MIAMI—On Wednesday night, Alberto Delgado strolled onto the stage of Alpha & Omega, the Miami-area Evangelical megachurch where he serves as senior pastor, and promised nearly 200 MAGA diehards that Donald Trump would serve another term as president.
Despite an avalanche of court rulings rejecting Trump’s fact-free claims of voter fraud, Delgado—a snow-haired, natty-dressed preacher with a baritone voice who serves as a religious adviser to Trump—assured his flock that the fight for the White House was just getting started.
"God can do great things for Donald Trump if you believe," Delgado said in Spanish. “Trump is the man God has chosen for these times. This is why I am telling you we have not lost.”
The crowd, most of them sitting side-by-side in the first six rows but all wearing masks, burst into applause. Two women near the back unfurled Trump flags as a man next to them shouted, “Four more years! Four more years!”
After the audience collectively recited the pledge of allegiance and sang the national anthem, an olive-skinned woman in a black blouse and black jeans named Maria Martinez bowed her head and closed her eyes. Her husband, Ariel Martinez, stood at her side. “We recognize that we need you, Father, to intervene in favor of our nation,” Maria said in Spanish. “That you protect our President Trump.”
Maria then asked the Lord to do what the president’s legal team has failed to do—and somehow prevent Democrat Joe Biden from taking the Oath of Office on Jan. 20.
“We ask you, Father, to use your powers during these investigations and amid this fraud that is being attempted by these evildoers who want to destroy our nation, destroy our faith and to remove you from your throne,” Maria said. “That is what Marxism is all about, like the organization called Black Lives Matter... So I ask you, my Father, in the name of Jesus Christ, that you block the malevolent plans to rob him of the presidency.”
The pro-Trump prayer vigil provided fresh evidence of just how potent MAGA doctrine remains in Florida, a state where Biden and a slew of House Democrats lost, Trump acolyte Gov. Ron DeSantis is still in charge, and COVID-19 trutherism remains in vogue. In fact, the scene painted a grim picture of how a disinformation-laden future could be inescapable in the Sunshine State, no matter what Biden attempts nationally once he’s sworn in.
Most immediately, as the nation teeters toward a Thanksgiving pandemic surge, the gathering inside Alpha and Omega had the hallmarks of a potential superspreader event. While Miami-Dade has a prohibition on gatherings of 10 people or more in public spaces, places of worship are exempt, and experts sounded the alarm.
“Infected individuals from these types of events have carried the virus to others with devastating consequences,” Jill Roberts, a University of South Florida epidemiology professor, told the Daily Beast.
A spokesperson for the church referred questions to the Martinezes, who rented out the auditorium and organized the event, which they dubbed “A Night of Prayer for Our Nation.” The spokesperson also noted the church conducts temperature checks at the front door, enforces a mask policy, and asks patrons to social distance when possible.
The pro-Trump Miami couple have spent the past two weeks spreading false claims and disinformation about the 2020 election results to tens of thousands of their followers on Facebook, YouTube, and other social media networks.
Ariel is the 46-year-old founder of the group Cubans 4 Trump, and his unfounded allegations about Democrats trying to steal the election line up almost perfectly with his favorite president’s debunked lies about rampant voter fraud. On Nov. 6, Ariel was a featured guest on Radio Mambi, a mainstream Spanish language AM station owned by Univision, and ranted that Biden’s win was “literally a coup,” along with other refuted claims that reportedly went unchallenged by the host.
Maria’s perspective mirrors her husband’s. According to a bio written in Spanish on her Facebook page, Direct and Without Censorship, she came to the U.S. illegally from Mexico City, but warmed up to Trump’s worldview, including his denigration of illegal immigrants, after she became an American citizen in 2017. She touts herself as an activist for the president’s America First agenda and regularly posts videos in which she spouts Trumpian talking points to nearly 65,0000 Spanish-speaking supporters of the president.
Recently, the couple have been encouraging their followers to migrate over to their Parler accounts and sign up for their WhatsApp chat groups so they can avoid election story disclaimers Facebook is placing on their posts. In a video filmed Tuesday evening, Maria, sitting next to Ariel, informed her followers that Trump’s legal challenges were going “very well,” even though the president and his allies have lost 26 out of 27 court filings post-election.
