In the wake of Donald Trump’s election, many a reporter (and everyone from George Saunders to Sarah Silverman) went deep into the heart of Trump’s America with pen and paper in hand in a humble attempt to better understand his voters. Harmon Leon’s approach was a little different—he “infiltrated” the deplorables by volunteering as a canvasser, joining a group of anti-abortion protesters, and taking up with vigilantes pursuing illegal immigrants on the Mexican border. The stories of these undercover operations are now a book, Meet the Deplorables: Infiltrating Trump America, and a one-man show that will come to new Lower East Side venue Caveat on Sunday, Jan. 7.
Several of Leon’s dispatches have previously appeared in outlets like Vice, Penthouse, and Maxim. You may recall him asking New Hampshire MAGA-heads why they got free Trump tattoos; joining a meeting of ACT for America, an anti-Muslim hate group; attending a literal “shotgun wedding” at a Vegas gun store; worshipping alongside the First Heavy Metal Church of Christ in Dayton, Ohio.
This isn’t the first time Leon, who is also a stand-up comic, has infiltrated conservatives; he’s the author of seven books, including Republican Like Me: Infiltrating Red-State, White-Ass, and Blue-Suit America. But where his previous subjects tended to be hard-line Republicans, these are “more the fringe-group Republicans,” he tells us. “The populist, Tea Party-esque conservatives that have turned to Trump.”
They range from “elderly guys with pot bellies” in the case of the Oath Keepers he hung out with on the Mexican border (“it was sort of an anti-immigration hunting summer camp for a lot of these guys”) to actual Mexican-Americans like the brothers who formed a pro-Trump rock band (their single, “Trump For America,” borrows lines from the Pledge of Allegiance for lyrics).
Leon broke Trump’s supporters into five groups that make up the book’s sections: the “people you see screaming at the rallies”; “your xenophobic, racist type”; people who support Trump for religious reasons (“despite the fact that Trump is the most unholy of presidents we’ve ever had”); the NRA faction; and finally the “less horrible people” who voted for Trump because of economic circumstances. Where that last category is concerned, Leon rode along with a repo man in Reno, Nevada, and also watched a meth lab cleanup company at work in Mike Pence’s home state of Indiana.
Often, he interacted with his subjects as a traditional journalist. But when it came to, say, exposing Planned Parenthood protesters, he had an easier time “getting inside their mindset and their thought process” by posing as one of them. By pretending to be a new recruit, Leon said, he discovered “their scare tactics and the tactics of how they try to intimidate people going into Planned Parenthood and the people that work in Planned Parenthood, what they’ve done in the past and how it has all changed, and how they used to get away with doing more deviant activities until the police shut them down.”
If you’re wondering whether he got outed like conservative undercover operatives Project Veritas recently did, the answer is no. Though, he did once get busted for being an unconvincing Austin Powers at a celebrity impersonator convention.
“Harmon Leon Infiltrates Trump America” ran in Edinburgh this summer and will come to Caveat on Jan. 7. The show will include stories from the book along with photos and video. Tickets are $12 and available here.