What I Saw Inside Roy Moore’s Barn Burner
The message made zero sense. People lapped it up.
By Charles P. Pierce December 12, 2017
“One of our attorneys is a Jew.”
—Kayla Moore, for the defense
MIDLAND CITY, ALABAMA—Down here, they call this southern part of the state “the Wiregrass,” Alabama’s slice of an ecological anomaly that also covers parts of the Florida Panhandle and southern Georgia. Up off County Road 59 is a lovely little facility called Jordan’s Activity Barn. It is the venue of choice for high-end functions for people from all over Dale County. Its pale brown pine walls have appeared in hundreds of local wedding albums. On Monday night, however, it played host of one of the most incredible displays of weaponized absurdity that it has been my privilege to witness. On the other hand, the fiddle player was quite good.
You try. Seriously, you do. You give the benefit of the doubt to people because, what the hell, they’re the same species as you are, and they have the right to their opinions, and they can certainly vote into office whomever the hell they want. But sometimes, there is absolutely no way to keep faith with the truth and with your readers without pointing out that circumstances have led you into a hall of funhouse mirrors.
On Monday night, in Jordan’s Activity Barn, they had the last rally on behalf of Judge Roy Moore, the Republican candidate in Tuesday’s special election to replace Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III in the United States Senate. The whole event was lousy with pestiferous Bible-banging. Both reality and American history were fed into individual woodchippers. The theme of the night’s devotions was that Nobody Comes Into Alabama And Tells Us How To Vote. This theme was emphasized by the night’s roster of speakers, which included: a carbuncled vandal from Virginia (Steve Bannon); a failed congressional candidate from Wisconsin (Paul Nehlen); a disgraced sheriff from Wisconsin (David Clarke, Jr.), and a sitting congressman from Texas (Louie Gohmert). They all took turns bashing all the rank outsiders who came into Alabama to campaign for Doug Jones, the Democratic nominee.
Up was down. Down was up. Thomas Paine, of all people, was enlisted in the cause of an out-and-out theocrat, and the person who did so quoted him from the wrong pamphlet anyway. Abraham Lincoln was invoked repeatedly on behalf of a neo-Confederate who speculated that the Constitution might be improved by removing the amendments passed immediately after the Civil War. Moore was defended against the allegations of child molestation by an old Army buddy who told a story about how they all were taken to a brothel in Vietnam one night and Moore refused to pay for sex with prostitutes who may have been underage. Res ipse loquitur, y’all, and the adoring crowd drank it all down like so much apple brandy.
Lord, as the late Guy Clark once put it, you’d think there’s less fools in this world.
IT WAS THE ROSE PARADE OF EMPOWERED IGNORANCE. IT WAS THE ROYAL WEDDING OF STUPID AND MEAN.
At the risk of sounding like every liberal Yankee bogeyman flitting through the minds of the assembled, this event was completely nuts. It was a naked appeal to unreason. It was the Rose Parade of empowered ignorance. It was the Royal Wedding of Stupid and Mean. It was the Celebration of the Lizard Brain. The Id was in the saddle, and it was riding the crowd, and the barker at this particular carnival of fools was quite happy to bring all the suckers in out of the Alabama dark and into the freak show he’d created.
This was the first time I’d ever seen the Steve Bannon Show in person, and I was struck by how completely full of painfully obvious horseshit he is. A rootless cosmopolitan, a former investment banker at Goldman Sachs, a former producer who worked in godless Hollywood, a man who wouldn’t have a public career at all had he not latched onto a lunatic wingnut zillionaire from the proletarian enclaves of the Hamptons, Bannon came down to Midland City like a combination of Elmer Gantry and an aluminum siding salesman, unspooling angry banalities about the contempt other people have for the “working class,” about how he is one with all the old white folks gathered in the activity barn because they all share a fealty to a pussy-grabbing casino bankrupt who’s coherent for about 20 minutes in the morning. This is the oldest scam in American politics. I thought better of Bannon, at least in terms of his material.
At bottom, Bannon’s entire spiel is an endless bluff against his own barely concealed hypocrisy. He came down here, he maintained, to defend Moore, who lost his job as chief justice of the Alabama supreme court twice for attempting to nullify decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court, against what Bannon referred to as The Nullification Project. But at no point was Bannon, the last heir to House Harkonnen, more transparently lacking in shame as when he identified himself with the military families in the audience. The man sells tinhorn empathy like a payday lender. He told the crowd that the “elites,” who are not Steve Bannon, start wars because “they know that it won’t be their kids who die.”
It’s your sons and daughters who are over there. Our most precious resource, squandered by the elites in this country. You know why? It’s not their sons and daughters over there. They want you to pay for it. They want your kids to enforce it. Under Donald Trump, that deal’s changed.
This, of course, in the service of a president* who skipped Vietnam because his feet hurt. Nobody in that president*’s family ever has served in the military, although the Klan-curious paterfamilias once fought bravely in the battle against black people living in his buildings. Eventually, you grow tired of this grubby hucksterism. You grow tired of the people who cheer for it. You grow tired of it all, and exhausted in the attempt to make sense of human beings so obviously jonesing for the kind of illusions in which a former investment banker in a camo jacket and 31 dress shirts is really one of them, and in which a judge who has been credibly accused of sexual misconduct with teenage girls is really as close a friend to Jesus as they are.
Make no mistake. Bannon had his work cut out for him with Roy Moore, a grim, nasty, Bible-banging old crank with the stage presence of an end table and the rhetorical style of an Old Testament prophet whose ravings didn’t make the cut for the Bible. He is stiff and unpleasant. He couldn’t keep the pages of his prepared text together; occasionally, a sheet or three would fall to his feet, and he would fill the void with long quotations from Samuel Adams, selections from the Breitbart Hymnal for the Permanently Aggrieved, and some of his original work.
Our children cannot pray, as they are taught evolution
Will they learn the fear of god is the only true solution?
And so on.
His speech rambled. He was utterly lost when he strayed a syllable distant from the devotional. He wants to repeal Obamacare, but plainly has no idea what it is. He wants the federal government out of Alabama schools, but plainly has no education policy beyond the early chapters of Leviticus. But once he found his way back to his safe space and readjusted his halo, Moore was so emboldened that he had the audacity to quote FDR, and then to recite extensively from the Gettysburg Address, leaving the shades of Roosevelt and Lincoln to spin swiftly under the sod before they both threw up.
I’ll tell you something. In this country, we have explored the temples built by the Democrat and Republican parties and found that they have idols that do not see us and do not hear us. We need to move forward with a vision to recognize God, to recognize he’s on his throne, and he is, and cares for this country.
You grow exhausted from the effort it takes to keep mockery at bay long enough to explain that what Moore and Bannon are selling is a dangerous blend of religious extremism and McCarthyite bombast, Roy Cohn in Torquemada drag. You grow exhausted by the effort it takes, over and over again, to remind yourself that there are good people in the crowd cheering this river of sludge and nonsense.
Finally, you give up. Roy Moore is a vehicle for collecting suckers, for liberating them from their responsibility as citizens in a self-governing republic, and anybody who thinks this waterheaded theocrat belongs in the United States Senate is a dupe and a fool. Finally, you don’t care if the people behind Roy Moore, and the people in the crowd in front of him, believe you are a member of the coastal elite or an agent of Lucifer. Finally, you grow weary of the smug condescension of religious bigots. Finally, you decide to put down the twin burdens of excusing deliberate ignorance and respecting the opinions of people who want to light the world on fire to kill their imaginary enemies. And you give up and tell the truth.