The Covington Story Was a Collective American Nightmare

It showed where America is, and where it’s going.

Covington Catholic High School
Bryan Woolston / AP

As the encounter in Washington between Black Hebrew Israelites, American Indians, and Catholic Trump boys recedes from Twitter and the opinion pages, it lingers on in a deeper place in my mind. At the level where argument loses its sharp contours and will unclenches, the encounter stops being a viral video, a proxy political fight, an avalanche of commentary, and it begins to resemble a dream sequence. The events, the landscape where they unfold, take on an incongruous and inevitable logic that has nothing to do with reason or morality. The wide plaza, leading away to famous stone monuments; the light slowly failing as the weak winter sun sets behind the Lincoln Memorial; the groups in different costumes wandering onto the landscape, disappearing, and then reappearing just in time to move the drama along to a crisis; the way key words—mock, hate, demon, America—are repeated: It feels like a story generated by the unconscious.

The drama unfolds in three overlapping scenes. In the first, the Black Hebrew Israelites, in their white-and-black robes and long beards, encounter the American Indians, in their colorful skirts, playing drums and horns.

You not supposed to worship eagles, buffaloes, rams, all types of animals. This is the reason why the Lord took away your land. Why am I so angry? Give me Proverbs 77.

… Where are you from?

We’re from here. We’re natives, too. My people are so-called Puerto Ricans. Yes. We are from the tribe of Ephraim. This is your tribe. This is your nationality. You’re not an Indian. Indian means savage.

… I’m here for peace.

That’s the reason why the white man got his foot in your ass. And that’s the reason—

And that’s why you talk like that! Because the devil’s in you!

You a five-dollar Indian! You go over there, you five-dollar Indian. You ain’t no child of God. You are the devil … Stop trying—you always want to take our culture, just like the white man.

That’s right.

He wants to be the Egyptians.

That’s right.

He wants to be the Israelites.


He wants to be everybody.

The language is fringed with comedy, but has an undercurrent of anxiety, bordering on hysteria. Whenever the anxiety starts to subside, something happens to whip it up again—declaiming turns to screaming, language grows toxic, a new character wanders into the encounter, someone gets too close, threats fly—as if calm would cause the video footage to stop. But it doesn’t stop. The provokers keep going, expressing in an extreme way what others feel.

A blond woman blows a ram’s horn.

Just cause you blow a ram horn doesn’t make you our people. You’re a damn culture vulture … you’re a damn blue-eyed demon … That’s the last Mohican. You out your mind.

These Black Hebrew Israelites belong to a tiny mad sect that ought to be ignored, and in another setting they would be ignored. But now, somehow, no one can ignore them; they’ve planted themselves at the crossroads to lure passersby into their madness—You too, brother! You too, sister!—and as they hurl their vile provocations in every direction, the groups around them draw near, engage, and are inflamed. The air is already charged with static, the insults half-formed. The Black Hebrew Israelites toss their matches on dry wood and watch the fire spread.

You an Uncle Tomahawk. You think there’s just Uncle Toms? You an Uncle Tomahawk. Out your mind. Got your head up the white man’s ass. Talking bout peace. Ain’t going to be no peace. You going to be ripped in pieces, thus saith the Lord, if you don’t repent from your wicked ways.

Where does it show hate in the Bible?

Where it shows it? Give me Ecclesiastes the third chapter. We’re going to show you hate in the Bible.

Let’s hear it.

Let’s hear it. That’s a great question. I like that … He wants to see hate in the Bible. Let’s see hate in the Bible. Let’s see where the Christians and the Catholics don’t go into.

Ecclesiastes Chapter 3, verse 8: “A time to love, and a time to hate.”

And a time for what?

“To hate.”

A time for what?

“To hate.”

There’s no hate in the Bible?

From the fringes of the plaza, Catholic Trump boys in their red hats are suddenly standing close by, signaling that the second scene has begun. A boy pulls his blue hoodie over his head.

