Trump rallies faithful in Arizona

Published : 16 Jan 2022 09:46 PM | Updated : 17 Jan 2022 04:58 PM

Former US president Donald Trump delivered a crowd-pleasing speech to thousands of adoring supporters in Arizona Saturday, insisting yet again that he won the 2020 US presidential election.

Some of the faithful had arrived in the area days in advance from as far away as Florida or Texas, waiting to hear him trot out a familiar list of grievances. They were soon rewarded. 

“We are done having our lives controlled by politicians in Washington. We are done with the mandates,” he said. “The radical Democrats want to turn the United States into a communist country. 

“We won those elections. We won them big. We can’t let them get away with it.” 

Earlier speakers had kept to similar themes, slamming President Joe Biden as “weak” and “deranged,” and taking aim at the “lamestream media,” who were duly booed by the crowd.

It was a greatest hits of Trumpism, playing all the expected notes: a stolen election, the unfairness of the media, open borders and how the United States has become “a laughing stock all over the world.”

There was a carnival feeling for much of the day.

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 anti-Joe Biden chants.

"It's just a party atmosphere," said Mr Jonathan Riches, who was attending his 40th Trump rally.

"It's almost like a Maga (Make America Great Again) Woodstock. It's patriots from around the country getting together for the common good of this country. We love our president."

Ms Jennifer Winterbauer, who was at the head of the line waiting, said she had come to hear "the truth" from Mr Trump.

"He always gives the truth about everything. The economy, the state of the world, the United States."

Mr Trump abandoned a pledged press conference on Jan 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.

As is customary, Mr Trump proclaimed it to be “the biggest” crowd that went “further than the eye can see,” though accurate figures on attendance were not immediately available.

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, and Saturday’s turnout appeared to be far below those of earlier rallies. 

The gathering, on farmland 100km from Phoenix, featured a raft of Republicans who have echoed Mr Trump’s unsubstantiated claims that the 2020 election was fixed.

They included Ms Kari Lake, whom Mr Trump has endorsed for governor of Arizona in this year’s race. She has previously said she would not have certified Mr Biden’s victory if she had been in office at the time. 

Mr 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. 

Mr 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.

Mr 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 US.

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 Jan 6 assault on the Capitol.

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