The couple’s response to Black Lives Matter protesters in St. Louis could be an indicator of how Americans are perceiving the movement through television.
A private property in St. Louis was anything but this past Sunday as protesters veered off their course on Kings Highway, through the circular gate leading to the residential neighborhood on Portland Place, and positioning themselves within feet of the home of Mark and Patricia McCloskey. The confrontation was quite a literal depiction of the divide taking place in the country: A Waspy couple representing the American dream brandishing firearms on their front lawn as exasperated protesters lined the street along the property demanding to abolish the system they say prevents them from ever getting there.
Despite the exchange of words being virtually unintelligible given the incessant shouting, the rifle and handgun displayed by the McCloskeys made their message very clear: They wanted their private street to be cleared of the protesters, who were reportedly marching to the home of St. Louis Mayor Lynda Krewson to demand her resignation (in a Facebook live video two days prior she had read the names and addresses of activists who were calling for police reforms). The showdown was witnessed by millions of Americans who saw videos of the exchange on social media, prompting the typical bickering along party lines as to what the imagery symbolized in the greater discourse taking place in the country.
No charges have been filed against the couple. St. Louis Police say they are conducting a review of the encounter, calling it an investigation into trespassing and fourth degree assault by intimidation. There’s certainly a conversation to be had as to whether it was appropriate for the protesters to be on the private street, if the McCloskeys’ response was justified or if there should be legal action taken against any of the individuals involved. However, perhaps the more appropriate question is what prompted the McCloskeys to react in the manner they did? Could their response suggest there are greater implications to the protests beyond the event in St. Louis on June 28th?
Mark and Patricia McCloskey — two personal injury lawyers living in the city of St. Louis — are apparently financially secure. The property on Portland Place has reportedly been appraised at $1.15 million. Neither one of them is particularly vocal when it comes to politics, but Mark McCloskey has made campaign contributions in the past. He supported the Bush-Quayle campaign in the 1992 presidential election and donated to the National Republican Congressional Committee in 1996. It would be another ten years until Mark McCloskey made another federal campaign contribution: Donald Trump.
According to FEC filings, in the final month of the 2016 presidential election between Hillary Clinton and Mr. Trump, Mark McCloskey began contributing to the Republican candidate. He capped out the individual donation limit to the Trump Make America Great Again Committee and to Donald J. Trump For President, Inc. as well as an additional $500 to the Republican National Committee. The McCloskeys have not donated to any races on the federal level since then; however, they have donated to Democrats on the state and local level.
The most recent donation came in the form of a $250 disbursement to the campaign of state Rep. Steven Roberts on October 17th — a contribution the lawmaker has since said will be donated to Moms Demand Action, an advocacy group for gun control. The donation to the incumbent wasn’t the first to Democratic candidates by the McCloskeys. In July 2017, Mark McCloskey gave $600 to the father of the state representative, Steven Robert Sr., in his bid for a seat on the St. Louis Board of Aldermen (he also donated $500 to the independent candidate, Celeste Vossmeyer, in that race). The year prior, Mark McCloskey donated $3,250 to the campaign of Russ Carnahan, a former Democratic U.S. representative who launched an unsuccessful bid for lieutenant governor in the state of Missouri. Taking all of his donations into account, Mark McCloskey’s financial support doesn’t appear to be merely based on party lines.
Money certainly talks, but so do people. The attorney for the McCloskeys — whose biography is entirely worth reading — told the Associated Press following the Portland Place confrontation that the couple were “long-time civil rights advocates” and supporters of the Black Lives Matter movement. He later released a statement on behalf of his clients saying, “The Black Lives Matters movement is here to stay, it is the right message, and it is about time … The McCloskeys want to make sure no one thinks less of BLM, its message and the means it is employing to get its message out because of the actions of a few white individuals who tarnished a peaceful protest.”
His comments are far from the views expressed on prominent right-wing news programs who say BLM protesters “will come for you” or are arming themselves in a “war on police.” In fact, their words line up more so with the narrative that you’d find on CNN or MSNBC. It’s hard to say where the McCloskeys get their news from. After all, they are members of a voting bloc with a reputation of being relatively unpredictable: Older, white, and college-educated — a vital demographic for Democrats while taking back the House in the 2018 Midterms and a intricate part of the strategy in reclaiming the White House in November 2020.
