Thousands of Donald Trump supporters gathered in Arizona on Saturday to hear a raft of speakers claim the 2020 US election was stolen, with the former president expected to take to the stage as the headline act.
Some of the faithful arrived in the area days in advance from as far away as Florida or Texas, with the first person joining the line at 10:00 pm Friday.
Flags proclaiming “Trump 2020” and “Trump 2024” fluttered in the desert wind, as chants of “Let’s Go, Brandon” erupted from good-natured supporters, many of whom were in a party mood.
The slogan has become code in right-wing circles after a news reporter mistook coarse anti-Joe Biden chants.
“It’s just a party atmosphere,” said Jonathan Riches, who was attending his 40th Trump rally.
“It’s almost like a MAGA Woodstock. It’s patriots from around the country getting together for the common good of this country. We love our president.”
Jennifer Winterbauer, who was at the head of the line to get into the rally, said she had come to hear “the truth” from Trump.
“He always gives the truth about everything. The economy, the state of the world, the United States.”
– ‘Big crowds’ –
Trump abandoned a pledged press conference on January 6 — the anniversary of the invasion of the Capitol by his supporters — and the rally is his first outing in front of a large crowd since October.
“Many topics will be discussed,” he said in a statement Friday, “including the Rigged Presidential Election of 2020, the fake Big Lie, the corrupt LameStream Media, the Afghanistan disaster, Inflation, the sudden lack of respect for our Nation and its leaders, and much more.
“Big crowds, will also be covered on TV. See you Saturday evening!”
The rally, on farmland 60 miles (100 kilometers) from Phoenix, is expected to feature a raft of Republicans who have echoed the unsubstantiated claims that the 2020 election was fixed.
They include Kari Lake, whom Trump has endorsed for governor of Arizona in this year’s race. She has previously said she would not have certified Biden’s victory if she had been in office at the time.
Mike Lindell, the CEO of MyPillow, who has spent millions of dollars trying to overturn the election, with a focus on the machines used to count ballots, told the crowd he was not going to give up.
“And I will promise you this, there’s not gonna be any election with any machines or computers done in 2022,” he said.
Trump, who lost his Twitter megaphone for his claims about the poll, has been a much lower-key presence in US politics since leaving office.
But he still looms large in the Republican party, where adherence to his theories — or at least not publicly denying them — is often vital to survival for members of Congress and state legislatures.
Turnout at the Florence rally will be keenly watched as a gauge of how much power he still wields with the base.
In the lead up to his election win in 2016, and throughout his presidency, tens of thousands of supporters would throng venues to hear him speak.
But crowds have since dwindled.
– Few Covid-19 precautions –
Trump has largely shunned many major media outlets since leaving office.
But last week he ventured onto National Public Radio (NPR), where he said he recommends that people get vaccinated against Covid-19 — a hot button issue in the United States, where there is widespread vaccine hesitancy.
He then cut the interview short when challenged over his claims of election fraud.
There were almost no masks or other anti-Covid-19 precautions in evidence among the crowd in Florence, despite the Omicron variant wave that is washing over the United States.
Nationwide, more than 750,000 people a day are testing positive for the disease.
While some supporters AFP spoke to said they had been vaccinated, others were distrustful of the shot.
The rally comes 24 hours after pro-Trump TV channel OAN was dumped by its main distributor.
The former president had repeatedly directed his fans towards the conspiracy theory-peddling outlet, which is hoping to take a bite out of the market for right-wing viewers dominated by Fox News.
The event also comes after the founder of the far-right Oath Keepers — a pro-Trump militia group — and 10 others were indicted for seditious conspiracy over their role in the January 6 assault on the Capitol.