We know D.C. Get our free newsletter to stay in the know.
Democracy in Crisis is a syndicated column, a podcast, and a daily blog.
Across from the Pennsylvania Farm Show Complex & Expo Center in Harrisburg where Donald Trump is set to speak to thousands in a couple hours, Harrisburg Mayor Eric Papenfuse runs through a list of Trump’s failed policies and offers up some zingers along the way to the 100 or so gathered for an anti-Trump rally organized by the Pennsylvania Democrats.
It’s appropriate that Trump is having his rally at the farm expo where they exhibit cows, he says, because Trump’s presidency so far, 100 days in, has been—wait for it—”an udder disaster.”
And then, an anti-Trump chant: “Hey-hey, ho-ho, Donald Trump has got to go.”
Behind the protesters is Tanner, 28. He duck-walks, shuffles a little, then yells, “BILL CLINTON IS A RAPIST, BILL CLINTON IS A RAPIST, BILL CLINTON. IS A RAPIST, BILL CLINTON IS A RAPIST,” at the PA Dems.
Save for his red “Make America Great Again” hat, Tanner, wearing scuffed up Vans, skinny jeans, a purple tank top, and shades, with a hummingbird tattoo on his arm, looks like he just got back from, say, Bonnaroo.
Some protesters sneer at him, and one with a “Russia Stole the Election” sign moves towards him, but Tanner doesn’t care. He’s really into it now, bending his knees, sticking his elbows out, adding some rhythm to it, turnt: “BILL CLINTON IS A RAPIST, BILL CLINTON IS A RAPIST—BILL CLINTON. IS A RAPIST. BILL CLINTON. IS A RAPIST.”
He’s here because he doesn’t like “the progressive narrative,” he says later on, in a kind of lazy semi-Southern stoner drawl.
“I don’t support the progressive narrative that gender is a spectrum, things like that—I think that tears down the fabrics of society,” he says. “The fabrics that society is built on are surrounded by the concepts that bind the family unit together, not this ‘anybody can be what they want’ way of thinking; that you can be transracial, trans-handicapped and things like that. That’s out of control.”
Tanner’s aware that Trump has been accused of rape too, but he thinks the evidence against Bill Clinton is stronger.
“We have way more evidence of Bill Clinton’s accusations than we have of Donald Trump’s accusations. We have several witnesses that came forward. And sure we have several witnesses that have come forward about Trump, that’s true, but we also have flight logs of Jeffrey Epstein’s plane, the Lolita express with Clinton on it,” he says, referring to the big shot billionaire financier and, yes, convicted sex offender who, yes, in 2002 flew Clinton and others in his private plane. “And yeah sure, I will concede that Donald Trump did know the man but the flight logs show Bill Clinton on the plane, not Trump.”
He mentions Dennis Hastert, the former Republican Speaker of the House and admitted child molester, as evidence that “the majority of our politicians are implicated in sex crimes.”
“This shit goes high up, so it’s not really that crazy,” he says.
Then he’s off, talking “Pizzagate,” the nutty, internet-brewed conspiracy theory that claims there is a sex ring run by Democrats via pizza places around the country, most notably Comet Ping Pong, a D.C. pizza spot and music venue. Due to the prevalence of the conspiracy theory, Comet was harassed by Pizzagaters, culminating when North Carolina resident Edgar Maddison Welch drove to Comet to “self-investigate” the restaurant and entered, armed with an AR-15, and fired three shots.
“If you look up fuckin’ Marina Abramović, spirit-cooking and all that stuff, it’s tied back into Comet pizza. The alleged shooter that showed up at Comet pizza helped shift that narrative real quick and shut it down,” Tanner says. “He shows up, he fires two shots in the ground and immediately puts down his weapon and concedes to the police. So was he ever there to do anything other than cause a scene? Maybe in this guy’s mind he wanted to bring attention to Pizzagate but you can look this guy up on IMDb—he’s an actor.”
Right then, another Trump supporter wearing a Marine Le Pen T-shirt here to mock the PA Dems walks by.
“Marine Le Pen, yes, make France great again,” Tanner says, and then completes his other thought. “Comet pizza is one aspect of Pizzagate.”
Trump isn’t perfect or anything, but he voted for him and he’s happy so far.
“The appointment of the Conservative Supreme Court justice, that’s the biggest thing,” he says. “Most people at Trump’s base, they could say he can do nothing else during his term [than confirm Gorsuch] and they’d be OK with that because it’s a wider issue about the spectrum of culture and the way our society’s headed because right now, we’re heading down a nihilistic, totalitarian Marxist society and that’s not what we want.”
He won’t be attending the rally inside: “I’m gonna leave here shortly. I have to pick up my girlfriend from work. I have other obligations.”
Nearby, Anne Armstrong in a flowing robe with the Virgin Mary on the front and back and wearing weed-leaf earrings preaches pot gospel to some protesters.
