The McCloskeys’ Unsubtle Message to White America

Mark and Patricia McCloskey appeared at the Republican National Convention to warn that Democrats want to “abolish the suburbs.” Their vision of America is premised on fear—and dominating others.

Lawrence Bryant / Reuters

Patricia and Mark McCloskey sat close together on their burnt-red scalloped couch, the dark wood-paneled walls behind them teasing the grandeur of their St. Louis home, which has been decorated with French silk damask wall coverings, classical-style ceiling murals, and marble urns depicting the Roman god Neptune out front. In June, the pair stood on their lawn, barefoot in slacks, beside carefully curated shrubbery, waving a pistol and an AR-15-style rifle at Black Lives Matter protesters who were headed toward the mayor’s house. The standoff made national news—and earned the couple an invitation to speak at this week’s Republican National Convention. “Make no mistake,” Patricia McCloskey told viewers last night, “no matter where you live, your family will not be safe in the radical Democrats’ America.”

The McCloskeys didn’t talk about race explicitly, but racial fear was clearly the subtext of their segment. Mark McCloskey called the protesters an “out-of-control mob,” describing Cori Bush, the Black Democratic congressional candidate who helped lead the group, as a “Marxist, liberal activist” and a “Marxist revolutionary.” He decried progressive proposals to defund the police and end cash bail, claiming that these policies are designed to protect criminals instead of “honest citizens.”

As an accompanying video produced by the RNC panned from crowds of protesters back to the cloistered McCloskeys, the implication was clear: The “criminals” and “mob” are Black, while “honest citizens” are white. “These radicals are not content with marching in the streets. They want to walk the halls of Congress,” Mark McCloskey warned. “They want to take over. They want power. This is Joe Biden’s party.”

The McCloskeys, who have spent decades suing their neighbors and family members to protect their property, want power too. They have asserted “squatter’s rights” on a patch of shared land in their subdivision, sued a dog breeder who sold them a German shepherd, and destroyed beehives that were part of the education curriculum at a synagogue next door to their property, threatening legal action if the congregation didn’t clean up the mess, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch recently reported. “They are bullies,” the rabbi Susan Talve told The Forward yesterday. “It’s upsetting we make heroes out of people who hate.”

The McCloskeys are avatars for Donald Trump’s pitch to the country: Voters should be scared of what will happen if he is not reelected.

Like the McCloskeys, Trump has a target audience: suburbanites. Trump is deeply fearful of losing voters in the suburbs, who helped carry him to victory in 2016. He recently tweeted that the “suburban housewife” will vote for him because “they want safety” and fear that low-income housing will “invade” their neighborhoods. He also promised to rescind an Obama-era rule designed to prevent housing discrimination, telling “all of the people living their Suburban Lifestyle Dream” to “Enjoy!” Patricia McCloskey echoed these sentiments last night: Protesters are “not satisfied with spreading chaos and violence into our communities,” she said. “They want to abolish the suburbs altogether.” In July, both of the McCloskeys were charged with one felony count each of unlawful use of a weapon. They deny that they committed any crime.

Both McCloskeys warned of shadowy threats lurking at the edge of their property: They’re voting for the president because he wants to help families “play in the backyard without fear,” they said. The couple’s doomsaying suggests that, to them, the suburbs are not an actual place, but an identity. They technically live within the St. Louis city limits, not far from the Loop, a dense area of shops and restaurants, and roughly 10 miles from Ferguson, Missouri, where Michael Brown was shot and killed by a police officer in 2014.

Trump faces growing skepticism from Americans who actually live in the suburbs, nearly a third of whom are not white. There has been “an awakening” among suburban women since 2016, Georgia State Representative Erick Allen, who represents a suburban area outside of Atlanta, told me recently. As these women watched the McCloskeys last night, they heard the same message Trump has been pushing since the early days of his campaign: They should fear the people who live outside their neighborhoods, along with anyone calling for change in America. This messaging does not appear to be working: Only 36 percent of suburban women support the president, exacerbating his bad deficit against Biden, a July poll from ABC News and The Washington Post found. White suburbanites are far more worried about the economy and the COVID-19 crisis than crime, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll from around the same time. And Trump is losing support in several suburban counties in the Midwest that were essential to his 2016 election, The Wall Street Journal recently reported. For all of Trump’s efforts to court the suburbs, the people who live there might end up bringing his downfall.