Reaction to photos and videos of the incident was swift: One video had been viewed more than 16 million times and counting as of Monday evening and captured the attention of President Trump, civil rights advocates and the St. Louis circuit attorney, who is now investigating the incident.
In a region that has long been in the spotlight for tensions over policing and racial inequality, the interaction seemed to capture the divisions rippling throughout the nation in 2020.
“The only thing that stopped the crowd from approaching the house was when I had that rifle,” Mark McCloskey said in a Monday interview with NBC affiliate KSDK. “[It was] the only thing that stemmed the tide.”
The McCloskeys did not respond to The Washington Post’s repeated requests for comment and by Monday afternoon had disconnected their phones, boarded up their personal injury law office and taken down its website.
But when Mark McCloskey emerged to tell his side of the story to KSDK, he defended the couple’s actions and framed the protesters as a violent mob of “terrorists” who stormed through a gate leading to the private street outside their home, making him and Patricia fear for their lives.
“I really thought it was storming the Bastille; we’d be dead and the house would be burned,” he told the station.
The protesters passed the McCloskeys’ home on their way to St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson’s house a block over. The Democratic mayor had drawn the ire of local activists and civil rights groups days earlier when she publicized the names and addresses of several fellow activists.
Protesters from the scene disputed to local media the characterization they were violent or threatening, with one group leader saying the decision to walk on a private street was an act of civil disobedience but was not harming anyone.
Meanwhile, St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kimberly M. Gardner signaled the McCloskeys’ actions were the real threat.
“I am alarmed at the events that occurred over the weekend, where peaceful protesters were met by guns and a violent assault,” Gardner said in a statement Monday. “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.”
Mark McCloskey said protesters gained access to the street outside his home in Portland Place by breaking an iron gate and ignoring the sign marked “Private Street.” He disputed reports that the gate was already broken when the protesters arrived and said he told the crowd that they were trespassing and had to leave, which “enraged” them.
“There’s no public anything in Portland Place. It’s all private property,” he told KSDK. “Being in Portland Place is like being in my living room.”
State Rep. Rasheen Aldridge (D), an organizer with the civil rights group Expect Us, told CBS affiliate KMOV that the protesters never threatened the couple and walked on private property as part of their nonviolent demonstration.
“Just like in many disobedient protests, even in the ’60s, you break laws, make people feel uncomfortable,” Aldridge told the station. “We’re not doing anything where we’re hurting anyone or putting anyone in danger.”
Video from the scene shows protesters chanting “respect us” and calling for Krewson to resign. No one is seen moving toward the McCloskeys’ property. Moments after the couple pulled out their weapons, a black man in a “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot” shirt directed the crowd to keep moving.
“Let’s go, let’s go, let’s go,” he shouted.
Although Missouri has among the loosest gun restrictions in the nation, legal experts said it’s unclear whether the law would back the McCloskeys’ claim of self-defense or their critics’ claim of improperly using a firearm to intimidate.
Even residents living on what they declare to be private streets cannot act with impunity, said Eric Banks, a former state prosecutor and St. Louis city counselor.
“'Castle Doctrine’ does not extend to the street,” Banks told The Post, referencing a law that gives people certain protections to use deadly force on intruders to their home. “I defy you to find one picture of the [protesters] on the grass. They were not putting those homeowners’ lives at risk.”
Banks said residents living in gated communities and on private streets may overestimate the control they have over the “fiefdom.”
“Their private street status does not supersede the laws of the city of St. Louis, which says you can’t point guns at people to intimidate them,” he added.
The St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department said it responded to a “Call for Help” at the couple’s address and described the McCloskeys as the victims in the incident report. Police said the McCloskeys told them that the protesters yelled threats and obscenities at them but that the department will continue to investigate.
Mark McCloskey said he does not want people to view his and his wife’s actions as racist or in opposition to the Black Lives Matter movement.
“On the wall of my conference room, I have an anti-slavery broadsheet,” he noted in his interview with KSDK. “I’m not the enemy of the people supporting black lives. I am the enemy of the terrorists, the Marxists.”
Albert S. Watkins, a lawyer for the couple, later issued a statement to KMOV saying the couple were fearful because of the actions of white protesters, whom he described as “agitators.”
“The McCloskeys want to make sure no one thinks less of BLM, its message and the means it is employing to get its message out because of the actions of a few white individuals who tarnished a peaceful protest,” Watkins said.