Voices: I’m the lone cyclist who faced down a white supremacist march. Here’s how to do it

I was in a coffee shop, idly checking Twitter, when I saw something shocking.

The Patriot Front was marching on the National Mall in Washington, DC, home to my country’s most sacred monuments and memorials. And the city that I call home.

A Capital Bikeshare station was across the street. I was less than a mile away. Grabbing a red bike, I went to intercept the march.

Joe Flood: There were no counter-protesters so I needed to be one (Joe Flood)
Joe Flood: There were no counter-protesters so I needed to be one (Joe Flood)

The Patriot Front has done this before, slipping into DC without notice (except to the police) to march around and leave before counter-protesters could gather.

To my surprise, I found the white nationalists immediately. Upon reaching the Mall, I noticed cop cars on the grass by the Washington Monument. That had to be them.

Pedaling up the hill, I saw a nightmarish tableau: a long line of masked men carrying upside down flags standing at attention while their dapper leader delivered a speech. Behind him, a banner that read, “Reclaim America.”

Surrounding them was a perimeter of police officers on bikes, who were watching the fascists.

No one saw me coming. There were no counter-protesters so I needed to be one. I needed to defend my city.

Rolling down the parade line of white nationalists, I hurled insults: “Losers! No one likes you! Your mom hates you!”

I didn’t use profanity because I thought that would be easy for them to ignore. Instead, I got personal, going after the way they dressed, looked and acted.

“You’re all wearing different kinds of pants! You’re sloppy! Cargo pants are OUT!”

They did not look like an intimidating martial force but instead a bunch of young men in mismatched outfits playing dress-up.

“You’re cosplayers! You’re incels!”

The leader seemed unable to remember his speech (Joe Flood)
The leader seemed unable to remember his speech (Joe Flood)

I was not afraid of them because they seemed like a joke. And there were police officers all around, many of whom were laughing at my roasts.

The leader of the group gave an incredibly boring speech. That he hadn’t memorized. He’d say something about white supremacy and then this white man would have to stop and pull out his notes.

“Why can’t you memorize your speech?!” I shouted.

As he droned on, in his tight blue jacket and cavalry-style hat, I realized that he reminded me of someone.

“You look like General Custer’s illegitimate son!”

That got to him. I watched as he sighed and looked down for a moment, utterly defeated, his last stand occurring in the shadow of the Washington Monument.

It’s a strange thing to go viral. That evening, the video of me heckling the Patriot Front blew up on TikTok. By the time I saw it, the views were over 100,000 and the comments were too many to read.

And I had been identified. “That’s Joe Flood!” This worried me but, as the viral clip went around the world, and I was wrapped in a virtual tornado of love, my anxiety went away. I was delighted to hear from so many old friends and astonished to see myself on television.

I don’t think I am a hero. There are plenty of other Americans who do braver things in much tougher places every day.

Western democracies are threatened by fascism. It is important for all of us to speak up, for we outnumber them, and with our voices and actions we can defeat tyranny.

Joe Flood is a writer and photographer from Washington, DC.