For a few hours this past weekend, thousands of Donald Trump supporters gathered in a field under the intense Wisconsin sun to experience an alternate reality in which the former president was still in office … or will return soon.
Wearing the red MAGA hats – Make America Great Again, the Trump campaign slogan that means “Let’s Make America Great Again” – and holding signs of “Trump 2021,” attendees cheered as Mike Lindell, founder of the MyPillow pillow empire and promoter of conspiracy theories, introduced “our real president.”
Then Trump appeared on a giant screen to repeat the lie that has become his mantra since he lost to Joe Biden by more than 7 million votes: “The election was rigged.”RELATED
Lindell later promised the audience that Trump would soon return to the presidency, something for which there is no legal or constitutional avenue.
In the nearly five months since Trump’s presidency ended, similar scenes have occurred in hotel lounges and other facilities in the United States. Lawyer Lin Wood has told crowds that Trump is still president, while former national security adviser Michael Flynn even called for a Myanmar-style military coup in the United States. At the same conference, former Trump attorney Sidney Powell hinted that Trump could simply be restored on a new Investiture Day.
Collectively, these congregations have become a convention circuit of wishful thinking centered on the false premise that the election was stolen.
Lindell and others use the events to deepen their connection with legions of supporters who bypass the mainstream press and live in a conservative echo chamber on social media and talk radio shows. In those forums, the “evidence” of fraud is never verified, leaving many fans genuinely convinced that Biden is not the president.
“We know that Biden is a rogue president and we want to be part of the movement to get him out,” said Donna Plechacek, 61, who traveled from Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin, with her sister to participate in the event. “I know they stole the election. I do not have doubts. The proof exists ”.
State election officials, international observers, Trump’s own attorney general, and dozens of judges, including many appointed by Trump, have found no evidence of election fraud.
In fact, the Trump administration’s own Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency called the election “the safest in the history of the United States” and concluded that there was “no evidence that any voting system erased or lost votes, changed votes or was compromised in any way. “
But Plechacek is not alone. A recent Quinnipiac University poll found that two-thirds of Republicans – 66% – believe Biden’s victory was not legitimate, while CNN found in April that 70% of Republicans believe Biden did not win enough votes to be president. Fifty percent said there is solid evidence to support that claim.
There are people like Deb Tulenchik and Galen Carlson of Pequot Lakes, Minnesota, who remembered the shock they felt when Trump’s initial lead on election night vanished with more vote counting.
Thanks to the polarization of the country, many Trump supporters did not know anyone who had voted for Biden and only saw Trump-Biden posters along roads and when driving through their neighborhoods. Carlson, 61, said he went to bed thinking Trump had won. He did not listen to warnings that counting votes by mail took longer, so early results would likely lean toward Trump, who told his supporters to vote in person, not by mail.
“I was sleeping because it seemed like I was made up. And then when I woke up I couldn’t believe it, ”Carlson said.
“Disbelief,” said 63-year-old Tulenchik.
Trump spent months preparing for possible defeat, insisting that he would only lose if there was massive fraud. It is a lie that he will surely repeat as he rushes into his public calendar in the coming weeks.
But the narrative was already echoing in the sun at the so-called MAGA Rally in Wisconsin, in which participants wore Trump apparel, including numerous T-shirts declaring “Trump won!”
Although Lindell repeatedly described the event as a free speech festival – paid for by him – it had all the hallmarks of a Trump campaign rally, including a massive American flag held up by cranes.
It was a carnival atmosphere: a paint tent where children could paint their faces, shelves with hot dogs, French fries and ice cream, and even a flight of old military planes. The 2020 campaign was present, with vendors offering old campaign merchandise, in addition to Lindell’s pillows. An elderly man with a cane walked shirtless, wearing a cowboy hat and wearing a Trump flag as a cape. A young woman wore a horned helmet, similar to that worn by an Arizona man who calls himself the QAnon Shaman and who participated in the assault on the Capitol on January 6.
While some were devotees of Trump rallies, traveling the country to see the former president in person, many said it was his first political act. Some said they paid little attention to politics until the election or that they started participating because they opposed restrictions due to the pandemic.
Time and again, participants insisted that Trump won the election, and many said they sincerely believed he would be restored to power in the coming months – a belief that has been promoted by Lindell and privately repeated by Trump, even though there is no a legal basis for that to happen.
“Not all Democrats are bad. They will see the truth. Like it or not, they will see the truth, ”said Beth Kroeger, 61, who lives in Sussex, Wisconsin and who said she hopes Trump will be back in the White House next year. “There are no doubts,” he said.
Some said the armed forces would be involved. Others are convinced that he is still in control of the country.
Most attacked the mainstream press, saying the news they were receiving was from the likes of Lindell and former Trump strategist Steve Bannon, as well as the conservative Newsmax channel, talk radio shows and social media.
Few have made as much effort as Lindell to convince Americans that the election was stolen. He himself claims to have spent millions of dollars organizing election-related events, hiring private investigators and creating films that claim to document the alleged fraud, in addition to the $ 1.3 billion defamation lawsuit brought against him by Dominion Voting Systems. Lindell countered.
Now he says he has evidence that China and other countries hacked into voting machines to shift votes from Trump to Biden, in “a cyberattack of historic proportions,” but the evidence he mentions in his most recent film, which features an anonymous cyber expert , has been repeatedly denied for not proving what it says.
Still, participants at the event in Wisconsin repeatedly cited the videos as proof of fraud.
“Mike Lindell has just a lot of evidence,” said Lynda Thibado, 65, who traveled with her husband, Don Briggs, from Menomonie, Wisconsin.
“I mean, the evidence is so clear,” Briggs said.
The couple said they expected the election to be overturned, but weren’t very convinced it would happen.
“I don’t know if they can do anything legally,” Briggs said. “I don’t think Biden will be president in 2024, one way or another.”