I spent an evening with Diamond and Silk and their pro-Donald Trump fans. Here’s what I learned.
CLEVELAND — The price of admission is $50 for the casual fan, $150 for the VIP treatment.
The latter includes preshow charcuterie, wine, beer, priority seating and a souvenir photo with the self-described “classy,” “sassy,” sometimes “nasty” pro-Donald Trump divas.
The duo’s notorious trinkets are available for purchase, too, most plastered with their faces — brown, bespectacled, feisty expressions.
T-shirts go for $30. Zipper pouches? $15. “Women 4 Trump” caps are $20 a pop, Christmas ornaments another $15 and church fans cost $5. Cash only.
The event staff isn’t shy about pushing attendees to open their wallets.
“We’ve got to keep these girls on the road!” Tessy, the show’s master of ceremonies, shouted at one point.
I’m at the Cleveland Chit Chat Live tour stop for sisters Lynnette Hardaway and Rochelle Richardson, better known by their stage names, Diamond and Silk.
It’s Aug. 5, and more than 200 people have gathered at the Cleveland Airport Marriott Hotel to watch the pair bring its popular YouTube and Facebook show to life.
“Donald Trump is not a racist,” Diamond declared to loud cheers, a claim that could easily be the title of the duo’s show. “What he is, is a realist. The only color he sees is green, and he wants you to have some of it!”
The black North Carolina natives — whose mother and father are both televangelists — have been preaching the gospel of Trump for more than three years now. They are standard-bearers for an informal cottage industry of black, conservative social media personalities that emerged after the now-president formally announced his run for office in June 2015.
These entrepreneurs have renounced their allegiance to the so-called “Democratic plantation” in favor of the GOP, using their newfound platform to flatter, entertain and reassure white conservatives they are not racist for backing Trump. They beat the drum for “45” while attacking the mainstream media, denouncing Democrats and their famous black supporters and, most importantly, reinforcing their audience’s worldview while making them laugh in the process.
“They don’t like us calling it the Democratic plantation,” Diamond shouted from the stage. “What else do they want us to call it?!”
“That’s what it is!” a white man in the crowd replied.
Diamond and Silk are far from alone. There’s a whole roster of lesser-known black social media stars playing the same game. They’re all entertainers, first and foremost, but most would have trouble winning America’s Got Talent. They sing poorly and rap worse. Comedy is their calling card, but even Fox News pundit Jesse Watters has trouble laughing at some their jokes.
The group includes comedians like Terrence K. Williams, who routinely stuffs his face with fried chicken on camera while telling black people who have a problem with police brutality to go back to Africa. His act was too much for Fox News recently, when Watters cut an interview short after Williams made a racist joke about New York Times editorial board member Sarah Jeong.
“[There’s] somethin’ wrong with those fortune cookies that Ling Ling is eatin’,” Williams said of Jeong, who is Asian-American.
Then there’s Henry Davis, who sings Dixieland tunes and pro-Trump songs while wearing a fluorescent orange mohawk wig. Davis says he recently secured a deal for his new book, titled Coon, which is due for publication later this year, according to his Twitter.
Oklahoma “country boy” Andrew Duncomb, also known as Black Rebel, is a staunch defender of the Confederate flag, which he wears on his clothes and routinely flies at conservative rallies — including the Unite the Right gathering in Charlottesville, Virginia, in August 2017 — as he and the Proud Boys battle Antifa around the country, shoulder to shoulder.
(Duncomb told Mic he was unaware Nazis would be at Unite the Right, and that he does not agree with their cause.)
Pro-Trump YouTuber Tree of Logic, a former police officer and dominatrix, takes occasional breaks from dissecting the daily news to don an Afro wig with a low-cut top and become Shaquita Jackson, her “grape drank”-swigging, fried-chicken-and-butter-biscuit-eating alter ego.
