June 26, 2021 — a hot, humid Saturday afternoon in rural Ohio. As I cross the Lorain County line, a large wooden sign reading “Trump Won” catches my eye. The line of cars waiting to enter the Lorain County Fairgrounds stretches over a mile long. I am at the Save America Rally, former President Donald Trump’s first rally since January 6, 2021. On this date, after a speech by Trump on the White House Ellipse, thousands of his supporters stormed the United States Capitol in the hopes of preventing the 2020 election results from being formally verified by Congress.
January 6 was likely the most infamous event in the history of the MAGA movement, but it was never mentioned once at the rally. No speaker who stood on the stage dared to mention that date; no one I interviewed brought it up; I did not even overhear it mentioned by passers-by. And yet, January 6 was stuck in my head the entire day, and still is as I write these words. As I passed through security and saw the throngs of people waiting for Trump, I was reminded of how quickly a crowd of this size could turn into chaos. But at the Save America Rally, it was like January 6 had never happened.
The sweltering heat didn’t deter Trump’s loyal supporters that day. For many, this was the first time they were a part of a large gathering of Trump supporters since the election, or at least the inauguration of President Biden. It was a time to reunite with their political brothers and sisters and to support the man they believed had been persecuted and wronged by the American political machine and the mainstream media supporting it. As expected, the vitriol launched toward the press was exorbitant. When major speakers denounced the “lying, fake news media,” the crowd would turn toward the press section and scream at them or simply chant things like “Trump won” or “Lock them up.” I could feel the glares directed toward those bearing a press badge.
It must be acknowledged that, while at times I did fear for my safety during the rally, I still had the security of being a cisgender white man. Even if I was a “race-traitor” and an agent of the lying, fake news media cabal that was bringing about the downfall of America, I was still a white man. I fit their restrictive definition of what America should look like; thus, I was given some form of respect by them that is not always given to those who look different than me. While at times I did feel apprehension, I felt I had a responsibility to be there, due to the privilege of my identity, to document this movement that had threatened our democracy only months before.
The crowd particularly enjoyed Rep. Marjorie Taylor-Greene, R-Ga., one of the speakers at the rally, attacking Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., calling her “that little communist,” to which the crowd responded by erupting with chants of “Lock her up!” Taylor-Greene also called for Ocasio-Cortez to be deported, claiming she was not even American and did not love America. Representative Ocasio-Cortez was born in New York City in 1989. These racist attacks were echoed in the first section of Trump’s speech, which was focused on Trump’s hard-line stance on immigration and the refugee crisis. Later, Trump transitioned into attacks on the media, the Democrats, and Joe Biden. He also incessantly repeated the idea that the 2020 election was stolen from Democrats who hate America.
Despite rumors and a widely-circulated video purporting that security was not allowing attendees to enter wearing QAnon-related shirts or symbols, numerous Q symbols and phrases could be found amongst the crowd, from t-shirts to signs to hats. It was clear that a subsection of Trump’s fanbase had been successfully drawn into the QAnon conspiracy enough to display their affiliation in public, if one knew where to look for the symbols followers used to identify themselves.
The galvanizing issue of the day was the 2020 election. Nearly all the speakers maintained that the election had been stolen by the Democrats, a charge which has been roundly debunked over and over again. The Democrats and their deep-state allies had stolen the election from the Republicans. Trump was a victim of a state-sponsored effort to deny him a second term. Without their meddling, Trump would have won the election in a landslide. That lie was spread not only by the speakers themselves but was also repeated by those attending the rally.
“I honestly believe that Trump supporters are probably two thirds of the United States,” said Donna Jo Krin, a Trump supporter relaxing on the grass near the back of the fairgrounds waiting for the rally to begin. “I know we got cheated. They cheated with the mail-in ballots. Absolutely.”
Richard Lamancusa, sitting alongside Krin, added, “We do really believe there was a lot of fraud. There’s just too many people that supported President Trump for that election to come out the way it did.”
Speaking with Krin and Lamancusa under the blazing sun, I noticed an intersection between Trump’s immigration policies, his political enemies and the COVID-19 crisis. Both agreed that Trump “had (COVID-19) handled” while he was president, but that after Biden took office, Joe Biden received undue praise for the declining number of COVID-19 cases, when really it was Trump who had done the work to allow for that success.
