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Mark and Patricia McCloskey, the gun-toting St. Louis couple, explained

The couple is speaking at the first night of the Republican convention. Here’s why.

Mark and Patricia McCloskey stand in front their home, guns raised, as protesters march toward St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson’s home on June 28.
Laurie Skrivan/St. Louis Post-Dispatch/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

Mark and Patricia McCloskey get to speak at the Republican National Convention on Monday because they waved guns at Black Lives Matter protesters.

The St. Louis couple rose to national notoriety in late June when they were captured in viral videos and photos outside their mansion in a gated community pointing a rifle and handgun at peaceful protesters. Since then, they have turned into a Rorschach test for where people stand on the Black Lives Matter movement and gun rights in America.

The protesters were on their way to St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson’s house to demonstrate against police brutality and systemic racism. When the protesters went into the McCloskeys’ privately owned and operated neighborhood, Mark McCloskey came out of his house — shouting at demonstrators that they were on private property and should leave. Shortly after, Patricia McCloskey came out, aiming a handgun at the protesters. Then Mark McCloskey went to her side, holding a rifle.

The incident quickly became politically polarized. On the left, the McCloskeys were widely seen as villains standing against a crowd of peaceful protesters, defending and maintaining a status quo that uses the threat of violence to oppress racial minorities. On the right, they were viewed as heroes who, empowered by their Second Amendment rights, stood against a dangerous movement that’s engaged in rioting and looting over the past few months.

A few weeks after the encounter, St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kimberly Gardner charged the McCloskeys with unlawful use of a gun, a low-level felony. “It is illegal to wave weapons in a threatening manner at those participating in nonviolent protest, and while we are fortunate this situation did not escalate into deadly force, this type of conduct is unacceptable in St. Louis,” Gardner said.

Republican lawmakers, including Gov. Mike Parson and US Sen. Josh Hawley, subsequently condemned the charges. The McCloskeys received support from right-wing media outlets, such as Fox News and Breitbart. President Donald Trump retweeted a video of the couple.

Now the McCloskeys, still facing charges, will speak at the Republican National Convention.

The McCloskeys were charged for unlawful use of a gun

On June 28, protesters in St. Louis made their way to Mayor Krewson’s house through Portland Place, a privately owned and operated neighborhood. The demonstrators were calling on the mayor to resign after, during a Facebook Live video, she read the names and addresses of people who wrote to her advocating for police reform — which critics said was doxxing and intimidation. (Krewson later apologized, but her office also pointed out that the names and addresses were already public records.)

As the demonstrators entered the neighborhood, the first house on their right was the McCloskeys’. The couple, after seeing the commotion, came out with guns, telling the demonstrators to leave. Many protesters seemed to ignore them and move along, though some remained in front of the McCloskeys’ house, recording the couple and, in some cases, shouting back.

St. Louis police investigated the incident, leading the local prosecutor, Gardner, to file charges after finding the McCloskeys exhibited a weapon “in an angry or threatening manner.” Although the felony carries the potential of prison time, Gardner has said the couple could go through a diversion program that would put them in community service, counseling, or another remedial program instead.

But Gov. Parson has said he would pardon them. Republican supporters claim the couple did nothing wrong, with Missouri’s Castle Doctrine and stand-your-ground laws protecting their rights to defend themselves.

According to the McCloskeys, they genuinely felt their lives were in danger as protesters approached.

“It was about as bad as it can get,” Mark McCloskey told local news station KSDK. “I really thought it was storming the Bastille — that we would be dead, and the house would be burned, and there was nothing we could do about it. It was a huge and frightening crowd.” He added, “The only thing that stopped the crowd from approaching the house was when I had that rifle. … It’s the only thing that stemmed the tide.”

The McCloskeys claimed the protesters broke through the neighborhood’s gate before charging up to their private property. They and their supporters have cited photos of the gate broken into pieces as proof that the demonstrators violently came through.

But an investigation by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch indicated the gate was open before the protesters walked through. The investigation also found that the McCloskeys, in a previous lawsuit against their neighborhood trustees, knew the gate was in bad shape, arguing that the trustees didn’t maintain or repair it. So the gate could have been broken on accident as the protesters walked through, not due to an act of violence.

The protesters said they were peaceful and respectful. They claimed they remained off the McCloskeys’ property, sticking to the street or sidewalk — which is backed by videos of the incident.

The police investigation found at least one protester was armed. The investigation also concluded that the protesters said some threatening things to the McCloskeys, including “you own a business; your business is gone,” “we coming back, baby,” “you ain’t the only [expletive] with a gun,” and “they coming back to your house.”

The left and right saw the St. Louis incident very differently

Exactly how one interprets these events may come down to a person’s politics and views toward Black Lives Matter and gun rights in the US.

In the month before the St. Louis incident, Black Lives Matter protesters took to the streets nationwide, calling for an end to police brutality and systemic racism after the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Most of the protests were peaceful. But some, particularly during the first week, turned violent, resulting in rioting and looting.

The protests also preceded a spike in murders in some large US cities. While criminologists caution that it’s still not completely clear why there has been a murder spike, some pundits and experts have linked the rise in violence to the protests — arguing that the protests led police to back down in a way that let crime spike unabated, or that the protests fostered distrust in police, leading people to resort to their own means, outside the law, to resolve disputes with others.

In this context, the McCloskeys’ actions can be interpreted in one of two ways: They’re heroes who stood up against a mob that fostered violence nationwide. Or they’re villains who have mischaracterized an almost entirely peaceful movement in a thinly veiled attempt to maintain a racist status quo that enables unchecked police brutality.

Democrats and others on the left have by and large come out against the McCloskeys’ actions. They argue that Black Lives Matter protesters have a real grievance — with the statistical and empirical evidence demonstrating racial disparities in policing and the criminal justice system — despite a very small minority taking part in rioting, looting, and other violence. To the extent the protests may have contributed to a spike in crime and murders, supporters argue, that only shows the need for police to repair community trust and relations so they can do their jobs and keep people safe.

As former Vice President Joe Biden, the Democratic nominee for president, put it following Floyd’s killing, “We know the nation we want to be. Now we have to deliver on this moment to achieve fundamental changes that address racial inequalities and white supremacy in our country.”

Republicans and others on the right have come out in support of the McCloskeys. They’ve claimed the Black Lives Matter movement is trying to defund and abolish the police and pull back “tough on crime” policies that they believe have kept America safe. They’ve also characterized the protests as hypocritical, because they’re focused on police violence against Black people but not “Black-on-Black crime.”

That’s the context in which Trump, during Black Lives Matter protests, has repeatedly tweeted, “LAW & ORDER!” It’s the same context in which Mark McCloskey told KSDK, “There is mayhem in the city every night, and you never hear about it.”

The protesters counter that they do care about non-police violence — and, in fact, there have been large Black-led protests over other kinds of violence over the past few years. They argue that police violence against Black people and other kinds of violence are dual problems: Police not only harass and kill Black people but also fail to protect Black people from real crimes. To that end, many supporters of Black Lives Matter — Biden included — don’t want to defund or abolish the police but rather reform police to better protect and serve minority communities.

Beyond Black Lives Matter, the couple’s actions exposed divides over gun rights in the US. For the left, the couple’s actions exemplified the kind of reckless, loose use of firearms that’s fueled extraordinary levels of gun violence in the US for decades. For the right, the moment showed why the Second Amendment and gun rights are necessary — offering a last line of defense when the government can’t or won’t protects its citizens.

Together, all of these partisan divides have created a political environment in which the McCloskeys are invited to speak at the Republican convention.

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