The satirical Jackson character was supposed to be a one-time joke to mock Tree’s rival, Candace Owens, and her Turning Point USA boss, Charlie Kirk. But Tree’s pro-Trump fans loved Shaquita so much she keeps bringing her back to get their “white moneys.” Horny white men now send Shaquita cash via YouTube, which Tree said she plans to use to buy a new computer.
Individually, these black Trump lovers have relatively small followings on social media. But combined, their videos have amassed tens of millions of views. They’ve been featured in VICELAND documentaries and appeared as performers at major pro-Trump rallies.
None of them, however, are as popular as Diamond and Silk, whose Facebook page has more than 1.7 million followers — more than Sens. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and U.S. Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) combined.
“Our social media (and beyond) Stars @DiamondandSilk are terrific people who are doing really well,” Trump tweeted over the weekend, in one of his periodic plugs for the duo. “We are all very proud of them, and their great success!”
Trump’s approval rating among black Americans — black conservatives included — took a nosedive after the 2017 Unite the Right rally.
The president’s statements characterizing individuals who marched side by side with Nazis as “very fine people” and his comments earlier this year calling some Latin American and African nations “shithole countries,” were widely condemned by both black and white GOP members.
In July, nearly half of all Americans said they think Trump is a racist, and more than half said he has emboldened other racists.
Being perceived as a bigot has hurt the president’s image among independents and mainstream Republicans alike. This is a strategic liability. If he wants to keep control of Congress in November and win re-election in 2020, the president needs more than the estimated 35-40% of his base that refuses to abandon him no matter what he does to vote for him and his allies in the House and Senate.
But black supporters who could otherwise defend Trump against racism charges are in short supply. Omarosa Manigault, Trump’s only senior black White House staffer before she was fired in December, called her former boss a racist in August and has spent the past few months bad-mouthing him on national TV.
Much of the black Republican establishment has distanced itself from Trump as well. Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) says talking race with the president is “painful” and “uncomfortable.” Former Republican National Committee chair Michael Steele has said the evidence Trump is a bigot “is incontrovertible” and Rep. Mia Love (R-Utah), referring to Trump’s alleged “shithole” remarks, has said she “can’t defend the indefensible.”
Diamond and Silk have been more than willing to fill the void these black conservatives have left. And they’ve found an eager audience in mostly white, conservative baby boomers who crave pro-Trump black entertainment and justification from nonwhites for supporting a man widely considered a racist.
The pair has grown prominent enough over the years to become fixtures on the conservative media circuit as commentators. Their fans pay handsomely and travel great distances to see their live show and hear them insist the president isn’t a racist while dumping on more famous black people who say the opposite.
“I hope you’ve monetized this,” Trump told the sisters as they took the stage at his December 2015 North Carolina campaign rally.
So far, they’ve done their best.
You can make a contribution to Diamond and Silk on their website, purchase merchandise from their online store or donate to their less-famous cohorts on Patreon.
By their own admission, Diamond and Silk were lifelong Democrats whose conservative rebirth came after Trump descended down that gilded Trump Tower escalator in 2015 to announce his run for president.
Afterward, Diamond filmed a video on the iPad she got for her birthday, denouncing media outlets’ purported mischaracterization of Trump’s remarks referring to Mexican immigrants as “rapists.”
And just like that, the days of pro-Black Lives Matter talk on her and her sister’s YouTube channel stopped. The pro-Trump video went viral and eventually got Trump’s attention. When he visited North Carolina for a campaign rally later that year, Trump brought Diamond and Silk up onstage.
Since then, they’ve taken their show on the road.
“I can’t believe I’m doing this!” one elderly white lady with a beaming smile told me as she stood in line to take photos with Diamond and Silk in Cleveland on Aug. 5. “I see them on TV all the time. I think they’re such a class act.”
“I love the fact that they love our president,” another woman declared.
“And they defend him!” another said in response.
Some of the attendees at the Chit Chat Live show said they’ve gone to Trump rallies before. But none paid to get into those events. All of them spent money to see Diamond and Silk, and it soon becomes clear why.
