WASHINGTON – For many Trump supporters, Joe Biden’s inauguration this week will be a signal that it is time to move on. The president had four years, but Biden won, and that’s it.
But for a certain portion of the 74 million Americans who voted for President Donald Trump, the events of the past two weeks – the five deaths, including a Capitol police officer, subsequent arrests, and the removal of Trump and right-wing extremists from tech -Platforms – had no chastening effect.
On the contrary, interviews over the past few days show that their anger and paranoia have only deepened, suggesting that even after Trump left the White House, conspiracy theories and anger over the 2020 elections not only among extremist groups but also Many Americans will live among them.
“I can’t just sit back and say, ‘OK, I’ll just watch football again,” said Daniel Scheerer, 43, a tanker truck driver in Grand Junction, Colorado who went to the Washington rally about this month, but said he didn’t go into the month Capitol and had nothing to do with those who did it, saying he did not condone those who were violent but believed that the news media “completely distorted” the event, which is the real story of the day – the protest of people against election fraud – eclipsed.
“If we tolerate fraudulent elections, we believe we no longer have a republic,” he said. “We are turning into a totalitarian state.”
When asked what would happen after Biden took office, Scheerer said: “Everyone has to look for the soul there.”
He continued, “This is just not like a candidate I didn’t want, but he won fair and fair. Something else is happening here. I believe it has to be resisted and fought. “
Scheerer said that he does not advocate violence and that he does not belong to any group that it is. But he reiterated the views of many who supported recent events in Washington: an ardent conviction that something bad was about to happen, and an instinct to fight it.
According to polls, only a small fraction of Americans agreed to the Washington uprising. A poll by the Washington Post-ABC News found that 8% of adults and 15% of Republicans “support the actions of people who stormed the US Capitol last week to protest Biden’s election as president.” That’s a far cry from most voters, but enough to show that the belief in a stolen election has entered the American bloodstream and will not be easily stopped.
“It’s a dangerous situation,” said Lucan Way, a political scientist at the University of Toronto who writes on authoritarian regimes. “The narrative” Election was stolen “has become part of the political landscape.”
The country’s political divide is no longer a difference of opinion on issues such as guns and abortion, but a fundamental difference in how people view reality. That in turn drives more extremist beliefs. That shift was years in development, but it went hyperspeed after the November 3 elections when Trump and many in his party encouraged Americans, despite all evidence to the contrary, to believe the results to be fraudulent.
Belief is still widespread among Republicans: a Quinnipiac poll published Jan. 11 found that 73% still mistakenly believe that there was widespread electoral fraud.
Now, with Biden’s inauguration on Wednesday and so many Americans angry about the election, capitals and Washington are on high alert. Soldiers and security forces prepare for further acts of violence.
“Polarization is no longer the problem,” said Lilliana Mason, a political psychologist at the University of Maryland. “Now it’s the threat to democracy.”
When Mason began asking people about their tolerance for political violence for a book on partisanship in 2017, she didn’t expect to find much. Partiality has always been viewed as a sluggish, harmless thing to get people interested in the otherwise boring subject of politics.
She was wrong. She and her co-author Nathan Kalmoe found that the proportion of Americans who say it is “at least a bit justified” to use violence for political reasons doubled in three years, rising to 20% after the election is 10% in 2017. The trend was the same for Republicans and Democrats. But the election was a catalyzing event: Republicans who said they had tolerated violence grew more approving afterwards, Mason said. Democrats stayed about the same.
Mason said she feared further violence and attacks on elected leaders and state capitals could come, and said the country may find itself at a time like the troubles, the conflict in Northern Ireland, where sectarian violence has left the region unstable for 30 years held.
In interviews with Trump’s more ardent supporters, people expressed a pattern of falsehoods and fears about the upcoming Biden administration. As events like the insurrection progress, so too have conspiracy theories explained them. They have blossomed in the grueling monotony of coronavirus lockdowns.
