They stand near the state of a mounted George Washington raising his sword high for Evacuation Day. Union Square and the statue of America's General have often been targets for Anti-American protests since 9/11. For a time it was perpetually defaced with posters, graffiti and Anti-War slogans.
The handful standing now by the statue hold a hand-lettered sign reading "The Ron Paul REvolution". They're young and in their twenties. Most likely college students. One approaches me to ask me if I know who Ron Paul is.
"Yeah I do," I answer. "Are you Republicans?"
He shakes his head violently at the idea. "No we're just here to support Ron Paul."
"But he's running in the Republican primary."
"We want to see this country get out of Iraq," a girl next to him chimes in.
"But if you aren't Republicans then why are you campaigning for one candidate in a Republican primary?" I ask them.
"The voice of the people needs to be heard," he says. "Haliburton is just going to elect another Bush and continue the war against the world."
"So if Ron Paul wins the primary, would you vote for him in the general election?"
He hesitates and finally shrugs his shoulders. "Depends on who wins the Democratic primary."
"So you're campaigning for a candidate for a party you don't support and might not even vote for," I point out.
"Don't you want to get the country out of Iraq?" the girl demands.
"So basically the ends justify the means, including tampering with Republican primaries?" I say.
"People are dying every day. Ron Paul is making the Republicans face the music and answer the tough questions. More and more people are joining the Ron Paul revolution. We can't be stopped." His rant is clearly just getting started.
"Unless a better Democratic candidate comes along," I say.
"You can't stop us," the girl nearly shrieks.
"I wasn't trying to," I say and walk on.
A man in a red coverall reading 'Prayer Works' thrusts a flyer at me mumbling, "Christ." I avoid him easily and walk on.
* * *
The problem with viral phenomena is that they're inherently artificial. Consider the Hillary 1984 commercial created by the Obama campaign (which continues to lie about it to this day). Consider the Deanites and consider Ron Paul. For decades Ron Paul was one of a small constellation of nuts who believed in government conspiracies often verging on the racist fringe. The difference was that Ron Paul was a congressman.
The left hadn't been paying much attention to Ron Paul until 9/11 when a new alliance began to be formed between various fringe factions within America, which despised each other but hated the United States even more. From the far right to the far left, this new alliance brought together conspiracy theorists, left wing professors, far right racists along with their newfound Muslim terrorist allies. That witch's brew helped boost the 9/11 Denial movement. It has become a breeding ground for unifying general conspiracy theories into centralized ones, for Anti-Semitism and for support for fringe candidates.
As a racist, anti-semite and conspiracy nut, Ron Paul was almost made for this group. His opposition to Federal power and racism makes him a natural for the far right and his opposition to the War on Terror and isolationism makes him perfect for the left. He isn't a smart man but he doesn't need to be because it isn't his campaign. In the end all Ron Paul has to do is show up. The witches brew produces his campaign staff easily enough.
All it really takes to create a viral phenomenon on the internet is time and numbers. And when you don't have numbers, time will do. So long as you have people willing to create 500 Digg accounts and Digg every Ron Paul post, you can take over the entire election section with Ron Paul posts. you can repeat variations of this trick at social networking sites everywhere.
The last I wrote a post mentioning Ron Paul I immediately noticed a few incoming searches on Technocrati and Blogsearch for Ron Paul. This was followed shortly thereafter by comments in support of Ron Paul. This is a typical experience for many bloggers because in addition to Digg spamming, Ron Paul supporters spam blogs with statements of support for Ron Paul.
The support for Ron Paul is indeed a phenomenon, but not the one that his supporters like to pretend it is. It's the phenomenon that demonstrates that with enough time spent and enough obnoxious behavior you can get an obscure candidate noticed. What happens then is of course nothing. As with every movement there's a fanatic crowd that really believes Ron Paul will become the next Republican candidate for President. Most however are simply satisfied with vandalism to express their anger and frustration. If they've moved on from vandalizing statues to vandalizing the internet, it's simply because they've chosen a more efficient and legal form of vandalism.
The fanatic obsession of Ron Paul supporters has gotten him attention but not quite the kind they were banking on. ABC and MSNBC have both have to clean up comment forums and polls and most reporters are now more convinced than ever that Ron Paul is a fringe candidate associated with nuts and loons. On Digg anything with Ron Paul's name on it is routinely labeled spam, without a second look. Little Green Footballs pulled Ron Paul's name from its poll after continued spamming.
The Ron Paul phenomenon happens time and time again with fringe candidates whether it's Ross Perot or Howard Dean or Ralph Nader. It's also inevitably never a phenomenon that supports a genuinely worthwhile candidate. Instead it inevitably coalesces around candidates who not only shouldn't be elected President but shouldn't be elected dogcatcher. Howard Dean cleverly exploited his supporters to get him a top spot in the Democratic party. It's doubtful that Ron Paul has the brains to do anything with his fanatical fans because he is ultimately their creature. A fumbling candidate who mumbles tired rhetoric, a racist and fringe extremist who stumbled into a movement he has no real control over. It's a sad and pathetic sight.