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RICHMOND, Va. — In the main auditorium for a conservative rally titled “Take Back Virginia” this week in the state’s capital, speakers promoted election conspiracy theories, warned of a coming civil war with liberal states, and proclaimed President Biden should be arrested for treason.
But in the event’s back room, that grim tenor gave way to the type of darkly festive tone often found at one of former President Donald J. Trump’s signature rallies — food, drinks and laughter. The sounds of a football tailgate converging with political grievances.
As a politics reporter for The New York Times, I have been to nearly two dozen events of this kind, including Mr. Trump’s stadium rallies, smaller events like this, or makeshift festivals like “Trumpstock” for Mr. Trump’s super fans in Northern Arizona. Each time, I’m reminded of how these occasions are constructed to barely feel like a political event.
Mr. Trump has his signature rally playlist — which his die-hard supporters have come to memorize — full of wide-ranging music including opera, rock and even “Memories,” from the musical “Cats.”
The event in Virginia, where Mr. Trump delivered an address by phone, served meatballs and cheese plates and had a cash bar, where customers could watch speakers from the other room. At one point, two patrons swapped petitions about election integrity, updating each other on ongoing efforts to overturn the 2020 election while ordering a glass of wine.
However, the most noticeable reflection of how Mr. Trump’s most ardent fans have taken on his personality and grievances is in the clothing. Among some attendees, it is not enough to go to an event in the name of Mr. Trump; their attendance also requires wearing something that mimics some of his political calling cards — mocking his political opponents, using vulgar language and openly embracing political incorrectness. At some events, I’ve seen people with particularly crass T-shirts hold their own photo lines, as others queue for selfie after selfie.
In Virginia, I talked to three men — all dressed fairly typically for an event like this — about what they decided to wear, and how their clothing reflected their political beliefs.
These interviews have been condensed and lightly edited for clarity.
James Thornton, 47, of Virginia
“I’m open to both sides. But when I go over to the other side, they don’t like me. I want to hear their side and they can hear my side. That’s the way society should be. Not shutting down things because you can’t answer.”
“Education for me is the biggest thing. The critical race theory and the L.G.B.T. Which I don’t mind. I don’t care if you’re gay. It’s when you push your views onto my views. Where do your rights start and mine end?”
“It’s not that I hate Democrats. It’s their agenda and what they push. I’m a hard-working person. And I see my tax dollars not benefiting me at all. It benefits a kind that don’t want to give 100 percent and give that effort. I know everyone isn’t like that. Some people need help, no doubt. But when I see a 27-year-old laughing, saying, ‘I get assistance,’ I go, ‘What! I’m paying for that.’ You know I used to have a sticker that said, ‘Keep working — the millions on welfare depend on it.’”
Val Yurachek, 52, of Virginia
“I’m worried about our freedoms. The American people want what this country is based on, which is our freedoms. And all these mandates and forced vaccinations, that’s not America and that’s not freedom and that’s not our God-given rights. Rights come from God. And that’s what the Constitution is based on.”
“We don’t want to go the route of a socialist or communist country. My family came from a place that had one of those types of regimes, and that’s not something that we want here.”
“I was in the Marine Corps. And my father was in the Marine Corps, too. And as Americans we love our country, and the flag and the eagle represent that. I don’t want to put a blanket over everyone and say only one party supports that. But if you’re going to support America, and you’re going to support patriotism, the conservative side — the Constitution side — that’s the group to do it. The left has gone too far to communism and socialism.”
Robert Levy, 62, of New Jersey
“We started the T-shirt company last summer. First it was a couple of shirts, and then we put up a sign fighting the Covid restrictions — and it was a big hit.”
“It’s gotten easier to sell anti-Biden stuff. Because of the horrendous stuff he’s doing, people on both sides of the aisle are sick of what he’s doing. If you’re not brain-dead, you don’t support these type of policies.”
“We have to go to events like these, because if we tried to sell on Facebook, we’d get taken down. Because they don’t like the message. We have to dance to the music. We have to find our people who have our political beliefs.”
“Our biggest seller is a shirt that says ‘Stolen Property’ with a picture of the White House.”
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