In frightening succession, America’s largest companies announced massive layoffs. A famous retail chain filed for bankruptcy, as did the nation’s biggest automotive-parts manufacturer. Consumer confidence plummeted.
Congress took emergency action by cutting taxes and appropriating billions of dollars in infrastructure spending. The Central Bank lowered interest rates and bailed out Wall Street.
Yet the bleeding continued.
Two-hundred-thousand Comitans from around the country, menaced by humiliation both real and imagined, converged on Washington, DC, on the anniversary of the Posse Comitatus Act’s enactment, just as the crisis was intensifying. Schmidt addressed the angry protestors. Many carried flags with the movement’s yellow standard featuring an eagle with a snake in its beak, below which read Aut consiliis aut ense“—”By counsel or by the sword.”
Schmidt cited the usual suspects—the media, financiers, liberals, Muslims, and so on—seeking to overturn the Constitution and rule by fiat. “Our precious nation has never faced such danger,” he yelled, banging his fist on the podium. “Never. At the dawn of our country’s founding, great men like Franklin, Madison, and Washington bravely fought to ensure that this proud nation, under God, would never perish from this earth. Not then, not now!” As the crowd shouted its approval, he thundered, “Demonstrate. Demonstrate. Demonstrate. As long as we have that right, demonstrate. And when we don’t, we’ll demonstrate our displeasure in a very different way.”
Schmidt was an unlikely skipper of this particular ship. Before rising to national prominence as a right-wing blowhard, he’d hawked homeopathic cures for terminal illnesses and End Times survival guides. He had declared bankruptcy six times and even settled a multimillion-dollar insurance fraud suit, narrowly avoiding prison. His personal life was similarly seedy. Married multiple times, each time to ever more voluptuous models, Schmidt repeatedly had been sued for sexual assault, including by an underage intern. He’d settled out of court on each occasion.
Like a sleazy swindler, as depicted on cable television, the hefty sixty-six-year-old sported a pompadour of dubious authenticity and vibrant golden sheen that, like New England autumn foliage, changed daily. His perma-tan completed the look, giving him a pumpkin polish, except around his eyes, presumably where he wore protective goggles when bronzing. “I’m fuckin’ gorgeous,” he volunteered once, “and hung like Sasquatch.”
None of this diminished his support among the converted, including evangelicals who supposedly championed “family values.” Nothing, it seemed, could damper their fervor for him. His was a cult of personality. As such, at Schmidt’s urging, civil disobedience spread. Comitans staged sit-ins in cities and towns alike. Even an IHOP outside Denver was overrun by the belligerent malcontents, who refused to vacate the premises until all “collectivists” and “progressives” left or, failing that, relinquished their trays of assorted maple syrups.
I, like many others, dismissed the Comitans at first. There was something buffoonish about them. They comprised a veritable self-parody of unhinged reactionaries, with their false nostalgia about an imagined past and an apocalyptic present. And who could take their leader seriously...until they arrived in Manhattan?
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