Theda Kasner, 83, a retired medical worker from Marshfield, Wisconsin, who was originally interviewed for a pre-election poll for the New York Times, has been in a RV park in Weslaco, Texas, near the Mexican border, since December. She spends the winter there with her husband, for the sun and the beaches nearby. But the coronavirus is roaring through and this week their RV park has been closed.
“I told my husband today, I said, ‘I’m going to go crazy,'” she said. “We are practically quarantined in our units.”
She spent a lot of time in her RV reading books and watching videos. One showed rousing, emotional music and recordings of Trump and the crowd of his supporters, with a voice speaking darkly about an impending confrontation. It ended with the Lord’s Prayer and the date January 20, 2021 flashing on the screen. Another, 48 minutes long, was by Jovan Hutton Pulitzer, an inventor who testified before the Georgia State Senate about electoral fraud. She and her husband watch Newsmax TV, a right-wing network, in the evenings.
When asked about the violence in the riot, Kasner echoed the popular conspiracy theory that Antifa had infiltrated the crowd. These days she is increasingly confused in a sea of information, much of which is false.
She had heard on a video that she had received on Facebook that children could be stolen from their parents in the Biden administration. “I’m in total condition, I don’t know what’s going to happen,” said Kasner.
“I just can’t understand what will become of my country,” she said, saying that she sat in her house with tears.
For Scheerer, the tank truck driver in Colorado, the numerous catastrophes of the past year – the coronavirus, the economic disruptions associated with it, political fear across the country – merged into one kind of threatening threat. The locks made him angry. He sees mask mandates not as public health, but as public control. Both, he believed, were signs of a coming tyranny. He left a truck driver job that he liked when his boss told him to wear a mask or leave.
Then came the choice.
He came to Washington for a rally on January 6th to protest the results. Later, when he was pressured on how he felt given the number of white supremacists in the uprising over the event, he said they were only a fraction of the people there. However, he said their presence was insignificant compared to the broader subject of fraud.
“It’s way more than just being some kind of Trump fanatic,” he said. He said he saw himself as “a man on the wall of a city who sees the enemy coming and rings the alarm bell”.
Strength, he said, is only a last resort.
“Do you agree to internment camps if you refuse to wear a mask or to be vaccinated?” he asked. “I believe in a world where violence must be used to stop evil or wrongdoing.”
In western North Carolina, Kevin Haag, a retired landscaper who was in the Capitol during the uprising but didn’t go inside, said people in his conservative community are increasingly alarmed about what has happened in the days since then. He had heard that his electricity company Duke Energy was suspending federal political contributions to Republicans who voted against the confirmation of the election results. (In fact, the company has paused all federal donations to members of both parties.) However, to Haag it all felt like a huge buildup against Trump supporters, he said.
To top it off, the Senate, House, and White House now belong to the Democrats.
“Now it’s pretty scary, people are alarmed, they own everything now,” said Haag, who was quoted for the first time in a Times story about the December rally in Washington for Trump. The 67-year-old Haag is also a member of his local council.
In a phone conversation last week, he said he was part of a group called the Armed Patriots, people in his area whose purpose it was to protect the community. On Tuesday night, the group met, he said, and invited the public to a weapons class session with two experts who discussed the use of an assault rifle. 60 people are present, including women.
They also held a raffle for a gun to raise money for a website, he said, “because they interfere with our communications.”
The meeting, he said, “was to educate and alleviate anxiety.”
Haag insisted that the group was not a militia.
“We’re not here to take over the land,” he said. “If that’s what you’re here for, we’re not your group. We are here to protect our citizens and to stand up for our country. “
He said he still hopes Trump will be the one to be privy to this week. But even if Trump didn’t succeed, the movement would continue, he said.
“It’s not about Trump, he just stood up for the cause,” he said. “We don’t have Trump around right now, and we pick up the ball and run with it ourselves.”
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.
© 2021 The New York Times Company