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  Four American flags sewn together with 200 black squares where the stars once were. It had become their symbol, their mark, their calling card. The Rhinos MO- make a grand entrance, blow the top off the place, turn the lights out, scare the hell out of people, traumatize, minimize casualties, “move the cause”, as they put it. We’d spoken out against them a lot lately at our shows, in interviews, and on Max’s podcast, ‘Please Stop Talking’.

   The Rhinos had become exceedingly organized and aggressive in both recruiting and in their attacks. They’d gone from 4 members to a reported 4,000 in under a year, from propaganda to a hostage situation to these huge spectacles.

   By the time the lights went on, about 95% of the crowd had dispersed, either scattering out the back onto the railroad tracks or careening through the front door and as far away as possible.

   Those of us that remained were left picking up the pieces.

   When I got back to my place a few hours later Elizabeth was there waiting. She said she was so happy to see me, that she’d been worried something terrible had happened to me, that she’d missed me. I said she shouldn’t worry about me, that she didn’t have to come, but I was glad she did.

   We stayed in bed all day. I thought a lot about how grateful I was to be alive and well, to have friends and family whom I cared for and who cared for me, to be a white male in America, to feel generally safe despite the looming threat of potentially widespread hell. I talked about how much I wanted the best for everyone, everywhere. Things don’t have to be this way, I said. War. Violence. Crime. Pollution. Hate. Corruption. It’s unnecessary. We don’t have to gut the planet of all its resources. We could live more sustainably so that our generation and future generations could enjoy life. If we could all just change a little bit, just control ourselves a little, things could be so much better.

   “People are really messed up.” She said. “It’s sad. It’s scary. But the good news is…”

Illustration by Luke Cloran

Illustration by Luke Cloran

   She thought my beliefs, our beliefs, weren’t that far off from what The Rhinos believed. She was probably right. Our behaviors, I said, the way we go about trying to change things, the way we treat people, our actions, that’s what’s so different, not our beliefs.

   I had no idea where that left us and still wasn’t sure what The Rhinos were even trying to accomplish, other than make a name for themselves. They weren’t anarchists or completely anti-government. They weren’t militant, they weren’t terribly violent- not yet, at least- but without question they were a threat, they were terrorists, and they needed to be stopped. The difficulty in defeating The Rhinos was their simultaneous popularity and anonymity. Aside from a few members who’d been caught, nobody knew who the people behind the movement were and no one was talking.

   Part Three of “When We All Went Away” will be published in next week’s edition of The Spirit of Penn’s Garden.

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