The McCloskeys’ Portland Place home sits off Kings Highway in St. Louis, but it hasn’t always been the residence of the Missouri couple. Mark McCloskey appeared on Fox News with Tucker Carlson on Tuesday where he said he moved to the city from West St. Louis County 32 years ago. As was the case for most urban areas, the city of St. Louis overwhelmingly voted for Democrat Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election; the surrounding metropolitan area of West St. Louis County also went for Clinton, albeit by a much more narrow margin.
The politicization of this issue — despite the wishes of the McCloskeys — undoubtedly exists. After the appearance on Fox News, Mark McCloskey sat down for an interview with CNN’s Chris Cuomo who admonished the prior discussion with Tucker Carlson saying, “I’m not going to use you as a pawn to advance my own agenda like the show you just went on which is where somebody wants to see Black Lives Matter as inimical to the American cause.” It’s more than likely Carlson, an opinionated political talk show host, was trying to push his position; but that doesn’t negate the fact this may be representative of a separate conversation: The way this key voting bloc is perceiving the latest protests based on their media consumption.
On the same day the McCloskeys came face-to-face with the very protesters they claim tosupport, new evidence surfaced to suggest they weren’t alone in their beliefs. Public support for the Black Lives Matter movement reached 60%, according to a poll released by CBS News on that Sunday. What complicates the issue is that the McCloskeys were no longer neutral observers of the demonstrations ; they were in fear that the destructive mob seen through their televisions was approaching their own home.
When it comes to the destruction of property, according to the CBS poll, support begins to decline based on the structure in question. For example, only 55% of respondents said they supported the removal of confederate statues in public places. When you narrow down the responses to the 45–64 age range of Mark and Patricia that support drops to 40%. Therefore, one could imagine that a large portion of Americans would outright reject the destruction of private property (homes, businesses, etc.) witnessed over the past month. It’s worth noting, most Americans haven’t seen this destruction first-hand, but instead on television and through social media.
Mark McCloskey mentions he was watching live coverage of the protests in St. Louis on June 2nd — the night he notes Police Capt. David Dorn was murdered. He claims he was glued to his television from the moment the first window was broken at a 7/11 downtown until the entire structure was burned to the ground. It wasn’t the destruction that caught his attention, but rather the lack of response from police. This was the memory that resurfaced when he saw protesters coming through the gate of his neighborhood. For this reason, he felt he himself had to protect his property acknowledging the lack of a police response to the demonstrations a week prior.
“I saw it all going up in flames and my life destroyed in an instant and I did what I thought I had to do to protect by hearth, my home and my family,” Mark McCloskey told Carlson.
Again, this isn’t to say the response from the McCloskeys was justified. Rather, it’s an acknowledgement that what they saw on television the days leading up to the encounter made them fearful. There are undoubtedly dueling narratives in the media when it comes to the demonstrations. Liberal-leaning networks will say marchers are exclusively peaceful, while right-wing outlets will argue the protests have been hijacked by agitators looking to riot and loot. A reasonable person would understand both narratives can be true at once, but in the case of the McCloskeys — and possibly others Americans in their relative socio-economic state — the latter narrative prevailed.
Since Mark McCloskey claims he was watching live coverage of the protests in St. Louis, we can assume he wasn’t watching network television as the coverage would have been rotated through different feeds of major cities. In other words CNN, Fox News or MSNBC likely weren’t showing the protests in St. Louis for the entirety of the events described by Mark McCloskey. This means he was likely watching a local station — one of the more trusted forms of news in today’s polarized landscape — which played a role in creating his perception of the nationwide demonstrations, especially in his hometown.
The George Floyd protests have turned into a political issue by no fault of those who are marching for actual change. The demonstrations would eventually turn into riots and looting, which was weaponized into a rallying cry for many Americans — primarily conservatives — who called for “law and order.” One can only assume the divide on the issue will have political consequences as both of the 2020 presidential candidates have used the moment to draw contrasts between their differing approaches to the conflict.
That raises the question: Are the McCloskeys an anomaly — nothing more than an outlier who deviates away from the way people are really perceiving these demonstrations? Or, are the McCloskeys an augury — an omen of sorts that could be a sign of what the future entails? Whether or not you agree with their response is irrelevant. They, like many other Americans in the McCloskeys’ socio-economic situation, could ultimately decide the election. The media’s role in facilitating their perception of the movement could be the catalyst that sways them in either direction.