The picture of the middle-aged white couple pointing guns at a throng of peaceful protestors in front of their ornate St. Louis home will go down as one of the defining images of 2020. It’s so loaded with symbolism, it feels like it’s an old master painting. As it happens, Mark and Patricia McCloskey, the gun-toting personal injury lawyers from the photos that went viral last weekend, might know a thing or two about that. It turns out the McCloskeys are very into European classicism.
Soon after the photo filled social-media feeds, so too did other images of the McCloskeys and their modern-day palazzo, fetishistically modeled after a Medici palace in Florence and decked out with centuries-old art and furniture. One image shows the couple standing on the landing of their marble staircase below a rotunda decorated with a 28-foot-long mural canvas. Behind them is a painting by Paul-Joseph Jamin.
Anthony van Dyck’s Portrait of Anthony van Opstal (c. 1632), also hangs nearby, according to a 2018 St. Louis Magazine article detailing the painstaking lengths the McCloskeys have gone to to restore their 108-year-old home since first purchasing it in 1988.
The house was built by Edward and Anna Busch Faust, heirs to the Anheuser-Busch fortune, who sought to recreate a Renaissance palazzo in the midwest. Long considered one of St. Louis’s most famous residences, today it sits in the tony neighborhood of Central West End— down the street from the residence of St. Louis mayor Lyda Krewson, where protesters were headed Sunday night when the episode in front of the McCloskey’s house occurred.
Activists were demanding mayor Krewson’s resignation after she read the names and addresses of demonstrators who support police reform on a Facebook Live video the week before.
As protesters passed the palazzo, they found the McCloskeys outside bearing an assault rifle and a pistol, respectively.
“It was like the storming of the Bastille, the gate came down and a large crowd of angry, aggressive people poured through,” Mark McCloskey told local news station KMOV4. “I was terrified that we’d be murdered within seconds. Our house would be burned down, our pets would be killed.”
One could easily see the guns, the threats against people of color, and the obsession with old European grandeur and suspect the couple of having white supremacist leanings. Historically, examples of classical art and design have been adopted by nationalists who see them as symbols of purity—both Hitler and Mussolini were big fans, and, in recent years, it’s been similarly appropriated by white supremacists.
The McCloskeys’ attorney, Albert Watkins, wanted to make it clear that his clients do not fit into this category though. He claimed that, despite the optics of the episode, the couple are actually supporters of the movement represented by the protesters.
Armed couple wields AR-15 rifle or other weapon of war at #BLM demonstrators in Central West End section of St. Louis. Woman points handgun as they walk by the house en route to the Mayor.
This is an unprovoked display of lethal force. #StLouis #mccloskey pic.twitter.com/2YZHwHuXfa
— Kristen Clarke (@KristenClarkeJD) June 29, 2020
“The most important thing for them is that their images (holding the guns) don’t become the basis for a rallying cry for people who oppose the Black Lives Matter message,” said Watkins in a statement to CBS. “They want to make it really clear that they believe the Black Lives Matter message is important.”
In a tweet, St. Louis circuit attorney Kim Gardner said her office is looking into the incident, adding that “We must protect the right to peacefully protest, and any attempt to chill it through intimidation or threat of deadly force will not be tolerated.”
An online petition demanding that the McCloskeys be disbarred for aggravated assault with a deadly weapon now has 22,000 signatures.