“You can heal sicknesses with natural herbal remedies without having to go through intermediaries like go to a real doctor and get permission. These are our bodies, those are our gardens” she says, cradling a shofar and puffing on a joint. “Police have no role in either because it’s really a matter for us as individuals: ‘Do I want to heal my body with cannabis medicine rather than expensive and ineffective drugs?’”
Armstrong, a Jewish convert to Catholicism, is the deaconess of The Healing Church in Rhode Island. The Healing Church hinges its beliefs on Exodus 30:23’s reference to a botanical medicine which they believe is cannabis oil. You don’t need “single payer, Trumpcare, or Obamacare” when you’ve got “cannabis care,” she says.
“Ever since I got a medical cannabis card in 2009, my healthcare went from thousands of dollars a month to zero. I used to take prednisone, albuterol—I used to weigh 265 pounds. I was not a pretty sight, and when I started eating cannabis, I lost weight. I got healthier,” she says. “We should rally for the tree of life and for the freedom of religion that they promised because cannabis is the sacrament in the Bible.” Along with her weight loss and improved health, she says weed helped her teenage son’s depression.
“He was in high school and he tried all of those [prescription] drugs, and they were killing him, and he wanted medical cannabis but he couldn’t get it for depression. But I could get it for something so I got it and made him a caregiver,” she says. “He went from not even being able to get out of bed to straight As, captain of the football team. Then he got a full scholarship to Worcester Polytech, and when he went up there they didn’t have medical cannabis in Massachusetts yet, so he got kicked out for using his medicine—zero tolerance, all this nonsense. So, he came home, got his act together, and right now he’s deciding if he wants to go, full scholarship, to Brown or Johns Hopkins. He applied to them saying, ‘I grow cannabis. It heals cancer. I’ve seen it and I want to go to medical school to integrate that.’”
Alan Gordon, also of the Healing Church, whom Armstrong calls “the weed Jesus,” shofar in hand as well, nudges me and offers me a joint. I take a few puffs and am quickly very, very heavy-headed. It’s some strong shit.
“This is a something from a New England state,” he tells me. “It’s a kush hybrid but I’m not sure what exactly.”
Armstrong spoke at a Trump rally in Pittsburgh about cannabis and veterans with PTSD. She said that she was able to calm both sides, the Trump supporters and Trump protesters who were at each other’s throats, by smoking them all up.
“There was an angry crowd with weapons, and we smoked with the crowd and they all turned peaceful” she says. “We should work together for issues. We’re too divided.” She came to the Harrisburg rally to keep the peace with pot, but she is not pro-Trump. She is pro-Healing Church and pro-Anne Armstrong.
“I wrote myself in for president and I also ran for governor of Rhode Island two years ago under the Rhode Island Compassion Party for the healing of the nation,” she says and then gets less benevolent. “Looking behind the scenes there was a lot of disgusting stuff getting covered up involving vulnerable children.”
She mentions James Alefantis, the owner of Comet Ping Pong and specifically, a key piece of Pizzagate “evidence”—a photo on Alefantis’ Instagram of a little girl with her hands masking-taped to a Comet table with the caption, “New seating area/ procedure for our youngest guests? Hilar.”
“Seems to me that it’s more likely than not given the evidence from James Alefantis’ Instagram account. That’s disgusting,” she says. “How can James Alefantis go on Fox News and say that little girl with her hands duct taped to the table was his god daughter? Where is she? Where is her parents? Do they give duct tape out at pizza restaurants to entertain the children? I don’t think that’s it’s centered in one place like that. I think [Comet Ping Pong] is sort of a false flaggy thing, but where there’s smoke there’s fire, and there’s a lot of smoke. I think if they shut that down and then Trump quits and Pence quits and they put me in charge, we’ll all be very happy.”
Armstrong moves on, chatting up some organizers from Planned Parenthood. Chilling out and listening to Armstrong is our Urban Outfitters-chic Pizzagater, Tanner.
“Pope John Paul II said truth cannot contradict truth—science and faith are not at odds. Both of them agree cannabis is good for us if you do real science,” Armstrong says to some half-intrigued protesters. Then her spiel shifts to cannabis’ biblical origins.
“Cannabis in Hebrew is kineboisin, the essential ingredient in—”
“Yeah, the Bible also tells to you to respect the laws of the land,” Tanner interrupts.
Armstrong keeps going, but a few other Trump supporters even more on the troll spectrum than Tanner, one of them a baby-faced college student in a kilt waving a flag for “Kekistan”—the made-up country whose mythos began on message board 4chan—overpower her with their in-jokes.
Tanner tells Armstrong the police should come and arrest her for smoking weed. Others try to start a “lock her up” chant, but it doesn’t last long. Nearby, a dude is holding a “Make Wall, Not War” sign. Armstrong smiles.
Donald Trump doesn’t speak for another hour.