Donald Trump’s most diehard, fanatical supporters—the ones who have been waving big Trump banners from their pickups and donning Proud Boys shirts to go with the MAGA hats—are following his example: refusing to acknowledge his election defeat at the hands of Joe Biden, muttering low threats, and generally throwing a petulant fit.
Around the nation this weekend, following Saturday’s vote tallies that put Joe Biden’s candidacy over the Electoral College finish line, smallish crowds gathered in front of state capitol buildings in “Stop the Steal” protests that had been fueled by Trump’s ongoing false claims to have won the election and organized on Facebook. Meanwhile, the national leadership of the violently pro-Trump Proud Boys—having been earlier urged by Trump during the first presidential debate to “stand by” during the election—signaled to members that they were “rolling out” because the “standby order has been rescinded.”
Threats notwithstanding, however, there were only a handful of incidents of minor violence at the protests, including some involving Proud Boys. There was no shortage of incendiary rhetoric and threatening behavior, however.
Even though Facebook deleted the “Stop the Steal” pages and events that were created on its platforms by Thursday, the groups nonetheless were successful in spreading the word that the protests were to occur in front of state capitol buildings around the country on Saturday. The shared theme at all of them was that the national media were lying, that Trump was the real winner of the election, and that Democrats, the “deep state,” and “fake news” were all conspiring to make the public think Biden had been elected—in other words, an alternate reality comprised entirely of groundless conspiracy theories.
At the voting-tabulation center in Phoenix, Arizona, where crowds of Trump supporters had attempted to interfere in ballot-counting procedures in the days after the election, fueled by a nonsense conspiracy theory that Republican ballots were being discarded due to the use of Sharpies, protesters lingered through Saturday evening.
“This election has not been called!” shouted Jake Angeli, a regular at Trump rallies, who stood outside a tabulation center in Phoenix. “Don’t believe that lie! They got their hands caught in the cookie jar and we’re going to the Supreme Court!”
“Trump always looks like he’s going to lose. And then he wins, “ Angeli said.
“We just want them to know we won’t let them get away with anything. We want to make sure all the legal ballots are counted, and fairly,” said Travis Fillmore, 34, a military veteran from nearby Tempe, who was toting a rifle at the protest.
“Arrest the poll workers!” the crowd chanted—while fenced away from the building’s entrance in a “free speech zone” created for them by Maricopa County sheriff’s deputies.
Most of the gatherings featured dozens of Trump supporters at best. They also featured some of the extremist elements—including conspiracy-fueled QAnon cultists, thuggish Proud Boys, and armed militiamen—who have become seamlessly identified with the Trump campaign this year.
Probably the largest of them was in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania’s state capital—fittingly, since that state’s vote count provided Biden with his margin of victory on Saturday—where Proud Boys linked arms with unrepentant white nationalists to protest Trump’s loss. Christopher Mathias of HuffPost was there, and described it as a “heavily armed pity party”:
Once assembled there, Rep. Dan Mueser (R-Pa.), a Trump fan widely believed to be eyeing a run for governor, took hold of a megaphone and spoke to the crowd about how the results of the election were illegitimate.
He was surrounded by fascists. To his left, a man waved a flag for the anti-Semitic white nationalist movement known as America First. To his right, a man clad in black held a sign that read “Standing Back And Standing By For Our President” — a reference to when Trump, asked at a debate to condemn the Proud Boys, instead told them to “stand back and stand by.”
Far-right extremists have been a fixture of Trump rallies over the last four years, but it’s still hard to overstate how many were in Harrisburg on Saturday. The place was crawling with them.
This, too, was a common theme at the “Stop the Steal” rallies: As we saw with the various “Trump trains” and their overt thuggery in Texas, as well as at other “Trump caravans” throughout the campaign, the events provided an environment in which ostensibly mainstream Republicans commingled and joined arms openly with some of the most extreme elements of the radical right.
In Salem, Oregon, some of the “Save the Steal” demonstrators dressed in Proud Boys uniforms and masks as well as fighting garb were seen on video assaulting photographers and journalists while Oregon State Police stood by and did not intervene. Among the speakers at their event was Jo Rae Perkins, the QAnon cultist who was the failed Oregon Republican nominee against incumbent Democratic Senator Jeff Merkley. "This is an appeal to heaven," Perkins said. "We need to pray for Trump, for his family and for his Cabinet."
