Almost a decade ago, New York City entrepreneur Richard Mgrdechian posted a Craigslist ad, looking for musicians to perform in a band that he was trying to piece together. The result was Madison Rising, an aggressively patriotic five-piece whose sound could be described as kind of like Creed if they'd been really into the Constitution. They had moderate success with a rock version of "The Star Spangled Banner," performed before NASCAR events and motorcycle rallies, and recorded the theme song for Sarah Palin's short-lived reality show.
Madison Rising's lead singer Dave Bray left the band in 2016, but he's still all-in for the U.S.A., making dozens of appearances at things like virtual Border Patrol tributes, pro-life golf tournaments, and the annual Thin Blue Line Ball. Last year, he sang the National Anthem at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), which could be why he's one of the few people who have been willing to defend this year's performer.
Sailor Sabol, a 19-year-old college student, was selected to sing the anthem in Orlando last weekend, performing on a Hyatt hotel stage that probably wasn't designed to look like a Nazi symbol. Her a cappella version stretched for two solid minutes, and I'm being polite when I say that it had more keys than a Hyundai dealership.
Unsurprisingly, the internet brought jokes, calling it an "unexpectedly avant-garde tribute to [...] Frank Zappa" and suggesting that it was sung "in the key of Q." The Daily Mail went with "The Star Mangled Banner" while conservative website Red State called it "sung straight up…no 'artistic interpretation.'" (They are correct in suggesting that it wasn't artistic.)
On his Facebook page, Bray wrote that "The Star Spangled Banner" is an incredibly difficult song to sing, and that at least she gave it a go. "This girl had the guts to grab a microphone, walk out onto a major stage and sing the National Anthem all by herself. That alone is no small feat," he typed. "There’s only a handful of super famous 'singers' that would even DARE to step up and sing it live or on TV for those very reasons! So...Before any more of you social media hyenas jump in on bulling [sic] this young lady for your 'LOL’s' and your 'LIKES'...please take a moment to recognize that this young lady had more courage than most for even getting up there."
One of the bigger questions is why Sabol was on that weird probably-not-Nazi-shaped stage in the first place. The Florida native isn't a superstar singer, but that's not unusual for the event; previous anthem performers have included a 14-year-old guitarist and one of the more disposable former Pussycat Dolls. But Sabol does seem to tick a few of CPAC's boxes: she's a registered Republican, a member of the University of Central Florida's College Republicans, and is also cool with sharing her questionable takes on diversity and inclusion. (VICE has reached out to CPAC, its organizer the American Conservative Union, and the UCF GOP, but as of this writing, we have not received a response from any of them.)
In a YouTube video called "Destroying Splash Mountain = Destroying America (a rant)," Sabol spends 20 minutes suggesting that Walt Disney World's decision to change the theme of its Splash Mountain log flume ride is somehow a metaphor for America, or whatever.
"The most disgusting decision, and I'm only being partially sarcastic is that they're redoing Splash Mountain," she says, sitting underneath a plush narwhal. "I got really really really triggered about this yesterday [...] It really shows that nothing is safe. It's symbolic of America as a whole."
Last summer, Disney announced that it would be 'completely reimagining' the Splash Mountain attractions at both Disneyland and Walt Disney World, shifting them away from references to Song of the South, the notorious 1946 film that one former Disney CEO diplomatically described as "fairly offensive." The new attractions will feature characters from The Princess and the Frog, including Princess Tiana, Disney's first Black princess.
"America was not founded on racism, it was founded around, with racism, that's how I say, not on racism, with racism," I say that because racism was never put in words [...] in the Constitution," Sabol continues. "Just like how Disney banned Song of the South from being released on DVD because they recognized over time that they've grown past it, that they no longer support it, America had a Civil War where many people died to free people. America had Civil Rights movements. America today, it's like the worst accusation you can have for somebody is saying that they're racist."
Even though Splash Mountain was, in fact, based on the most racist film that has ever been locked in the Disney Vault, Sabol argues that the attraction's premise was "good"—much in the same way that America was founded on "good" ideas that have been (unfairly, in her opinion) reconsidered and maligned by contemporary society.
"Like Splash Mountain, even though they got rid of Song of the South, even though they said 'You know what, we don't support the ideas of Song of the South, but the ride is still fundamentally good,' that's not good enough," she complains.
"We have to redo Splash Mountain. We have to start all over, we have to start all over with America, we have to change our history, we have to change our statues, we need to change everything, we need to change all the road signs. We don't. This is ridiculous. It's too far, it's too revisionary [...] We are fundamentally good [sic] country. We have problems, but not as many as many countries are today. We were founded with problems, but today we are very good. And many other countries today? Awful. Absolutely awful."
At the beginning of the video, Sabol warns that she "can't be quiet anymore." If she continues to publish content like this, then there's a chance she'll be back at CPAC next year—except this time, she'll probably be giving a presentation.