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.”
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 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.
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.
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.
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 Reps. Mike Kelly of Pennsylvania, Louie Gohmert of Texas and Congresswoman-elect Marjorie Taylor Greene, who supports the discredited conspiracy group QAnon, were all scheduled to speak.
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.