This weekend, hundreds of reptiles slithered around a convention center in Jacksonville, Florida at a highly anticipated two-day event showcasing them in all their coldblooded glory. Steps away from Repticon, inside the same convention center, some of the biggest names in MAGA world took the stage at the American Freedom Tour. Donald Trump Jr. headlined the stop on the multi-city tour that also featured Dan Bongino, Kayleigh McEnany, Dinesh D’Souza, and former Sheriff David Clarke Jr.
The American Freedom Tour is a mashup of a Trump rally and, much to the Jacksonville crowd’s surprise, an infomercial.
The air was heavy with the promise of rain and commerce when things kicked off on Friday morning. People sold T-shirts, flags, sparkly decorative pins, and American flag scarves. Their excitement was palpable; many had donned their most patriotic attire for the occasion. Others opted for T-shirts with quippy political slogans—”adorable deplorable” read one—or bearing the likeness of former President Donald Trump. Many had spent countless hours consuming the speakers’ content online and were eager to see them in the flesh at last. One man told the Daily Dot that he’d come from California to see YouTuber Steve Turley, whom he watches every day. He also likes Bongino, he said, but not as much. “He’s macho,” he said with some distaste.
The bracelet that permitted entry included the tour’s slogan: “faith, family, finances, freedom.” That “finances” was included in this list should’ve been a clue of what was to come.
Friday morning’s speeches were fairly typical of MAGA events—Ronald Reagan was great, Christianity is the one true religion, COVID-19 restrictions are bad, and Democrats are the worst. “You know this is not a mask. This is a muzzle,” quipped Turley, who has a PhD, but is not a medical doctor.
“I see a whole army of my countrymen in defiance of tyranny,” Turley said at another point. “What will you do without freedom?”
To fight back against the liberalism that many speakers described as a threat to the American way of life, Turley urged people to follow alternative news, like the Epoch Times and Newsmax, and to be on social media platforms like Gab, Rumble, and Parler.
After lunch, it became clear why “finances” are part of the tour’s motto. People who’d paid between $40 for a basic ticket and $10,000 for a VIP package that included photo ops, breakfast with Dinesh D’Souza, and lunch with Trump Jr. spent well over an hour listening to a speech about how to make money in the stock market.
They were then offered a $97 class (valued at more than $1,000, the speaker claimed) to learn how to get rich. Hundreds swarmed tables, squinting in dim lighting to write their biographical information and credit card numbers on the application.
This wasn’t the only offer to get rich that day.
A man told the Daily Dot that during a break-out session in a separate room, people were offered the opportunity to rub elbows with the “deep pockets” who put on events like this—for $20,000. He declined.
Much of the first afternoon was dedicated to trying to get people buy products that promised to teach them how to get rich. None of the biggest names on the tour spoke that day, which came as a surprise. Organizers never did provide a schedule of the speakers. Had they done so, far fewer would’ve shown up for the first day, which seems to have been the intent. A member of American Freedom Tour’s team told the Daily Dot that even staffers weren’t given an itinerary.
Some people were frustrated by the lack of transparency and unexpected hard sell for classes on getting rich.
After the speech selling the stock market class, a woman confronted a member of the local GOP in the hallway. “It’s a sin,” she said, dismayed.
She was somewhat calmed by reassurances that the second day would be better.
Saturday found the crowd comparatively subdued. Unexpectedly enduring lengthy sales pitches seemed to have sapped their energy. Some wore the same American flag-heavy ensembles they’d worn the day before—perhaps this was what they’d planned to have on when they came close to their favorite MAGA stars.
Attendee Vicki Wittmaekers lamented to the Daily Dot that people had taken off from work to attend on Friday, implying that the first day was a waste of time. She said she didn’t believe the organizers’ excuse that they kept the schedule secret for security.
The second day did include more sales pitches, but these were interspersed with speeches by the headliners. They circled around themes popular with former President Donald Trump’s supporters, bemoaning COVID restrictions, immigration, socialist programs, and Democrats, whom they called “idiots,” “morons,” and “stupid.” They claimed that President Joe Biden has ruined America.
After lunch, the programming began with a dance-off for a signed copy of Trump Jr.’s book and $100. Beach balls careened through the air and the dancers shimmied and shook until only one was left. There were smiles all around when it concluded.
Then Bongino took the stage.
Bongino hit on the same themes as his fellow speakers with zeal. Liberals are stupid and Biden, he said, is reading a book on “how to destroy America in 12 steps.”
“This guy is at step 11.6 already,” Bongino laughed.
While others had largely steered clear of the subject, Bongino brought up debunked claims about election fraud in Maricopa County, Arizona. Bongino also spent a lot of time talking about Hunter Biden’s recent controversial art shows. “He blows his art out of his nose,” Bongino said, a reference to Biden’s struggle with addiction.
After this dose of MAGA, attendees endured another sales pitch for a class on getting rich in the real estate market. The speaker advised people on how to make money in real estate, such as by flipping houses and renting them to disabled people or traveling medical personnel at elevated rates to maximize their return on investment.
One woman who confronted a reporter over their tweets about the event said she thought the get-rich classes were a good thing, though she didn’t sign up for one. Others openly complained about the sales pitches and the lack of an itinerary.
Still, many were pleased. Attendee Wittmaekers told the Daily Dot that she’d been thrilled to see D’Souza and hear his message. “We have to fight,” she said. “Because they’re [liberals] not going to quit until we squish them.”
Finally, it was time for Donald Trump Jr.’s speech.
“Imagine chanting ‘USA’ at a Democrat rally. They’d kill you. Literally,” he said after entering in a blast of sparklers and smoke.
Trump then launched into a rambling monologue that was a paler version of one by his father, who addressed a crowd in Iowa that day. He ticked off a long list of grievances. Civil rights protesters last summer were “savage terroristic animals,” he said. Conversely, the Capitol rioters are being unfairly persecuted. “The FBI has spent more time trying to entrap Americans for loving their country than actually solving crime,” Trump quipped. Immigrants were pouring across the border. Everyone in the crowd is a “second class citizen” compared to them. Biden has destroyed the country. “The job numbers are a disaster,” he claimed. (Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that unemployment has been dropping, though not as fast as predicted.)
The crowd fed on his negativity, booing and jeering every enemy he conjured.
Some of his bitterest, and most biting, commentary was reserved for Hunter Biden and the media. He harped on Biden’s laptop, jeering about an alleged video of Biden saying he worried that people would use its contents against his father.
“Oh, okay, then stop smoking crack,” Trump Jr. said mockingly.
The mood turned darker and darker as Trump Jr. went on, likening Democrats, mainstream media, and social media companies to an axis of evil working in cahoots to destroy the American way of life.
His father has a knack for fomenting rage and division, an ‘us versus them’ mentality. People paying upwards of $10,000 for the privilege of eating with the son were likely hoping for a taste of the same bitter medicine.
They got what they paid for—plus promises of riches, if they only buy this or that class for $97.
“It’s like an infomercial. Wait—there’s more,” Bongino said at one point, speaking about how gullible liberals were. Perhaps he missed the irony of the conference he was speaking at.