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Politics

The 2016 Election Really Is Just A Freak Show

“Step right up! Enter the Hillary House of Horrors, you dirty 1 percenters!”

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GRAND JUNCTION, Colorado — The scene outside Donald Trump’s afternoon rally here Tuesday was more reminiscent of the opening scene of John Waters’ classic tale about a traveling cannibal freak show Multiple Maniacs than the end of a campaign rally in 2016.

Thousands of solidly conservative, Christian Republicans were streaming out of the West Star Aviation hanger, where Trump had just wrapped up his last campaign stop before his final debate with Hillary Clinton in Las Vegas.

There were the usual hustlers on the sidewalks, their card tables displaying Hillary for Prison buttons, MAGA hats, and T-shirts comparing the relative sucking skills of Clinton and Monica Lewinsky.

Past the skirmish line of souvenir sellers, in a makeshift parking lot set up across the street, music blared from a tent decked out in ghoulish posters of undead politicians. “Tales of Free Crap” promised a poster bearing the zombified visage of Bernie Sanders, complete with socialist beret, while a second, in a nod to John Carpenter’s film about politics, media control, and class warfare, showed an alien version of Clinton, warning “She Lives We Sleep!”

Outside, the carnival barker, decked out in his white straw hat and seersucker jacket, his face painted like a skull, paced back and forth, kicking up dirt as he eyed the crowd. “Step right up! Enter the Hillary House of Horrors, you dirty 1 percenters!” he yelled at the crowd, pointing his obligatory cane at a hesitant family.

John Stanton / BuzzFeed News

“And don’t forget to go next door when you’re done,” he reminds them as they approach, waving his cane dramatically at the adjacent stall of T-shirts and buttons. A father nods absent-mindedly, leading his sons into the tent to marvel at the Wack-A-Ho display, featuring Trump wielding a hammer at replicas of Clinton’s head.

The sideshow attraction’s chief barker and designer, David Brown, came up with the idea a year ago. A St. Louis-based lawyer and self described “propagandist,” he’s attended 85 political rallies this year, mostly selling merchandise. He hopes to take the horror show to two dozen more rallies before the election is over.

“You made me smell shit! Where’s my button?!” a woman yells, laughing at Brown, whose boast of including Smell-O-Vision is, apparently, quite real.

Brown glances her direction, directing her toward his table of wares. Like Waters’ family of cannibals conning the squares, Brown and company have turned the public’s desire for blood sport and cruelty to their own ends.

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John Stanton / BuzzFeed News

This isn’t Brown’s first tour of duty on the campaign circuit. Over the last seven presidential campaigns, he has plied politically themed wares to the crowds candidates draw. But this year, “I figured I’d do something with a satirical political statement.”

Brown also set up a Super PAC, American Horror Show PAC, and a website — hillaryshouseofhorrors.com — featuring artwork from the sideshow and, of course, a link to a shop.

Brown has even grabbed the attention of Trump's favorite conspiracy site Infowars, who earlier this month very seriously reported the appearance of the side show.

He’s done his job well. With Halloween fast approaching, it’s an apt metaphor for an election featuring a pop-culture nightmare and a resurrected political dynasty from the 1990s battling for the immortal soul of a country recoiling in horror.

Brown said he isn’t a Republican or a Democrat. “I’m not anything. I’m me,” he said, leaning in close. “There’s a big illusion of choice in this country Whether it’s insurance companies or politicians or the kind of potato chips you eat. It’s all an illusion of choice,” he explained, a sly smile on his face.


John Stanton is a senior national correspondent for BuzzFeed News. In 2014, Stanton was a recipient of the National Press Foundation’s 2014 Dirksen Award for distinguished reporting of Congress.

Contact John Stanton at john.stanton@buzzfeed.com.

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