“Trump tried to shut down people from coming into our country who could be infecting us,” said Krin when referring to Trump’s policy of rapid expulsion of asylum seekers and unaccompanied immigrant children during the pandemic by labeling them as public health threats. By using COVID-19 as a cover, Trump was able to further his political agenda of fighting against immigrants, asylum seekers and refugees.
When asked about the COVID-19 vaccines, Lamancusa expressed some degree of hesitation toward how effective they are at preventing serious illness. “My view is if you want to get the vaccine, I think you should get it, but I truly believe that you shouldn’t be forced to do it. And there’s a lot of proof that a lot of people really don’t need it. You know, I think a lot of it is pushed by Democrats to try to keep the economy shut down.” This theory espoused by Lamancusa is a popular view among Trump supporters. Both Krin and Lamancusa agreed that Trump should be given full credit for the vaccine’s creation and distribution, but they were also not confident that it should be distributed as widely as it has been, contrary to epidemiological evidence.
At the time of this rally, the Republican party still held the position that the January 6 attack was an unacceptable violent assault on the Capitol, and party leaders had condemned the attack repeatedly. However, their attempts to discipline the Republican base have failed. On February 4, 2022, Republican congress members Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger were censured by their own party for their participation in the House of Representatives January 6 Commission, a bipartisan investigation into the events on the 6. The Republican National Committee claimed they were engaging in the “persecution of ordinary citizens engaged in legitimate political discourse.” While the committee clarified that they were not approving of the violence at the Capitol, the events of January 6 were clearly no longer a taboo, and they were willing to go to bat for those at the Capitol who had not committed overtly violent acts. This began a shift toward normalizing the insurrection within political discourse, even as charges were still being filed against rioters and conspirators.
Something which I had not fully grasped until witnessing a Trump rally for myself and speaking to attendees is that the truth does not matter anymore. What matters is what one feels is true, and what one wishes to believe. We are so flooded with information from so many different sources and perspectives that we are forced to pick and choose what voices we listen to, and those choices inherently cannot be without bias toward what we want to believe is true. Belief has again surpassed any objective truth within American politics, calling back to our puritanical tradition of faith overcoming all obstacles. Seeing thousands of people on that day cheer on repeated falsehoods about the 2020 presidential election showed me this: Donald Trump has become one of our generation’s most effective politicians at harnessing his followers’ faith and belief in him as a figure.
Even after January 6, when he seemingly disappeared from the public eye and offered little public support for his followers who had ended up imprisoned, his supporters rarely question him. Some delve into the world of deep-state conspiracies in the form of QAnon to find answers to their questions, developing complex theories to retroactively justify his actions. However, I believe much of his base actively chooses not to question him or his decisions at all. Many of the core MAGA followers espouse that Trump is the savior of America, and so they trust that whatever he does, it is the right thing to do, whether they understand it or not. The Lord works in mysterious ways. Ours is not to question, but to believe. This is where Trump’s power lies, his immunity from being checked or throttled by his millions of supporters, most of whom still support him after the January 6 Insurrection.
By mid-2021, the majority of political culture had written the Trump wave off. January 6 was the “storm,” to use QAnon’s terminology, and that storm dissipated on the steps of the US Capitol. Political analysts said Trump lost his base when he spoke in interviews about how proud he was of the work his administration did to produce and distribute the COVID-19 vaccine. In 2022, however, these analyses were proven wrong. Trump’s approach to the COVID-19 vaccine and mandates were almost word-for-word echoed by the rally attendees I spoke with. While he has not been seen at major Republican events such as CPAC, Donald Trump still dominates the Republican base, and his movements cannot be ignored by anyone looking to accurately analyze the political landscape for the 2022 midterms.
Trump’s power is not fading as many wish to believe, and I bore witness to this truth in Lorain County last summer. In fact, in recent polling by the Harvard Center For American Political Studies, the 45th president is not only the clear frontrunner in a prospective 2024 Republican primary, but he is also favored by likely voters over both Joe Biden and Kamala Harris by a significant margin. Donald Trump’s hold over his party, and a large swath of the country, cannot be discounted, and we must seriously face the likelihood that Donald Trump may become president again in 2024.
Daily Staff Photographer Jarett Orr can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.