With President Trump’s reelection hopes looking worse by the hour, pro-Trump demonstrators held rallies in critical battleground states across the U.S. on Thursday as vote counters tabulated the outcome of the 2020 presidential election.
Trump’s supporters have taken up the president’s baseless claims of fraud and his demands to variously stop counting or keep counting votes, depending on whether he’s ahead. As of Thursday evening, the Republican continued trailing Joe Biden in Arizona and Nevada and his lead over the Democrat was dwindling in Pennsylvania and Georgia.
In north Phoenix, about 200 pro-Trump demonstrators chanted “Four more years” and waved signs saying “Count the Votes” outside the state GOP headquarters.
“Count the votes” is a pro-Biden chant in the Eastern states where the president leads, and a pro-Trump one in the Western states where the president trails.
Wearing a red “Latinas for Trump” T-shirt, Clarice Chavez, 55, said that she was a seventh-generation Arizonan and that everything she knows about the politics of her state tells her that a victory here for Trump is a certainty.
She claimed, without giving substantiated evidence, that Democratic election officials in battleground states such as Arizona are trying to thwart Trump. “We know what the frog is going on across the country,” Chavez said.
At pro-Trump demonstrations at state government and Maricopa County election buildings on Wednesday night, several people were seen with firearms. Some Trump supporters carried firearms at the GOP headquarters event Thursday.
County officials tweeted Thursday that they were setting up a “free speech zone” outside the complex where votes are being tabulated, “which will allow protesters to be seen and heard while also ensuring that our Elections staff can do their jobs and leave the building without the threat of intimidation.”
On Thursday, Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.), one of the previous night’s rally attendees, went on Twitter to urge “Phoenix patriots” to gather again at the election office “to ensure a fair vote count.”
His requests: “No open carry. Bring American flags. Trump flags. Bibles.”
Right-wing conspiracy theorist Alex Jones also arrived at the scene and fired up the crowd with a characteristically wild speech.
“Burn in hell, Joe Biden! Burn in hell, Bill Gates! Burn in hell, Fauci!” Jones hollered on a bullhorn, drawing cheers, as he condemned Dr. Anthony Fauci, the country’s top infectious disease expert. “America is awake and we are never backing down, and I want to salute these amazing people out here for days in defiance of tyranny. You are amazing.”
In Philadelphia, counterprotesters were blasting Earth, Wind & Fire music and dancing outside the convention center where the ballot counting was taking place, forcing Trump’s advisors to scream in order to be heard at their news conferences.
Trump’s campaign slowed down the vote counting on Thursday after it won a court order allowing its poll watchers to observe the ballot tabulation more closely — six feet from the election workers.
“Listen guys, democracy dies in darkness,” Corey Lewandowski, a Trump campaign advisor, told a cluster of news media members outside the convention center where election workers were counting the ballots. He spoke from behind a police barricade near a couple of dozen Trump supporters waving blue Trump banners and flags. “This is the opportunity to shed light on what’s going on inside this building.”
Pro-Biden protesters nearby screamed, “Count the votes!”
“There’s a lot of disinformation about what’s going on in this facility right now,” said protester Mike Bee, a 31-year-old waiter. “It’s going to be a long process, and we should be patient and count every vote.”
In downtown Atlanta on Thursday afternoon, a small group of Trump supporters gathered outside State Farm Arena to protest the counting of absentee ballots. (Biden was gaining.)
“Four more years!” they shouted. “Four more years!”
“We can’t just stand by and allow this election to be stolen,” conservative activist C.J. Pearson tweeted, with the hashtag #StopTheSteal, for another rally Thursday night. “We need as many patriots as possible there.”
In Las Vegas, shortly before 6 p.m., at least 50 people had gathered outside the election department. A man nearby screamed about mail-in ballots he said he’d received, stating that he hadn’t gotten one in 25 years but got three this year.
All active registered voters in Nevada were sent a ballot in the mail for this year’s general election.
“They’re trying to steal this thing,” a man told Paula Speight, who held a sign that read “Thou shalt not steal the vote.”
Speight said she came out to protest because Trump has “fought hard for us.”
In the evening, a few of members of a crowd of about 100 had guns holstered or tucked into the waistband of jeans, or rifles slung across their chests.
One man, who declined to give his name, carried a rifle and wore a black mask that read Trump 2020. He said he was out to support fair elections. “I’m not opposed to mail-in voting as a concept,” he said, but he believed the infrastructure was not built to support it.
As the protests continued, election officials in the close battleground states continued their tallies, reminding Americans that vote counts take time, especially when millions of citizens voted by mail in an attempt to stay safe during a pandemic that has killed more than 234,000 people in the country.
“These close elections require us to be diligent and make sure we do everything right,” Gabriel Sterling, the voting system implementation manager for the Georgia secretary of state’s office, said Thursday.
Or, as he put it earlier in the day: “It may take a minute.”
Times staff writers Finnegan, Beason and Pearce reported from Philadelphia, Phoenix and Los Angeles, respectively. Staff writers Brittny Mejia in Las Vegas and Jenny Jarvie in Atlanta contributed to this report.