Charlotte (AFP) - Were they exercising their constitutional rights, or recklessly asserting their white privilege? The couple who brandished guns at protesters and were rewarded with speaking slots at the Republican convention embody the culture wars gripping America.
And in their few minutes in the TV spotlight they painted a dangerous, dark vision of America, where suburbanites will be under threat if President Donald Trump is not re-elected.
Mark and Patricia McCloskey made world headlines in late June when they pointed guns at Black Lives Matter protesters peacefully marching past their columned mansion on a private St. Louis street as part of demonstrations against racial injustice.
Video of the barefoot couple went viral, and the McCloskeys, both in their early sixties, were charged with felony unlawful use of weapons.
The McCloskeys have become key exhibits in a tense national debate involving race and the widening socio-economic divides, and Trump invited them to speak Monday on his party's largely virtual convention's opening night.
Instead of arguing in good faith about American gun rights, they parroted the president's fearful messaging that a Biden administration would unleash an invasion of the suburbs.
"What you saw happen to us could just as easily happen to any of you who are watching from quiet neighborhoods around our country," Patricia McCloskey, sitting next to her husband, warned viewers in video remarks.
"Make no mistake: No matter where you live, your family will not be safe in the radical Democrats' America."
The decision to feature them at the convention has drawn both praise and revulsion.
The McCloskeys are law-abiding heroes to those who see them as die-hard supporters of 2nd Amendment gun rights defending their home against potential trespassers.
But many view them as villains -- wealthy white lawyers who threatened violence against people who did not look like them.
'We did nothing wrong'
"I thought we were going to die," Mark McCloskey told Kimberly Guilfoyle, a senior advisor to the Trump campaign, on her podcast last month. "We did nothing wrong and we're not going to back down."
The confrontation occurred during a wave of demonstrations over police brutality and racism prompted by the police killing in Minneapolis of an unarmed black man, George Floyd.
Trump has branded himself the "law and order" president in a bid to claw back ground against Democrat Joe Biden, who leads in polling.
The president has openly warned that Biden policies on low-income housing would "destroy suburbia" -- comments that Democratic Senator Cory Booker, who is black, deemed "blatantly racist."
The McCloskeys live in the wealthy enclave of Central West End, 10 miles (16 kilometers) from Ferguson, Missouri, the majority-black community where riots erupted in 2014 after a white policeman shot and killed 18-year-old African American Michael Brown.
"They are not satisfied with spreading the chaos and violence into our communities, they want to abolish the suburbs altogether by ending single-family home zoning," Patricia told the convention.
The McCloskeys are known to flex their legal muscles against multiple parties.
According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, they have sued relatives for defamation and neighbors for altering a road, filed squatter's rights for land they have hostilely occupied, and destroyed bee hives placed outside their mansion by a Jewish congregation whose children were preparing to harvest the honey for Rosh Hashanah.