci] is convicted after a short and fast but thorough trial, he will hang from a length of thick rope,” said the far-right personality Stew Peters. “When [Hunter Biden] is convicted … he will get … Death!” The audience of several thousand roared their approval.
“We all have one common enemy, his name is Satan, and right now his minions are trying to run the country,” Peters said. “Liberals, Democrats, Communists, lizard things, we got a lot of words for these creatures.”
Arguing for the “restoration of the rightful president of America,” he said, “what we want [is] Nuremburg trials 2.0.” “All we need is a body of water, a length of rope, and a heavy millstone.… We are going to see extreme accountability. Natural accountability. Permanent accountability with extreme prejudice.”
Even the preachers invited to speak at the event seemed exceptionally focused on making their enemies feel the pain. “This is a God nation, this is a Jesus nation, and you will never take my God and my gun out of this nation,” said pastor Mark Burns, a stalwart warm-up act at Trump rallies. “I have come ready to declare war on Satan and every race-baiting Democrat that tries to destroy our way of life here in the United States of America.”
The racism too was more transparent than usual. “Big Fani. Big fat Fani. Big fat Black Fani Willis,” shouted Stew Peters as he launched into an attack on Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis and on the Georgia judge who is presiding over Trump’s criminal charges in that state.
The Jews, or at least their cosmopolitan alter egos, inevitably came in for abuse too. Mike Flynn, Clay Clark, Peters, and conspiracy podcaster Mel K, a fortyish woman who spent two decades in Hollywood before “moving back to NYC to focus full time on exposing truth,” all identified the archvillains as “globalist billionaires.” The masterminds are “the IMF, the World Bank, and financial elites,” she said. In case there was any doubt about what these villains look like, she and the others repeatedly named George Soros and the Rothschilds. Flynn hawked his latest book, The Citizen’s Guide to Fifth Generation Warfare (CG5GW), “to prepare Americans and freedom-loving people everywhere for our current global wartime reality.”
But there is hope for persecuted real Americans, Clay enthused—or at least for those who plan to fleece them. He introduced the audience to the head of a company called Beverly Hills Precious Metals, who offered the promise of a financial bolt hole for the coming apocalypse. “Typically people are saying, I’m going to turn my 401K or my IRA into one of the—gold or precious metals, and not have it be a taxable asset,” he said. “You can do that now for minimal fees.”
Mainly Las Vegas was about fear. The overriding message is that nowhere is safe. “They” will come after you in the churches, they’ll come after your kids in the schoolhouses, they’re out to destroy your health, and they won’t stop until they have robbed you of every penny and changed your gender against your will.
A booklet that was broadly distributed throughout the event was titled “Battlefield United States” and featured images of tanks and military aircraft attacking the Statue of Liberty on the cover. The subhed read, “PREPARE FOR EMP ‘GRID DOWN’ NUCLEAR ATTACK WHEN SUMMER IS NEAR. TIME IS SHORT. STOCKPILE SUPPLIES A.S.A.P.” A line at the bottom helpfully reminded readers that “coronavirus was planned ‘event 201’ global pandemic exercise.” The back cover added, “All human population to be RFID chipped *All firearms to be confiscated *All resistance to be eliminated.… TOTAL ENSLAVEMENT OF MANKIND.”
The thirst for blood, I realized, is just an index of this ever-growing, ever-morphing fear.
What turned up the dial on violent fantasies among this sorry group? The short answer is obvious after the first round of speeches and conversations: It is the indictments of Donald Trump. For this crowd, Trump’s multiple arrests and indictments are not a setback; they are proof positive of their fondest fears. They show, in effect, as other T-shirts pronounced, that “Alex Jones Was Right,” and “Roger Stone Did Nothing Wrong.” More than that, the Trump indictments have lent the group a political focus and meaning that far transcends their marginal status.
In another time, ReAwaken America could have been laughed off as just another festival of snake-oil hucksterism in the long American tradition of separating suckers from their money through entrepreneurial grifting. But this group sees itself as the heart and soul of the modern Republican Party. And to some degree, they are right about that.
The undisputed champion of the Las Vegas crowd is Donald Trump. You were less likely to hear a bad word about Trump than about Jesus. And Trump happens to be the front-runner—by far—in the race for the Republican nomination. The runners-up in the Republican contest are notable mainly for promising to pardon Trump and/or fill his mighty shoes. Majorities of Republican voters continue to believe in the Big Lie that the 2020 was stolen and that Trump’s indictments are just political persecution from a “weaponized” system of justice.
And the representatives of supposed “establishment”—the “responsible” candidates, the very serious commentators who frame the analysis of the Republican campaign, and the plutocratic donors who bankroll the operation—have by and large signaled that all of this is just fine. They have let us know that it is OK to regard a man who put himself above the Constitution (in his own vice president’s words) and has collected 91 felony indictments to date as just another horse in the race; although at the same time, of course, he’s not just another horse—he’s Seattle Slew and Secretariat rolled into one.
Fascism often happens this way. At the start, it may seem like a joke at the nutty fringe. But when the supposedly serious people in the center throw up their hands and begin to make deals with extremists, that’s when you really have to worry. The serious people think they can bring back the old-time Republican Party. It’s more likely that the crowd that showed up in Las Vegas will end up controlling them.