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What really went on in St Louis that day?

A US couple gained instant notoriety for waving guns at protesters. What really happened that day?

Image copyright Alamy

Mark and Patricia McCloskey gained instant notoriety after video of them waving and pointing guns at Black Lives Matter demonstrators from the front yard of their St Louis mansion spread across the internet. Now they’ve appeared as speakers at the Republican National Convention.

It was 28 June and just as dusk was beginning to settle over the city of St Louis, Missouri, a group of several hundred protesters converged at the intersection of a busy six-lane street called Kingshighway. It is a main thoroughfare in a well-to-do section of the city known as the Central West End.

Some pushed bicycles, some carried Black Lives Matter signs, nearly all wore masks as they chanted, sang and began moving up and down the street, which was shut down to traffic. Their ultimate destination was the home of the mayor of St Louis, Lyda Krewson, several blocks away.

“Resign Lyda,” they chanted at an intersection outside of a four-star hotel. “Take the cops with you!”

Marchers had been in the streets for weeks protesting the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, and many were veterans of the protest movement that arose after the death of Michael Brown in 2014 in nearby Ferguson.

On this particular evening, protesters were upset about a specific incident. Two days earlier, during Mayor Krewson’s regularly scheduled Covid-19 live stream briefing, the mayor read aloud from letters from protesters who were urging her to defund the St Louis Metropolitan Police Department.

She also read the full names and, in some cases, addresses of the letter-writers. Some people took this as an attempt to “doxx” the protesters – publicly sharing identifying information – and accused Krewson of intimidation tactics. The following day, she apologised and removed the Facebook Live.

Nevertheless, the call went out across the city for demonstrators to converge on Krewson’s doorstep in the Central West End, demanding her resignation. Hundreds responded. They included members of the clergy and politicians, such US House of Representative candidate Cori Bush, who would go on to win her primary against a long-time incumbent in early August.

About two hours into the demonstration on Kingshighway, the marchers began making their way towards Krewson’s home. They walked north and made a left toward a street called Portland Place, which is blocked at both ends with imposing stone and wrought iron gates. Signs marked “Private Property” are posted at either end.

One of the houses on Portland Place is a spectacular, $1.15m (£880,730) Renaissance-style palazzo, built by an Anheuser-Busch beer fortune heiress in the early 1900s. This is the home of husband and wife Mark and Patricia McCloskey, who are both personal injury lawyers.

The confrontation

How it all began has been hotly contested. Mark McCloskey in one subsequent media interview said the protesters “smashed down” the gate.

“As soon as I said the words ‘private property,’ it seemed to enrage them,” he told Fox News “I ran in, got my rifle. I started standing on the wing of the patio saying, ‘Private property! Get out! Get out of here!’ They kept pouring in. That seemed to make them want to come forward.”

Image copyright Alamy

The couple’s lawyer at the time shared pictures of the gate, which was twisted and broken on its left side. “A mob of at least 100 smashed through the historic wrought iron gates of Portland Place, destroying them, rushed towards my home where my family was having dinner outside and put us in fear for our lives,” Mark McCloskey also told KMOV.

However, a live stream from the front of the march shows that the first protesters walked through an intact gate that was being held open. Freelance photographer and University of Missouri journalism graduate student Daniel Shular told the BBC that the gate was unlocked when the first marchers entered. “People just walked up to it and opened the gate,” he said, estimating he was the sixth person through. “It looked normal to me when I passed through.”

Most legal analysts agree that the protesters were trespassing when they entered Portland Place.

Rasheen Aldridge, a state representative and one of the organisers of the march, said that crossing onto Portland Place should be considered an act of civil disobedience. “Just like in many disobedient protests, even in the 60s, you break laws, make people feel uncomfortable. We’re not doing anything where we’re hurting anyone or putting anyone in danger,” he told KMOV.

It remains unclear at what point the gate was damaged, and by whom.

Moments later, Mark McCloskey appeared on his patio holding a rifle. He was separated from the protesters by a large hedge. “Get the hell out of my neighbourhood,” he yelled. “Private property – get out. Get out.” Some protesters yelled “calm down,” while others swore at him.

Demonstrators shouted back at McCloskey that the street is “public property,” which is not true of Portland Place – it is private property owned by a trust. Residents pay towards its management and the upkeep of the street, as well as private security.

According to analysis by St Louis Post-Dispatch investigative reporter Jeremy Kohler, video evidence does not show the protesters crossing onto the McCloskey’s property, remaining instead on the sidewalks and in the roadway.

A little over a minute later, Patricia McCloskey came out of the front door, barefoot, with a small silver pistol. She aimed it directly at demonstrators on the pavement, while shouting, “Go!”

Image copyright Reuters

A volley of shouts came back from the protesters, everything from pleas for calm to insults and expletives. “Why are you pointing that gun at us?” “We got kids out here!” “You’re a coward!” “Nobody wants to hurt you.”

Some protesters urged others to file quickly past, others stopped to continue to argue and insult the couple as they stood side-by-side with their weapons on their front steps. For much of the time, Patricia McCloskey kept her pistol levelled towards protesters.

“I absolutely thought Patricia McCloskey was going to murder me and I haven’t slept since she aimed her gun at my face,” protester James Cooper told the St Louis Post-Dispatch.

The McCloskeys claimed later that two white males in the group threatened their lives, though little of what was said between the two sides is intelligible in the live streams of the confrontation.

Media playback is unsupported on your device Media caption Missouri couple points guns at protesters

“We are coming back to revisit,” one protester yelled. The entire incident lasted roughly 12 minutes before the entire group made its way…

Jessica Lussenhop

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