The Washington Post

Mall lawnmower man inspires cleanup crew to pick up the slack during the federal shutdown

Chris Cox, a chainsaw sculptor from Mount Pleasant, South Carolina, explains what motivated him to grab his rake and lawn supplies, and head down to the National Mall to lead the clean up effort. (Sandi Moynihan/Nikki Kahn and Sandi Moynihan/The Washington Post)

Chris Cox, the colorful chain-saw sculptor who has taken it upon himself to clean parts of the Mall during the government shutdown, is easy to spot: bushy beard, big South Carolina flag, oversize orange dolly that he uses to cart off garbage.

On Saturday afternoon, Cori and Dominick Langella, who had driven down from Binghamton, N.Y., walked up to him.

“You’re the reason we’re here,” Dominick said. “We’re here to support you.”

The couple and more than 200 others gathered at the Mall on Saturday to help Cox pick up garbage. Many were drawn by a cleanup rally sponsored by several groups that were motivated by the man.

“We found inspiration in Chris Cox, in particular the nonpolitical nature of his work,” said Matt Kibbe, president of FreedomWorks, the Washington-based, tea party-aligned organization that helped organize the “Fix Up DC” event that included remarks and litter cleaning by political commentator Glenn Beck.

Cox’s direct message swept across the country Wednesday after he was spotted outside the Lincoln Memorial mowing the grass.

“The building behind me serves as a moral compass, not only for our country but for the world,” he told reporters that day, describing the Lincoln Memorial. “And over my dead body are we going to find trash pouring out of these trash cans. At the end of the day, we are the stewards of these buildings that are memorials.”

On Saturday, Cox said that his chain-saw sculptures have hardly made him a rich man. But he plans to continue cleaning the Mall grounds until the government shutdown ends. He lives in South Carolina and is staying with friends in Northern Virginia. He spends $25 a day on gas to get to and from the Mall in his truck.

“Not to mention several hundred dollars in parking tickets,” he told other cleaners on Saturday.

A supporter, familiar with local customs, told him it wasn’t worth fighting the tickets.

Earlier in the day, another Cox supporter tried to offer him $20.

“Here, put that in your pocket,” Wayne Ludlam told him.

“No, no, no. I’m not up here for money,” Cox said.

Taking donations would distract from his message, he said.

Throughout the day Saturday, Cox was greeted by well-wishers. People took photographs with him, sometimes letting him hold their children for group shots. “It’s humbling and it’s flattering,” Cox said.

At one point, he assembled two dozen garbage pickers around him for a large photo.

“This is the Memorial Militia!” he shouted.

“The trashmen!” a militia member added.

One of those trashmen was Brett Canfield of Annapolis, who served with the Marines in Afghanistan. Canfield said he found Cox’s nonpartisan message appealing given the huge gap between Republicans and Democrats.

“He’s like, ‘Screw the separation. Let’s take a break. Let’s get something done.’ ”

In Binghamton, the Langellas heard about Cox’s efforts over the past several days. On Friday night, they watched a recording of Beck interviewing Cox and talking about how the political commentator was going be at the Mall on Saturday cleaning litter.

“Let’s go to Washington,” Cori Langella said.

“Do you want to? Okay, let’s go,” Dominick said.

They left their home at 4:30 a.m. Saturday.

After arriving at the Mall, they cleaned for more than four hours — something that was a challenge for Dominick, a retired mechanic who has multiple sclerosis.

But he planned to return to the Mall on Sunday, if he could, to clean up after events taking place there. “We’ll try to make it down in the afternoon,” he said.

Dan Morse covers courts and crime in Montgomery County. He arrived at the paper in 2005, after reporting stops at the Wall Street Journal, Baltimore Sun and Montgomery (Ala.) Advertiser, where he was a Pulitzer Prize finalist. He is the author of The Yoga Store Murder.


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