Wherever vote tallies are being contested in America—in Michigan, Pennsylvania, Arizona, and Nevada particularly—Donald Trump supporters, fueled by Trump’s exhortations on Twitter and elsewhere to “Stop the Count!” have been organizing protests intended to disrupt the vote-counting process. So far, none have succeeded.
Their message varies depending on the state counting votes and Trump’s relative position in the count. Some, as in Philadelphia, have been demanding that vote counting be stopped since Trump leads in the state in early tabulations. But in Arizona, where Trump is trailing, a bellicose crowd—ginned up on a baseless conspiracy theory claiming Democrats had conspired to erase Republican votes—descended on a Phoenix ballot-counting center to demand they “count all the votes.”
In Detroit, a crowd of protesters pounded on the windows inside the city’s vote-counting center, demanding to be allowed in to the vote-counting area, which was at its capacity of 570 vote challengers already inside the room. The protesters, who chanted in support of a Trump lawsuit demanding the counting be stopped due to transparency claims, eventually were rebuffed—as was Trump’s lawsuit.
In Philadelphia, protesters from both pro-Trump and pro-Biden camps gathered outside the city’s convention center, where ballot-counting operations are centered. The pro-Trump protesters, who included several Proud Boys, were organized by FreedomWorks For America, the right-wing “astroturf” group credited with co-creating the “Tea Party” phenomenon. “CALLING ALL PATRIOTS! We cannot let the radical Left steal this election!” the group posted on Facebook. In another post it urged protesters turn out to "make sure Joe Biden does not steal the election."
In Nevada, competing protests outside the North Las Vegas ballot-counting center have so far remained peaceful. “President Trump has won,” one Trump supporter told the Las Vegas Sun. “He won Nevada. President Trump four more years.” She also voiced skepticism that the Nevada vote count was legitimate: “I would bet my life there’s no people in there,” she said, referring to the warehouse where votes were being counted.
In Arizona, where Joe Biden has consistently led in the ballot count, several hundred protesters—some reportedly carrying weapons—gathered outside the Maricopa County Recorder’s Office on Wednesday to demand all votes be counted, and claiming that there had been ongoing fraud in which Republican ballots were being thrown out.
The Arizona protesters were ginned up about a conspiracy theory—dubbed “SharpieGate”—that Republican voters who had used Sharpie pens given out at polling stations to mark their ballots were being widely disqualified, a claim that state officials emphatically denied.
“Poll workers are not going to give voters pens that are going to invalidate their ballot,” Arizona Sec. of State Katie Hobbs told KTAR News on Wednesday.
That did not stop Republican and mainstream-conservative groups from spreading the claims. Congressman Paul Gosar of Arizona, a fervid Trump supporter, asked for Arizona’s Republican attorney general, Mark Brnovich, to investigate the allegations on Twitter. Brnovich responded by sending a letter to Maricopa County election officials asking them for answers.
The American Conservative Union’s Matt Schlapp pushed the conspiracy theory hard on Twitter as well. “Apparently the use of Sharpie pens in GOP precincts is causing ballots to be invalidated,” read one of Schlapp’s multiple tweets promoting the SharpieGate claims, all of which were labeled by Twitter as possibly misleading. “Could be huge numbers of mostly Trump supporters.”
Accordingly, Wednesday’s protest crowd was ripe with far-right figures and conspiracy theorists. One of the state’s most prominent “Patriot” movement leaders, Jennifer Harrison of Arizona Patriots, led a small delegation inside the building in the early moments of the protest, where video showed her demanding to be permitted to observe the count, and being denied.
Arizona Patriots (also known as the Patriot Movement of Arizona) won notoriety in 2018 for a Facebook video posted by a leading member of the group showing her entering a Muslim mosque and removing articles, leading eventually to a felony conviction for the woman. Harrison, who was sued by several churches for harassing immigrant children by posting videos of them arriving by bus, herself currently faces a felony identity theft charge in Maricopa County.
Maricopa County sheriff’s deputies formed a barrier at the entrance that kept the protesters out, even as they began chanting “Let us in!” and “Stop the Steal!” Among the protesters was Gosar, who could be seen joining a chant: “Where are the votes!”
All of these protests appear to have been organized largely on Facebook. The Facebook group devoted to the “#StopTheSteal” hashtag gained 320,000 members in less than 48 hours, having been created shortly after Trump had tweeted out his plea to “Stop the count!”
A Facebook spokesperson told Rolling Stone it removed the group on the grounds that it was “creating real-world events. The group was organized around the delegitimization of the election process, and we saw worrying calls for violence from some members of the group.”