These people are attracted to crowds. At most major events in the south, or at least the experiences I’ve had in North Carolina, Tennessee, and Louisiana, you can often find them holding up signs and crosses, screaming verses from the Old Testament, or just condemning the “sinful” actions of the crowds gathered to watch the game or enjoy the festivities at hand. The more aggressive ones use words like “whores,” and “fags” to underline their message.
What surprised me about those who came to the weekend Mardi Gras festivities was how prepared they were. They wore rain gear in fair weather, protective eyewear, and stood in circles to protect themselves from an onslaught of critics. One of their crosses was made of PVC pipe.
It is hard to make sense of these things, but it seemed as if their preparations solicited an angry response from those in the French Quarter. Most of the time I see people walk by or just mock the crazies, but the crowds here confronted them, threw drinks and beads at them, heckled and eventually fought them. Maybe it is the extreme drunkenness that characterizes Mardi Gras, or maybe it was just the sheer size of the crowd pressing against the walls of the bars on Bourbon St. But there were actual fights breaking out between regular folks and the religious nuts.
I had to wonder, as the particular group of crazies dispersed after one violent incident, into the crowd: Would any other group be allowed to do this in public? Without the pretext of religious encouragement, would society be OK with a random group of militant-worded people showing up to an event and telling everyone there that they were going to die in extremely agonizing ways? Freedom of speech would still apply, but I don’t see much difference between them and people who are often hauled away from protesting in public spaces about race, income inequality, or the environment. Maybe if I made myself a PVC cross and decided to hold court on 740 Park Ave., or in a crowded outdoor shopping center, I would be allowed to continue.