At this point, I think it’s pretty safe to say that the pioneering physical presence behind the creation of Occupy Wall Street is dead. The movement that it spawned is very much well and alive, but the locus of it the movement’s beginning has been arrested and truncheoned into oblivion, as is evident to anyone who drops by what used to be Occupy’s headquarters in Zuccotti Park. On the August afternoon that I visited, the only thing occupying the park were about a hundred folks in suits and business casual dress who were all sitting around with their caramel macchiatos and Chop’t salads, discussing whatever it is stockbrokers and investment bankers discuss when they’re on lunch break. It actually took me a good five minutes before I was able to locate the extinguished embers of the original Occupy Wall Street encampment over in the northeast corner of the park.
There were maybe a dozen people sitting in and around a few benches on which Occupy had set up shop for the day, although—truth be told—there wasn’t much shop there to be set up. The most prominent feature of the mini-camp was the famed “People’s Library,” which at that point consisted of a random assortment of about 20 books of the anti-capitalist, anarcho-communist persuasion. Other than that, all there was to signify that this gathering of people was part of any sort of ideological movement were a couple people who had small sharpied signs attacking corporate greed and the like by their sides.
After walking around for a few minutes and talking to some of the folks who self-identified as being part of Occupy, it became very clear that whatever wheat was here two years ago has long since gone, and all that’s left is a little bit of winnowed chaff. For the most part, the Occupiers I met in Zuccotti Park could be categorized as pleasant, harmless members of the societal fringe, many of whom were associating themselves with Occupy Wall Street out of necessity and not shared ideology. Many of the Occupy members with whom I spoke were unemployed and several of them were homeless, crashing with friends when they could and sleeping in churches and shelters when they could not. The group that was gathered there when I visited included a number of folks who could be identified as belonging to the popular conception of contemporary American Far Left; people who, without having enough time to know them well, can only be remembered in one’s mind unfairly as an amalgamation of similarly constituted people one has interacted with before. In many respects, they seemed to be a sort of human equivalent of The Island of Misfit Toys; a group of predominantly kind souls who, for one reason or another, just weren’t cut out for the world in which they’d been born.
And then there was Trent. If anything, Trent is living testament to the theory that says ideologies exist in a circular continuum rather than a linear one and that fanaticism does not discriminate based on the stated belief system of the fanatic in question. I honestly could not tell you whether or not Trent is a right-wing or left-wing extremist—I can only tell you that he is an extremist with a very nebulous grip on reality and a propensity for embracing conspiracy theories and having homicidal ideations. I can’t pin an exact age on Trent, but if I were to guess, I’d say that he was in his late twenties. He hid his buzz-cut, dunnish red hair underneath a baseball cap and had two of those pointed metal studs sticking out from the center of his chin. Trent was wearing a pair of jean shorts and a t-shirt with the iconic picture of John, Paul, George and Ringo walking across the street in single file for the cover of Abbey Road. Figuring we had some sort of musical common ground between us, I tried to strike up a Fab Four-related conversation while he bummed a cigarette from me, but soon found out that he wasn’t exactly wearing the shirt as a sign of affection for the band.
“I’m just into metal man” he told me while motioning with his hand for me to let him use my lighter. “That’s the only real type of music. Fuckin’ Slayer and Anthrax and Motorhead…”
“Do you ever listen to classic rock?”
“Nah,” he said, clearly revulsed by the thought. “I can’t stand that shit. Skynard and Allman Brothers and all that? That’s some redneck, hillbilly shit. All those fuckers like is country.”
I had touched a nerve. It was time to backtrack and get away from Southern Fried Rock. “Well, do you like Led Zeppelin or The Who or The Stones…”
“I fucking hate hillbillies!” Trent screeched, completely ignoring my new line of inquiry. “My step-dad was a hillbilly and he was a giant dick, and my mom was a hillbilly and she was slut. I hate ’em.”
“Alright man. No hillbillies. Got it.” I said, not wanting to disagree with a man so volatile that the mere mention of Lynard Skynard would make his hackles stand on end.
“I’m telling you, we need to fight back!” he told me. “The time for teaching’s over, man. They had their time. It’s time to start executing people.”
“You mean, like, metaphorically executing people?”
“No, I’m talking, like, firing squads and machetes and shit. All the politicians man. They all gotta go.”
“But, what about due process?” I asked, in a vain attempt to drag the conversation back across the rubicon of sanity.
“Fuck due process!” Trent told me. “These motherfuckers gotta go. We need to all rise up and, you know, when the revolution comes, we’re just gonna mow all them bitches down. That’s how its gonna happen man. They’re gonna come for our guns and we’re gonna fight back! They’re already trying to do it. Like, that assault weapons ban? Total bullshit.”
“How is it bullshit, Trent?”
“The government just wants to take all our guns! They’re gonna open up a national gun registry and everything. That’s why I make sure all my guns are unregistered.”
“That’s reassuring.” I mumbled to myself as Trent kept on talking.
“You know the government was behind those shootings up in Sandy Hook, right? No kids died man…it was all a front! I heard this one guy who has a house right next to Sandy Hook say he didn’t hear a goddamn shot. Not one.”
“That’s…uhhh…” I was at a complete loss for words. Trent was not.
“It’s all made up. Those kids never really existed…and the parents? They’re all actors. Two of ’em got caught down in Florida. Their name was actually Goldberg or something. I forget what name they used for the cameras, but they were actors. The government just wants an excuse to take your guns from you.”
“So, the government is coming to take away all of our guns?”
“Nah, they’re only really concerned with the assault weapons. They’re fine with pistols and rifles because you have to keep pulling the trigger and reloading,” Trent said, pantomiming some sort of reloading action as he spoke.
“What about shotguns?”
“Yeah, shotguns are cool too, but not SWAT shotguns. Those are the ones with the hole in the back extra handle so you can just—’pop, pop, pop’—right in a row. They’re also going after hollow point rounds. They don’t want people having ammo that can actually do any damage. That’s why I’ve been stocking up on ammo. You know all the bullet manufacturers stopped making bullets?”
“They did what now?” I asked, the incredulity in my voice escaping before I had a chance to mask it.
“Yeah, they stopped around Christmas. I mean, they still have some inventory left, but they’re not making any new rounds. Why? Because all of the ammo companies are owned by the government. They’re all in it together because they don’t want people to be able to defend themselves.”
“So,” I said, thinking out loud, “the bullet manufacturers are in cahoots with US government to try and make the American people defenseless. What about the gun manufacturers?”
“No, the gun manufacturers aren’t in on it. Remington and Smith & Wesson and all them are legitimate businesses, like, they all started out small back in the day and grew.”
“Okay, but if the gun companies are still operating but the bullet companies aren’t, won’t you eventually just run out of bullets?”
“I’ve been stockpiling ’em,” Trent told me. “I’ve got enough saved up to protect myself. If the federal government wants to take my guns away, I say, go ahead. Try it and see what happens.”