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I went to Nigel Farage’s American Comeback Tour. It was even weirder than you might imagine

This was the second-last date on ‘America’s Comeback Tour feat. Nigel Farage’ – and if you’re thinking that sounds like a terrible right-wing parody of a band tour, you should’ve seen the T-shirts with his face on

Holly Baxter
Friday 21 May 2021 10:55 BST
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Nigel Farage announces launch of America’s Comeback Tour

Outside a restaurant in a rundown Texan town, Nigel Farage was having a fag. I spied him as soon as I stepped out of the car. He was laughing with a small group of smartly dressed twentysomething Americans about how everything is “such good fun”. A woman strode forward across the car park, hand outstretched, saying, “Nigel! We met before, with Steve Bannon.” He nodded, greeted her, shook her hand and then turned to do a bit to camera about Prince Harry and the perils of getting too woke.

This was the second-last date on “America’s Comeback Tour feat. Nigel Farage” – and if you’re thinking that sounds like a terrible right-wing parody of a band tour, you should’ve seen the T-shirts with his face on.

By the time I’d turned up on Thursday night to watch him address a crowd in Denison, Texas, he’d spoken in airport Marriotts, restaurants and at outdoor events in places as far afield as Milwaukee, Florida, Pittsburgh and Ohio, and was due to move on to San Antonio the next night, then Mississippi and Arizona. Not all of these events had gone as planned. A bit of keyboard activism from the shores of Brexit Britain had led to thousands of tickets being bought up by people with no intention of attending (“People are booking up free tickets for Nigel Farage’s event and are planning not to show up. Please share the link to stop these irresponsible people spoiling a lovely evening,” tweeted Tim Burgess with tongue firmly in his cheek, to over 8,000 responses.) The first date on his tour was reported to have attracted 21 attendees, six of whom were members of his own team. Pictures of empty, cavernous rooms were shared on social media with glee.

So incensed was our Nigel by such treatment from his countrymen that he’d penned a column in The Telegraph a couple of days before titled: “The so-called liberals tried to cancel me – pity it’s backfired”. In it, he claimed that he’d attracted a crowd of 750 in Michigan and 250 at his other tour dates before “hard left agitators” had gotten involved. This was “cancel culture” at its worst, he said, though it should be acknowledged that none of his events were actually cancelled. “Frankly,” he added, “I’m surprised they have found the time for this stunt, given the number of pro-Palestinian demonstrations that have been going on.”

He seemed a lot more relaxed on the deck of The Point restaurant in Denison, accompanied as he was by Trump hat-wearing conservatives from the surrounding areas which straddle the Texas-Oklahoma border. When I tried to approach him before his event, his band of enthusiastic Americans chased me away, telling me Nigel didn’t want to see the media. But after an hour or so, he joined me at an outdoor table. “How’s the tour going?” I asked, and he answered immediately, “It was a little ambitious.” I thought he was talking about the images of empty rooms and the events with the unexpectedly small crowds, but he then quickly added that so many states in just six weeks had been exhausting.

In the restaurant that night, Farage certainly had his supporters. One woman told me, “I love him. I love him. He’s keeping this boat afloat… He’s challenging the new world order and the globalists,” and wasn’t happy to hear that I could only concede the event was “politically interesting”. “If you think it’s interesting, go back to England,” she said, gesticulating with a salad fork. “They’ve ruined England, they’ve ruined New York, they’ve ruined California. Don’t come here. I don’t want to be like Venezuela. You’ve got a mask on because you’re being controlled.” Later, I watched her try to convince the teenage waiters that Farage – “He’s the Brexit guy! Come on, you know what Brexit is!” – was about to save the western world from certain collapse. Another table of elderly couples told me I wouldn’t understand their fears about their freedom being taken away because the UK was saved by Farage; someone else disagreed, saying that England is basically a communist hellhole and I was as good as a refugee.

The people I met on the streets of Denison and nearby Plano and Dallas did not know who Farage was or much about Brexit (“Isn’t that the xenophobic thing they did to keep immigrants out?” said one Dallas resident.) But the crowd at the so-called “American Comeback Tour” were often surprisingly clued up. I asked the woman with the salad fork how she’d come across young Nigel, and she told me she “gets emails” from a local group called Texoma Patriots (Denison is on Lake Texoma). The same group erected a banner in the room Farage spoke in. I was also approached by a member of a local libertarian group during the event, and a sizeable amount of people turned up to sell merchandise for conservative organisations partway through. That’s unsurprising, considering the entire event was sponsored by Freedom Works, a right-wing group which seeks to bring together grassroots conservative activists. What was confusing, though, was how you were supposed to parse out the representatives of these groups from the people who had come across tickets organically and thought: “This foreign man jetting in from Europe seems to be the one to solve the globalist problem in America. Better go along and see what he has to say.”

The event itself was mask-free, save one sullen teen sitting in the back who had clearly been forced along by his parents. People in cowboy hats and “In God We Trust” T-shirts dominated the room; a five-year-old boy in a full suit and a red “Make America Great Again” cap spun around the floor. It opened with a scriptural reading, followed by the national Pledge of Allegiance, and then the Texas Pledge of Allegiance. Though he spoke for a surprisingly short amount of time – around 15 minutes of an hour and a half-long event – Farage managed to squeeze in a cheer for his new blue passport and lead a series of boos against Barack Obama (“Come on, you can do better than that!” he admonished the crowd when the initial boos were too quiet.)

On the patio outside, Farage told me that yes, he’d met Donald Trump for a couple of dinners at Mar-a-Lago but he would never say what Trump told him, and “that’s why he trusts me”. (“He’s become a very good friend,” he said of the former president during his speech.) Yes, he added, he does believe it’s possible the 2020 election was stolen. Yes, he would support Trump if he stood in 2024. And by the way, he doesn’t think all this woke stuff is what Martin Luther King would have wanted.

“Everyone thinks conservative activism started in 2010 with the Tea Party,” he said onstage at one point, “but I was doing all that 17 years earlier!” The reaction was muted; the audience were here for the lines about the evils of Biden and the nefarious globalist elite, not a celebration of a British politician’s career. Similarly, his points about personally inspiring American Republicans through Ukip were a bit lost when his American audience simply cheered at the mention of conservatives and then chanted, “USA, USA!” One representative of a conservative group I spoke to was surprised to find out that Farage’s first name wasn’t Neil.

In other words, though it was better attended than some of his other stops on the “Comeback Tour”, this was still vintage Nigel Farage: self-involved, populist, performative and delivered with a big dollop of self-delusion. Surrounded by a group of enthusiastic Americans, he was clearly convinced that he was out to save western civilisation. But the truth became clear over the course of the event that, for the most part, the people there weren’t there for him. Indeed – like a beautiful far-right hellscape – everyone was using everyone else, and everyone was out for themselves.

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