On Wednesday afternoon, at the perimeter of the United States Capitol lawn, a small gathering of pink-shirted protesters held signs advertising their support for the Iran nuclear deal and sang “Give Peace a Chance,” the anti-war classic that has seemingly been a feature of every left-wing rally since the 1970s.
J.D. Braun did not like what he heard.
Braun is large and bald and wears a long white Dumbledore beard and has tattoos on his forearms. His day job is manufacturing motorcycle parts for Harley-Davidson. He was trying to protest the Iran deal and listen to what he called the “common sense” speakers, like Ted Cruz and Donald Trump, who were about to appear on a nearby stage and whom Braun supported with several buttons on his T-shirt.
But those goddamn hippies singing John and Yoko were making it hard to hear. Braun edged closer to the music, took a deep breath, and unleashed a powerful baritone.
“Aaaaaaaall weee are sayyyyyying... is shhhhhhut the fuck up!” he screamed. “Everybody! Aaaaaall weeeee are saaaayyyyying... is shut the fuck up!”
Braun’s taunt encouraged some of his fellow Trump/Cruz supporters, who soon chimed in. “Shame on you foolish pink-shirts,” one man said. “All you are saying is give bombs a chance to murder innocent people!”
What’s infuriating for someone like Braun is that the hippies are actually winning. The tragedy of being a right-wing activist in the age of Obama is that, despite the Tea Party successes of 2010 and 2014, you keep losing. Wednesday’s rally was scheduled the day after the fate of the Iran deal was sealed, meaning that in order to avoid embarrassment, perhaps the only thing left to do for the Tea Party is yell “shut the fuck up.”
Braun told me he flew to Washington from Los Angeles just to attend the rally, which was organized by the Tea Party Patriots and headlined by Cruz, Trump, and Sarah Palin. Braun said the trip was worth it if he could help demonstrate that there are real people—people like him—who believe the deal is a disaster for the United States.
“I don’t want them to get $150 billion of taxpayer money,” he said, referring to the frozen assets—none of them owned by U.S. taxpayers—that Iran may gain access to with sanctions relief, “so they can buy conventional weapons, so they can develop nuclear weapons, so they can terrorize Israel and the rest of the Democratic free world.”
According to organizers, thousands of people were expected to fill the western lawn of the Capitol on Wednesday to rally alongside Braun. But in the end it looked like no more than a few hundred of them ventured out in the 93-degree heat. If Iran deal opponents were looking for a sign of a popular uprising, they certainly weren’t going to find it here.
Those who did show up were the Tea Party diehards, the sort of people who think nothing of driving a few hours or taking time out of the middle of a workday to help fight the good fight, be it against immigration reform, or against Obamacare, or against Planned Parenthood, or, Wednesday, against the Iran deal. They dripped sweat and tried to huddle under the shade. One woman folded her “STOP THE IRAN NUCLEAR DEAL” sign into a fan and drowsily waved it in front of her face.
William Temple, from Georgia, sat on a ledge and tried to cool down. He was dressed, as usual, like one of the three Georgians who signed the Declaration of Independence, Button Gwinnett—an outfit that includes a tricorner hat and a coat. I have seen Temple so often at events like this that I now ask him how he’s been. He’s following around Ted Cruz, he told me. Next week, he’ll follow the senator to Florida—hat and coat in tow.
The rest of the Patriots carried, as they are wont to do, highly Tweet-able props: a photo of Obama with the word “communist” and the caption “AMERICA’S BIGGEST TERRORIST! NO DEAL YOU IDIOT !!!!”; a 20-foot high banner that read, simply, “TRUMP”; a photo of an explosion with the message “GRANDCHILDREN MATTER”; and dozens of black-and-white placards that read, “WHAT PART OF DEATH TO AMERICA DEATH TO ISRAEL DON’T YOU UNDERSTAND?”
The speakers, too, were Tea Party circuit regulars, if not products of the Tea Party: Besides Trump, Palin, and Cruz, there were talk radio personalities Glenn Beck and Mark Levin, former congresswoman and 2012 presidential candidate Michele Bachmann, and Duck Dynasty star Phil Robertson. Trump has always been a draw for the Tea Party: His CPAC appearances during the Obama era, for example, have been attended in droves. But his position as the marquee name at Wednesday’s rally suggests that the Trump movement has eclipsed the Tea Party in importance, and his appearance was more a favor than a required campaign stop.
In that sense, the event felt sort of like a throwback. Trump’s role, though hyped, was minimal. His remarks were short and unsurprising. He talked, mostly, about himself. The most incredible moment of all the speeches was when Palin, dressed in a fuchsia linen jacket, said, “Only in an Orwellian Obama world full of sprinkly fairy dust floating from atop a unicorn as he’s peeking through a pretty pink kaleidoscope would he ever see victory or safety for America or Israel in this treaty.”
It is only in a similar world, coincidentally, that Wednesday’s event is likely to have any impact at all on the Iran deal, which is already done.