A few hours after the hors d’oeuvres and spirits session at the VIP event, patrons filed into a Marriott auditorium for the main show. The room was soon packed with people ranging from middle-aged to geriatric, virtually all white. Some even brought their teenage children and loved ones with them.
In the middle of the room, an elderly woman with a cane got into a shouting match with security guards after she sat in the VIP section closer to the stage, despite apparently not having paid for a VIP ticket.
“If you don’t move, ma’am, I’m going to have law enforcement escort you out,” one security guard said.
“I am asking you to get out of my face!” the woman replied. “I am not the only person who didn’t pay who is seated in this section!”
Tessy, the master of ceremonies, preceded the show by asking people in the crowd who’d traveled the farthest to get here. One woman said she drove more than nine hours to attend.
“I have a seat in the front row for you,” Tessy declared, to applause and cheers. “You can come and sit right here. How about that?”
A woman celebrating her 89th birthday was also awarded a front-row seat. Moments later, Diamond and Silk took the stage, striking Charlie’s Angels-esque poses while their fans snapped pictures on their smartphones.
The ladies kicked off the show by telling their origin story — how Diamond grew tired of seeing Democrats push policies she didn’t agree with, how excited she and her sister became when Trump said he was running for president and how disgusted they were with the mainstream media “distorting” Trump’s words about Mexicans bringing “drugs” and “crime” into the United States.
“Look at unemployment among African-Americans,” Diamond added. “Unemployment is at an all-time what?”
“Low!” the audience shouted.
“Homeownership is at an all-time what?”
”High!” the audience replied.
Over the course of their performance, Diamond and Silk took aim at “crooked” Hillary Clinton. But their main villains were black, like “mad” Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), CNN anchor Don Lemon and former-Cleveland Cavaliers star Lebron James, who was openly critical about the president during a July interview with Lemon.
“Lebron James is jealous that President Trump has done more in less than two years for the black community than Obama did in eight years,” Silk told the audience. “Lebron is what we call a gatekeeper of the Democratic plantation.”
“Woooooo!” shouted people in the crowd.
“[He’s] tryin’ to keep black folks stuck in that stinkin’ thinkin’ mindset,” Silk continued. “He fears one thinking outside of the black box. Lebron can continue to stay stuck, in a rut, with his bucks, while the rest of Americans come up! We’re winnin’, baby.”
“Yup!” one woman shouted.
The call and response went on for over an hour, but eventually, Diamond and Silk waded into the audience to ask people questions.
I was sitting in my red velvet VIP seat when they approached me and held a microphone to my slightly bewildered face.
“You look like you got a question,” Silk said, as audience members chuckled uncomfortably.
I’d seen many of the crowd eying me with apparent suspicion all afternoon, though everyone I spoke to was polite and cordial.
“Lookin’ like Wesley Snipes,” Diamond said, generously, comparing me to the Blade and New Jack City action star. The audience laughed again.
“I do [have a question],” I replied to the first comment. “Why do you think white nationalists like David Duke and Richard Spencer love Donald Trump so much?”
Diamond appeared to hold her breath, her eyebrows raised, snapping her head back ever so slightly before she gave her answer.
“Richard Spencer is an opportunist,” she said.
“Did you know David Duke used to be a Democrat?” her sister added.
After the show, I spoke to Elaine Randle of North Canton, Ohio, one of the few nonwhite faces in the audience that day. Randle had come with her white friend, Connie Anthony, who said she wished the two of them had come up with Diamond and Silk’s gimmick first.
“We could have been Ebony and Ivory,” Anthony said as she and Randle both laughed.
Randle said more black people need to be free thinkers like Diamond and Silk, and that the twosome epitomizes the American dream.
“They were just two sisters who created a YouTube video,” Randle said. “It morphed into something great for them. They’re making money on it. God bless ’em.”