“His team is doing what they have to do,” Maria said in the 11-minute clip. “We firmly believe that our president has won. We have no doubt that he will be president for another four years so don’t pay attention to the fake news.”
In a Wednesday phone interview ahead of the vigil, Ariel doubled down on his assertions that vote counting in the crucial swing states Trump lost was the “biggest electoral fraud in the history of this nation.” He rattled off several outlandish claims, including the often-repeated right-wing lie about dead people voting, echoing Trump’s recent retweet of a debunked Tucker Carlson story accusing Democrats of benefitting from ballots cast from beyond the grave.
“If you want to guarantee your resurrection, then just register as a Democrat,” Ariel told The Daily Beast. “Every four years, you will come back to life.”
Ariel, for one, couldn’t fathom Biden actually being sworn in as the 46th president come mid-January, declining to say if he would accept the inevitable transfer of power.
“Honestly, I don’t want to answer that right now,” he told The Daily Beast. “We will cross that bridge when we get there. But I 100 percent believe that is not going to be the case. Once it hits the U.S. Supreme Court, I see it as impossible to certify an election when there is so much rampant fraud.”
Meanwhile, the reality of a resurgent coronavirus community spread in Florida’s pandemic epicenter of Miami-Dade loomed.
The daily positivity rate in Miami-Dade stands at 7.88 percent, according to the county's dashboard. Between Nov. 4 and Nov. 17, the number of COVID-19 patients admitted into Miami-Dade hospitals jumped from 430 to 581. Patients needing ICU beds climbed from 102 on Nov. 4 to 130 on Nov. 16, though the number dipped to 119 on Nov. 17.
Activities associated with prayer vigils, in particular singing, have also been shown to spread coronavirus, Roberts added. "The past pro-Trump events have had low compliance with safety measures including social distancing and mask wearing," she said. "The risk is entirely preventable as many faith-based organizations are holding prayer vigils virtually."
Jason Salemi, another USF professor specializing in public health surveillance and data, said before the event that there was a high probability of infection at the vigil.
"In Miami-Dade county, based on total SARS-CoV-2 infections in the past 10 days, if you were to attend an event with 200 people, the chance that at least 1 person with infectious COVID-19 will be present is ~98 percent " he told The Daily Beast in an email. "This estimate just underscores the importance of avoiding large in-person gatherings regardless of the reason.”
Spokespersons for the Miami-Dade office and the Tallahassee headquarters of the Florida Health Department did not respond to requests for comment.
Ariel Martinez, for his part, scoffed at the notion he and his wife were putting their fellow Trumpers in danger.
“The coronavirus pandemic only becomes an issue when it relates to events inside a church, religious holidays like Thanksgiving and Easter and any type of religious activity,” he said. “But it was not a concern when bars and strip clubs opened up again.” (Drinking establishments were closed in March and most reopened in June only to be closed again when cases surged over the summer. In September, DeSantis reopened the doors for bars, strip clubs and nightclubs).
It is worth noting that in contrast to the most reckless potential superspreader events, this one featured a worker at the church’s entrance who took people’s temperatures and spritzed their hands with sanitizer spray. The church also enforced its mask policy, though attendees were allowed to sit close to one another.
Even when they weren’t spouting absurd falsehoods about the election, however, attendees echoed Ariel’s dismissiveness about the risks of having so many people together under one roof—and shared conspiracy theories about the origins of the novel coronavirus.
Hilda Cabrera, a 68-year-old Cuban American Trump supporter sporting an American flag facemask, told The Daily Beast that Maria Martinez was among one of her trusted news sources. She then falsely asserted that traditional media outlets were financed and controlled by billionaire George Soros, one of the far-right’s favorite boogeymen.
“Now China is buying elections in this country and brought this virus into this country,” she claimed. “And all these restrictions [related to COVID-19] are meant to control people and divide families. That’s what communists do. It’s worse than Cuba.”
Another Cuban American Trumper, Julio Martinez, made similarly false claims, his worldview showing clearer than ever that defeating a president at the polls was nowhere close to enough to defang coronavirus trutherism.
“The leftist media uses the risks of catching the coronavirus to scare us,” Martinez said, falsely. “I am not afraid of this virus. It’s a Chinese invention meant to damage the United States.”