We got the Trump supporters. He gonna cover up his hat … See how you got these pompous bastards come down here in the middle of a Native rally with they dirty-ass hat on, with they dusty-ass hat on. Dusty-ass animals.

… You asked where’s hate in the Bible. We showed you that the Lord said, “There’s a time to hate.” You think that you can ever love Donald Trump? Answer that sincerely. With sincerity. What?

Love your neighbors, love your neighbors.

… Finished. America is finished.

The Catholic Trump boys have arrived in large numbers, and many are standing on the steps leading up to the Lincoln Memorial. In the theology of the men in black-and-white robes, the boys in red hats are not one of the 12 lost tribes of Israel, like the American Indians, who can be saved because their only sin is idol worship. The boys in red hats are Edomites, the demonic offspring of Esau, and as the abuse grows, they pull closer.

All y’all are is a bunch of future school shooters … Ain’t nobody else on the face of the Earth shooting up schools, shooting up churches, shooting up synagogues. But you got a problem with us? You want to build a wall?

That’s right.

Build a wall in front of Europe. Y’all think we crazy. Y’all think we deranged …

Look at Esau, look at the demons, vicious crowd. They love that drama.

You want to wave hi. A bunch of incest babies. A bunch of babies made out of incest. Child porn babies. This is what “Make America great” looks like.

The boys in red hats begin to chant: Hey, hey, hey, hey, hey! One boy strips to his waist and flexes his arms and leads the others in school cheers to drown out the Black Hebrew Israelites.

Hey, do y’all understand who the real cave man is now? … And guess what, we surrounded and they won’t do a damn thing, look at this. Bold as a lion!

… This is what Donald Trump incest children look like. A bunch of Donald Trump incest children.

… That’s right. Here come Gad.

An American Indian man, followed by others, walks between the men in black-and-white robes and the boys in red caps, and stops in front of one of the boys, beating his drum.

Here come Gad. Here come Gad … Look at they “Make America great again” hats; look at they hats! … Look at Gad. That’s right, Gad! ... Gad not playing; he came to the rescue.

Hey, hey, hey, hey, hey!

The third scene has begun: The American Indian with the drum stands face-to-face with chanting, whooping, tomahawk-chopping Catholic Trump boys.

Hey, hey, hey, hey, hey!

… Mockery. You at a Native rally with “Make America great again” hats.

… School shooters! That’s your future … You about to go postal?

I have to go to the bathroom.

Do it! But go shoot up a school before you do it. Think about it! When have you ever seen one of our people shoot up a school? … Guess what. All of you got the school-shooter haircuts. It’s in your eyes.

My haircut is in my eyes? You’re making a lot of sense.

I’m telling you, it’s in your eyes.

… Hey guys, back it up! Back it up! Back it up!

… Christ is coming back to kick your crackers’ asses.

No, we’re not equal … and understand, America will burn.

The Catholic Trump boys leave, the American Indians disappear, the Black Hebrew Israelites stay as darkness falls into night, ending the film, ending the dream.

In his novel Underworld, Don DeLillo describes an art installation where people are watching the Zapruder film in different rooms, at different speeds, again and again, until one of the viewers imagines that she is seeing footage of consciousness itself: “The progress of the car down Elm Street, the movement of the film through the camera body, some sharable darkness—this was a death that seemed to rise from the streamy debris of the deep mind, it came from some night of the mind, there was some trick of film emulsion that showed the ghost of consciousness.”

I have a similar feeling watching the video shot by the Black Hebrew Israelites—as if the footage was an impression of the mind. It seems to act out a drama in which we’re all caught, but in grotesque exaggeration. As if we are already moving through an empty plaza where our individual identities dissolve and a tribal identity is suddenly fixed for us, whether we will it or not; where we are assigned a name that is absurd but can’t be escaped—Gad, Esau, Ephraim; where we are showered with abuse, and in turn shower others; where language is reduced to epithets, chants, cheers, and the shouting never ends; where it is a time to hate, and rage and confusion reign. The video shows where we are, and where we are going. It’s our collective nightmare.