Another Republican nominee—Michael Cross, who ran for Oregon attorney general and has lost by a similar 57-40 margin in his race as Perkins in hers—also spoke to the crowd, dressed in a leather biker jacket and spouting more conspiracism. “We don’t like what’s happening in our country and we don’t like what’s happening in our state, and we don’t like vote by mail,” Cross said.
“I personally checked my own ballot status, and my ballot hasn’t even been counted yet, and Oregon is considered a blue state,” said an unidentified Trump supporter to KPTV. “Do you know how much that fears for me?”
"And the amount of support Trump has everywhere you go is just overwhelming, and we didn't see that with Biden, so it just doesn't add up," Carol Stewart said.
In Colorado, protesters decided to move their demonstration 70 miles south from Denver down Interstate 25 to Colorado Springs because the capital city does not permit open carry, and the latter city does. Once there, news crews had no difficulty finding Trump supporters insisting that the election results were wrong.
“This election’s being stolen,” one MAGA-hatted protester claimed. “It’s being hijacked, and that’s quite frustrating.”
In Carson City, Nevada, there were more Proud Boys to be found causing trouble, many of them packing firearms as they chanted “Stop the Steal!” and “USA! USA!”
A local reporter got an earful from a man in a camouflage hat with a yellow Gadsden-banner bandana over his face:
“Why am I here,” he asked seemingly annoyed. “That’s a stupid question … I’m here because the fucking Pinkos are stealing the election … that’s what I’m doing here … it’s the Deep State in all those states where ballots for Biden showed up in a truck in the dark of the night in Philadelphia and Vegas … the whole thing is rigged, and we’re here to defend our president, that’s why I’m here.”
In Boise, the camo-clad extremists again rubbed elbows with state GOP officials. “We are going to get Trump reelected,” Republican state representative Aaron von Ehlinger of Lewiston told the crowd. “It’s going to take some legal battles, but we will get it done.”
Machele Hamilton, the Idaho GOP’s vice chair, echoed him, assuring attendees that “the Idaho Republican Party is 100% behind President Trump.”
“We are supporting America and our Constitution,” said Diego Rodriguez, a Trump backer, told the Idaho Statesman. “All we want is a fair election.”
In Lansing, Michigan—already the scene of multiple far-right protests featuring weapons and militiamen which later turned out to have been organizing grounds for would-be domestic terrorists, even before the election—an estimated 500 Trump supporters, largely mask-free, assembled on the Capitol steps and adjoining lawn to claim that the vote count in Michigan, and elsewhere, had been rigged in Biden’s favor. They offered no evidence, just baseless assertions.
Decked out in stars and stripes, Genevieve Peters, 57, of Detroit told the Free Press that she doesn't believe Trump lost the election. "We're here to show our president we're with him," she said. "There's 100% no chance he didn't win."
Trump supporters sang a rendition of the Queen song "We Are the Champions," the Lansing State Journal reported. They also chanted "four more years," "lock her up," and "stop the steal,” while sending Trump a message: “We love you!” and “We won’t stop!”
In Little Rock, Arkansas, heavily armed militiamen formed a crowd of about 50 demonstrators who chanted "Blue Lives Matter" and got into a shouting exchange with counter-demonstrators. However, the protest did not last long. There was a similarly short-lived protest in Des Moines, Iowa, and one in front of the governor’s mansion in St. Paul, Minnesota.
The protest in Bismarck, North Dakota, attracted several hundred protesters who found no opposition. Among them were Jonathan Hallet, a western North Dakota pastor and his wife, Tyrene, who drove nearly two hours to attend the “Stand with Trump” rally. “Democrats stole the election,” said Hallett. “Trump was cheated.”
A man named Marty Beard carried a sign that read, “Give Me Trump or Give me Death.”
“That’s what this means to me,” he said.
There were pro-Trump rallies held in non-capital cities this weekend, including one in Vancouver, Washington. Trump fan Adam Schetler (“Donald Trump has my values and I’m ready for Donald Trump for four more years”) told KPTV that he still thinks Trump could win the presidency.
“We are looking for a recount because it’s obvious there has been some fraudulent ballots come in and it’s really hard to believe a man that’s been in public office for somewhat of 50 years—who’s done nothing—now all of a sudden has overwhelming votes, the most in history ever—it’s too far-fetched,” said a Trump fan named James Hurst.