While thousands of Americans took to the streets in cities across the country on Saturday to celebrate after Democrat Joe Biden was declared president-elect, hordes of Trump supporters, many of them consumed by conspiracy theories, assembled to cling publicly to their alternate reality.
Invoking Trump’s own oft-repeated claim of large-scale voter fraud—for which authorities have found no evidence—Trump supporters from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, to Lansing, Michigan, and Salem, Oregon, made clear that they did not accept Biden as their new president.
“They accepted illegal votes,” Douglas Debbs, 40, of York, Pennsylvania, told The Daily Beast. “They accepted ones after the deadline. I want a fair and accurate election.”
States have, for decades, counted absentee ballots that arrive after Election Day, provided they are postmarked before or on the date. Because of the coronavirus pandemic, millions of people voted by mail in this election, a disproportionate number of them Democrats or Democratic-leaning voters whose leaders urged them to vote by mail while Trump, for months, cast doubt on the legitimacy of mail-in ballots.
The result was early counts in favor of Trump on Election Day, as in-person votes were counted first, followed by a cascade of results increasing the numbers for Biden, tipping Wisconsin, Michigan, and eventually Pennsylvania in the following days.
For everyone outside Trump’s base, the outcome of Trump’s relentless attacks on vote-by-mail was obvious. But within the MAGA bubble, the president’s supporters categorically refused to even consider the possibility of the former vice president clinching victory.
Cathy Graham, 41, who brought her young children to a Saturday rally in Lansing, Michigan, told The Daily Beast “it’s simply untrue that Trump didn’t win the election.”
“Do you think I care what the media says?” she asked. “Anybody can win if they cheat and steal. Any of the media can say what they want. And we’re here until the results are overturned and the real results are known.”
Members of the media in Salem, Oregon, were at the receiving end of Trump supporters’ ire at a “Stop the Steal” rally outside the state capitol.
One tense video posted to Twitter by a Portland Tribune reporter showed pro-Trump demonstrators surrounding a journalist and demanding to see credentials while another rally-goer shouted into a megaphone that “the press is the problem.”
Several attendees of the pro-Trump rallies in Michigan and Oregon were also armed.
Kevin, a self-described “patriot” carrying a rifle, who declined to give his last name, told The Daily Beast that he showed up at the rally in Lansing because he didn’t want to live under “communism.”
“I take this seriously. I take freedom seriously, the constitution seriously and we don’t plan to back down. There has to be a recount and a recall of our tyrant governor,” he said.
Rather than calling for calm amid the protests, Trump’s campaign has encouraged them and even gone so far as to ask supporters to “stay at the ready,” according to audio released by The Washington Post on Saturday.
The request was made by Trump campaign manager Bill Stepien during a phone chat with allies and surrogates in which he urged them to “be at the ready at a moment’s notice.”
“At a moment’s instance, we may need your help at protests in your states, to make sure the president is represented and our side of the argument is shown. Support rallies or other things that we are propping up around the country,” he was quoted saying.
The Trump campaign’s bid to keep their voter-fraud allegations fresh in the public’s mind was largely drowned out by other, more raucous—and more joyful—demonstrations across the country.
In Washington, D.C., residents celebrated Biden’s win as close as they could get to the White House, separated from the building by blocks of security fencing. On the street, drivers honked their car horns and waiters at a restaurant spilled out and whipped napkins in celebration. A crowd carried a giant inflatable balloon of Trump as a rat to the White House celebration, where it was met with cheers.
“We’re so happy to have America back,” said Toni Marsh, a George Washington University professor who headed to the White House after the race was called for Biden.
At the fence, jubilant Biden supporters sang “Sha Na Na, Hey Hey, Goodbye!”
In New York City, residents spontaneously erupted in fits of honking and cheering, from traditional protest bastions like the East Village to Brownstone Brooklyn to the block outside of Trump Tower in Manhattan, an especially delicious locale for some revelers.
There, taxi drivers slammed on their horns and did solidarity fists out the window. People were hanging out car sunroofs. Rollerbladers in gay pride flags and tutus were fashioning makeshift cardboard, “You’re fired!” signs.
“As soon as we heard the news, we rushed down here,” Stephanie Barnabell, 24, told The Daily Beast at the president’s erstwhile residence. “It’s crazy. We’re originally from Florida. Being in New York, in the thick of it with people who don’t want Trump in office anymore, this is just like the best day of our lives being here right now.”
Cops cleared the streets for blocks, but nearby, “Ding Dong The Witch Is Dead” was blasting from a bike. At a Bergdorf Goodman sidewalk cafe across the street from Trump Tower, three women were finding a moment to grab brunch and bubbly.
Nadia Oulahna, of Texas, put it simply, “We’re thrilled. We were jumping for joy.”
Amid cries of “Fuck Trump” and “USA,” the rally in Washington likewise took on a festive atmosphere, as people cracked open newly-purchased bottles of champagne and drank them in a nearby park. To cheers, a man with a Biden flag and air horn climbed on top of a bus shelter and began leading the crowd in chants. A man on a bike passed by with a megaphone yelling, “You’re fired!” delighting the still-growing crowd that stretched for at least six blocks on the street first dubbed “Black Lives Matter Plaza” over the summer.
In Miami, residents were going off with pots and pans outside of their cars, despite Miami-Dade County being in the midst of a Tropical Storm Warning. “Goodbye Cheeto!” one person shouted from their car near Freedom Tower there.
In Philadelphia, the city whose massive pro-Biden margin rocketed him to the lead in Pennsylvania, the elation was incapable—and so were the hopes for the future.
Richard Hildebrandt, 34, told The Daily Beast that a Biden victory meant that the country could return to Obama-era policy initiatives, like a renewed focus on climate change. “I’m so ecstatic. It’s amazing that everyone is coming out to celebrate. It means so much to me that we’re going to have a White House that goes back to the Paris Climate Agreement, day one.
Hildebrandt, a South Philly resident, was waving a giant Biden/Harris flag along his street, where nearby fireworks popped and colored the midday skies. Wearing a t-shirt with a picture of former President Barack Obama kneeling in a Tim Tebow position on top of the desk of the Oval Office, Hildebrand said, “I’ve been waiting four years for this day. It’s just so monumental—we saved democracy. We get our country back.”
In New York, the man known as Naked Cowboy—long a conservative voice in the center of the blue stronghold who posed in Times Square with nothing but his underwear, a cowboy hat, and a Trump guitar—had changed his tune. In fact, he’d discarded that instrument in favor of one with a simple “Naked Cowboy” decal.
“Today when I put my Naked Cowboy underwear on and I got rid of my Trump guitar, I felt like a whole weight had come off my shoulders,” he said to a gaggle of reporters.
Though he remains a Trump supporter and said he thinks the president deserved to relax on the golf course today if he so chose, the election result did not disturb him: “If people in New York like it, I’m fine with it.”
For many other residents of and visitors to America’s largest city, the word “fine” didn’t begin to describe their feelings.
“Getting someone who’s essentially a dictator out of office, it’s like another Independence Day,” Barnabell said, adding, “It’s just a sense of relief. It’s a calm that rushed through my body.”
—with reporting by Pilar Melendez