Donna Woods stands in Cleveland's Public Square talking about a knotty statewide conspiracy in Ohio that kept her husband's murder by a doctor under wraps when very, very famous conspiracy theorist Alex Jones interrupts her.
Jones, the wildly popular right-wing radio host and Infowars.com capo, probably doesn’t even know Woods is speaking when he waddles into the Public Square already surrounded by cameras, security, and cops. Jones howls into a megaphone about the "race war," Obama, and George Soros, among other things, in his carefully considered Texas drawl. But interrupt her he does.
Quickly, members of the Industrial Workers of the World—who aren't really listening to Woods either—begin screaming, “Nazi scum go home” at Jones. A scuffle ensues. A few minutes later Jones is on the ground yelling, “They’re attacking me, officers.” Police pull him up and escort him away from the crowd. (The New York Daily News will suggest later that he might have just tripped while Jones contended that he was “attacked by rabid commies.”)
Meanwhile, Woods, still at a podium, stands back from the chaos and cries.
Sitting under a tree for shade, still collecting herself, and gripping her massive handwritten sign detailing how Joe, her husband of almost 52 years, was slapped by a doctor in his office, how he got a concussion and contusions , how they eventually killed him, Woods begins to speak again about her ordeal.
“My husband worked in paint all his life,” she says 20 minutes after the Alex Jones scuffle. “And it destroyed his lungs.”
Joe's doctor, who she claims was upset with him for previously switching doctors and then returning, slapped her husband. When the doctor went to slap Joe a second time, she says, Joe dodged it and ended up hitting his head on a cabinet.
“We found out what it was all about later,” she says. She claims the doctor who struck Joe—Woods provided his name and the names of other medical officials, but since there is no way to prove any of this is true (and truth and facts mean nothing at the RNC anyway), like at all, we’re leaving the names out—was angry that her husband had switched to a private practice.
“[The doctor] was a monster, he was always cussing,” she says, noting he was 5’9” and wanted to be 6’2” and suggesting the doctor she accuses of “murder” had a Napoleon complex. She says the doctor Joe had been going to and liked a great deal was 6’10”.
She believes that the death was covered up, in part because a large new $100 million dollar-plus hospital being built. She says the county sheriff and county prosecutor wouldn't look into it and intimidated her. She had sent around 50 letters to the state over two years.
Then, she pulls out two framed photos of Joe. In both, Joe is smiling—in one he’s got a cigarette dangling from his mouth, in the other he stands straight in a nice blue suit.
“People expect cops to shoot people in this day,” she said, “but not doctors to murder you. He wasn't that way when he went in, he just couldn't breathe good. I don’t have a life anymore.”
Donna Woods and her conspiracy theory would make for prime Alex Jones material—if Alex Jones were interested in anybody other than Alex Jones.
Cleveland’s downtown Public Square, a few blocks from the RNC convention site is a relatively recently-redesigned space that for this week, is where most protestors, demonstrations, and attention-seekers gather, making it easy for police to monitor and the media to get their coverage. It's full of people on the far right or the far left fighting for their moment in the spotlight and still unpacking their ideologies and navigating a shit load of cognitive dissonance.
Right wing open-carriers who fear the police state but support Trump who is all about law and order; Libertarian anti-gun control autodidacts who hate Trump and empathize with Black Lives Matter; live streaming white metal dudes who love freaking out the cops, support the activists but don't seem to understand that if the shit goes down—and it's clear some of them want the shit to go down—they won’t bear the brunt of the blowback.
One older African-American man from Amityville, Long Island, made the nine-hour drive to Cleveland to support Trump. He's a supporter, he says, because the Democrats are racist.
“Do your research, Senator Byrd was a Ku Klux Klan headman,” he says to anti-Trump protestors. “And he and Clinton were always hugging. Clinton is a racist.”
He is not entirely incorrect. Then he calls President Obama, “O-Bozo”—and he says it like it is the sickest burn of all time.
Nearby, two Cleveland men argue about Trump. There is Cameron Rako, a white boy in his twenties and a Trump supporter, and there is Keith Smith, 56, black, anti-Trump.
“I have no [white] privilege whatsoever,” Rako tells Smith, citing his family's working-class origins.
“That's a damn lie,” Smith interrupts, adding that Rako could walk into a place and they’d hire him long before they’d hire Smith.
“No,” Rako says, “that's bullcrap.”
Then Smith mentions slavery.
“You weren’t born a slave, you were born in America, you're an American,” Rako says.
Smith tells Rako to come with him and see how black people live and are treated. Rako says he has to be here and make sure his family is safe; he can’t come. Smith thinks that is kind of a cop-out. The two are very polite to one another.
“Cops treat me like I’m dirty,” Smith says after Rako walked away.
“Listen here, numb nuts," is how Smith describes his rhetorical approach. He came down to Public Square to explain to Trump supporters how it is for black men in America.
Smith also says he once ran for mayor of Cleveland. He tells me to look up his song ‘Cleveland Knights’ on YouTube. I do. It's a Steely Dan-esque jazz-rock whirl minus the group's lyrical smarm and replaced with wide-eyed praise for Cleveland: “We've got people dancing in the street/ Come to see our place, it’s really neat/ Come to Cleveland, it’s a real treat/ Come to Cleveland, Cleveland knights!”
Also present with a camera in hand recording protesters is Brandon Darby, formerly a grassroots activist involved in Hurricane Katrina relief turned FBI informant and now contributor to Breitbart Texas. Darby's story is fascinating and one I've always read as a fairly common response to left-wing activism once the idealism sours and all the pragmatic stuff that pokes at utopianism stares you down: You give up and you do a heel turn. So here is Darby, recording protestors.
All of the rules are being rewritten at this Trump'd-the-fuck-out RNC. It’s most alive in the Public Square where you witness a distinctly American, solipsistic twist on that whole thing about holding opposing ideas in one’s mind and still being able to function.