A Strange and Terrible Journey Into the Upside-Down World of Trump’s MAGA Rallies

In this daring work of immersive journalism based on hundreds of hours of reporting, Carl Hoffman, who has written about the most dangerous and remote corners of the world, journeys deep inside Donald Trump’s rallies, seeking to understand the strange and powerful tribe that forms the president’s base. Hoffman pierced this alternate society, welcomed-in and initiated into its rights and upside-down beliefs, and finally ushered to its inner sanctum. Equally freewheeling and profound, Liar’s Circus tracks the MAGA faithful across 5,000 miles of the American heartland during a crucial arc of the Trump presidency stretching from the impeachment saga to the dawn of the coronavirus pandemic that paused the rallies as we know it, even as the president impatiently awaits their return.

  • “A valuable portrait of authoritarianism in action and its more-than-willing adherents.

    KirkusKirkus Reviews

Trump’s rallies are a singular and defining force in American history—a kind of Rosetta stone to understanding the Age of Trump. Yet while much remarked upon, they are little examined, with the focus almost always on Trump’s latest outrageous statement. But who are the tens of thousands of people who fill these arenas? What do they see in Trump? And what curious alchemy—between president and adoring crowd—happens there that might explain Trump’s rise and powerful hold over both his base and the GOP?

To those on the Left, the rallies are a Black Mass of American politics at which Trump plays high priest, recklessly summoning the darkest forces within the nation. To the MAGA faithful, the rallies are a form of pilgrimage, a joyous ceremony that like all rituals binds people together and makes them feel a part of something bigger than themselves. Both sides acknowledge that this traveling roadshow is the pressurized, combustible core of Trump’s political power, a meeting of the faithful where Trump is unshackled and his rhetoric reaches its most extreme, with downstream consequences for the rest of the nation.

To date, no reporter has sought to understand the rallies as a sociological phenomenon examined from the bottom up. Hoffman has done just this. He has stood in line for more than 170 hours with Trump’s most ardent superfans and joined them at the very front row; he has traveled from Minnesota to Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and New Hampshire immersing himself in their culture. Publishing in the heart of the 2020 election cycle, LIAR’S CIRCUS is a fresh and revelatory portrait of Trump’s America, from one of our most talented journalists.

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behind the story

  • "Joining the infatuated at campaign rallies from Minnesota to Texas, Hoffman brilliantly evokes both the hypnotic cadences of a demagogue and the misguided faith of his followers. He plunges with them down a rabbit hole of conspiracy theories, grievances, and alienation—without ever losing sight of their humanity. It is trenchant, surprising and profound.”

    Joshua Hammerbestselling author of The Falcon Thief and The Badass Librarians of Timbuktu
  • "Liar's Circus is a brilliant, riveting, funny, terrifying, unflaggingly readable journey into the beating heart of Trumpland. With the same zest, curiosity and deep humanity that has drawn him to immerse in cultures all over the world, he waits in line, finds a seat, and transports the reader to the front row of a succession of signature Trump rallies. Along the way he connects (and camps out) with a cast of fanatic rallygoers who are by turns surreal, odd, lonely, friendly, scary, sympathetic, awful-- and important. The book reads like a dream. You will consume it whole at a single sitting."

    Liza Mundybestselling author of Code Girls: The Untold Story of the American Women Code Breakers of World War II
  • "A wildly entertaining road trip into the belly of the beast that is Trump rallies. Hoffman never condescends or dismisses and brings these Americans to life with fascinating subtleties and contradictions. Many of us have wondered “who are these people” and Hoffman answers that question with great grace and understanding. It’s a hell of a trip.”

    Stuart StevensGOP political operative and author of It Was All A Lie: How the Republican Party Became Donald Trump
  • “Hoffman often shakes his head in wonderment but rarely condescends, and he approaches his subject with scholarly vigor, sometimes quoting from heady philosophical and sociological sources while retaining a sense of fraught adventure: “If Trumpism was a place, then it was a place I could travel to just as surely as a village in the swamps of New Guinea or the huts of nomads in the rain forests of Borneo.” What he discovered speaks volumes about economic uncertainty, racism, xenophobia, fundamentalism, and other populist dog whistles that “lay at the heart of Trump’s message and his power.” A valuable portrait of authoritarianism in action and its more-than-willing adherents.”

    Kirkusstarred review