WASHINGTON — One week after the presidential race was called for Joe Biden, supporters of President Donald Trump gathered in Washington to protest the results and echo his unfounded claims of voter fraud.
While aides say that Trump is coming around to the reality that he lost, the president’s public attacks on the validity of the election results and his unwillingness to concede has allowed for conspiracy theories and misinformation to fester, particularly among his most devoted fans.
“Something doesn’t feel right. If we lost fair and square, we’d take it. But it needs to be verified,” said Barbara Lipponen, 54, a real estate agent from Norfolk, Virginia, adding it was important to her to show up so Trump knew “he’s not fighting alone.”
“It doesn’t add up. If he lost, then we need to say ‘OK, he lost.’ But this is not the process I fought for,” said Charmion Prince, 48, an army veteran from Tennessee. Prince, like many other Trump supporters, said she went to bed on election night thinking the president would be re-elected. She grew skeptical of the results as more ballots were counted in the following days, putting Biden ahead.
“I saw the trends. It evaporated out of thin air in Pennsylvania,” said James Dozer, 47, from Alabama. “All of a sudden at four in the morning, boom, Biden’s leading. Democracies are stolen in the dead of night.”
Dozer said it would take a “full hand recount” in every state for him to be “convinced” that Biden won.
Top government and industry officials said in a statement on Thursday that the 2020 election was “the most secure in American history” and that there was “no evidence that any voting system deleted or lost votes, changed votes or was in any way compromised.”
Still, thousands of protesters gathered in Freedom Plaza Saturday morning, just across the street from the White House and the Trump International Hotel, for the events, which were organized under various names including “Million MAGA March,” “March for Trump” and “Stop the Steal.”
Members of the Proud Boys, a far-right extremist group which Trump declined to denounce during the first presidential debate, endorsed the events. Neo-Nazi Andrew Anglin, one of the organizers of the deadly Charlottesville “Unite the Right” rally in 2017, also promoted the march, among other far-right figures.
The Proud Boys clashed at times with small groups of counter-protesters, but the day remained largely nonviolent.
Still, at least 10 people were arrested during skirmishes between Trump supporters and counter demonstrators, NBC Washington reported. It’s unclear if the people arrested were Trump supporters or counterprotesters.
At one point, three Trump supporters were eating at a restaurant when someone set off fireworks nearby. Video showed people jumping and covering their ears as the fireworks went off, NBC Washington reported.
The rallies have also received support from Trump, who tweeted on Friday that it was “heartwarming to see all of the tremendous support out there” and he “may even try to stop by and say hello.”
Trump spent the morning at his golf club in Sterling, Virginia, but tweeted some of the baseless claims as the crowds were marching. Demonstrators cheered loudly as his motorcade passed through downtown on the way back to the White House.
While news of the events were shared widely by fringe figures on social media, many attendees said they first learned of the events from Fox News.
“I found out about it Wednesday night watching Fox News,” said Thomas Rosamilia, 66, a retiree from Ocean County, New Jersey, who took a bus down to Washington early Saturday morning to attend his first political rally.
“I do believe every vote has to be counted,” he said. “We need to come to the truthful, honest conclusion as to who the president is. Right now I feel disenfranchised. In my opinion, Democrats stole the election.”
Michelle, a retiree from Maryland who declined to give her last name, said she had also heard of the event from Fox News coverage as well as the Newsmax website.
“This election was completely fraudulent,” she said, listing off a number of debunked claims of voter fraud, including Dominion Voting Systems, a company that makes voting machines, “deleted” millions of Trump votes. The baseless theory has been pushed by Trump and the discredited QAnon conspiracy movement.
Demonstrators marched in the afternoon from Freedom Plaza to the Supreme Court, where thousands gathered to hear speeches from Republican lawmakers and party leaders.
Republican Rep. Louie Gohmert of Texas, Congresswoman-elect Marjorie Taylor Greene, who supports QAnon, as well as Alex Jones, a discredited conspiracy theorist, spoke at the event.
Throughout the day, Trump’s aides promoted the event on social media.
White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany tweeted from her personal account: “More than one MILLION marchers for President @realDonaldTrump descend on the swamp in support,” offering a greatly exaggerated number of the crowd’s size.
The demonstrations also raised serious health concerns as coronavirus cases climbed to record-high numbers this week.
Hundreds of people flew into Washington from around the country (only 5 percent of Washingtonians voted for Trump, compared to 92 percent for Biden), at a time when health experts are urging Americans to stay at home and cancel holiday plans. Many flooded into local hotels, restaurants and public transportation, often ignoring mask guidelines.