“We know the election is being stolen,” said Michael Breitenbach, a 47-year-old construction manager in Philadelphia who was holding a Trump flag Saturday morning not long after news outlets called the race. “When the count is fair and legal, Donald Trump will have won by a landslide, and you can bank on that.”
Trump’s supporters have only considered him a winner — in business, as a celebrity, and ultimately as president of the United States. The election results, revealed Saturday after days of waiting for straggling states to tally their returns, indicated otherwise this time: Biden has won at least 279 electoral votes, enough to claim the presidency. He also garnered 74.5 million individual votes — the most in the nation’s history and more than 4 million above Trump’s total.
Instead of accepting those results, the president’s devotees spurned them. They gathered at so-called “Stop the Steal” rallies at state capitols across the country to claim, without evidence, that ballot counts favorable to Biden stem from a sprawling, multistate conspiracy to hijack the vote through fraud. It is unclear how widespread such views are beyond these events and high-profile conservative figures, and some GOP figures have pushed back on claims of a rigged election.
In big, largely Democratic cities across the country, many of which were rocked by somber demonstrations against racial injustice this year, Biden’s victory spurred joyous celebrations and collective relief. In other places, though, it fueled pockets of protest from those refusing to acknowledge Trump had lost.
“I won’t accept it as legitimate,” said Leonard Horner, 51, during a pro-Trump rally at the Arizona Capitol.
More than 300 people gathered in Salem, Ore., outside the state capitol to wave Trump flags and decry the outcome of the election. Among them were members of the far-right Proud Boys and numerous people affiliated with self-styled militia groups who were armed with assault-style rifles.
Don Thomas, 64, of McMinnville, Ore., said he believes Democrats are ignoring the legal challenges Trump has mounted in pivotal states, and he wants to make sure “all those question marks are answered” before there is an official winner.
“A lot of places are voting by mail for the first time, and because of the newness of the system, we have to make sure it’s being done right,” Thomas said. “If we lose legally, I’ll accept that. But there’s so many ways this can be done wrong.”
In Harrisburg, Pa., one of the events drew about 200 people, with large Trump 2020 flags and “Legal Votes Matter” signs waving as they milled near the state capitol. Some said they thought there should be a recount or even another vote entirely.
“I’m here for the integrity of the election, no matter whether you’re a Republican or Democrat,” said Nicole, a 39-year-old from Hegins, Pa., who declined to give her last name.
Postings shared on social media advertised “Stop the Steal” events that called for “peaceful protests” in key American cities, though it was not clear how many people would turn out for all of them.
The “steal” calls have been amplified on social media by Donald Trump Jr. and promoted by conservative activists such as Amy Kremer, a former congressional candidate in Georgia and co-founder of the group Women for Trump.
Earlier in the week, Kremer used a Facebook page with more than 100,000 followers called Women for America First to channel traffic to a “Stop the Steal” group, which quickly collected more than 360,000 members before it was shut down Thursday for violating the site’s rules.
At the “Stop the Steal” event in the Pennsylvania capital, Amy Lee, a 55-year-old who had been a poll watcher in Pittsburgh, said she was upset about not being allowed closer to the counting.
“I’m here to support Trump,” she said. “I believe Biden stole the election.”
When asked how, Lee said she thought it was “mathematically impossible” given the size of the pro-Trump events, trains and flotillas compared with Biden’s events, which often adhered to coronavirus-focused public health restrictions.
Trump 2020 flags flew over the ornate steps of the Michigan Capitol in Lansing, while several hundred Trump supporters denied the results and chanted: “We won.” Speakers used a megaphone to denounce the vote as fraudulent; passing trucks honked their horns in apparent support.
While they were demonstrating, members of Michigan’s legislature gathered inside for a special Saturday meeting as they began an inquiry into the election’s handling, which Michigan officials have repeatedly defended as legitimate, accurate and fair. Biden won Michigan by about 148,000 votes, an about-face after Trump won the state by a slim margin in 2016.
Other Trump backers were more sanguine about the outcome. Paul Ritz rode his motorcycle Saturday to a bar in New Hudson, Mich. The 53-year-old, who works in construction, said he loves Trump but was tired of politics and was relieved the election is over.
“I want to move on and I want to see other things,” Ritz said, his tattooed arms resting on the New Hudson Inn’s finished wood bar as he drank a Dos Equis. “I’m tired of best friends being enemies.”
Jack Marcinick, a lifelong Republican who twice voted for Trump, said he was disappointed at the results and has questions about how absentee ballots were handled. But he still accepted what happened.
“Do I think elections are clean? No,” said the 71-year-old in Butler County, Pa. “But my opinion is: It’s done. It’s over. We will live with the decision.”
Here in Phoenix, demonstrators outside a Maricopa County, Ariz., vote-counting center insisted the race had not been called. A man wearing a “Q” cape — a reference to the QAnon conspiracy theory — told a gathering of dozens of people that they should not believe the media or “the liars” inside the elections facility, where workers were still counting ballots. As of Saturday night, Biden was leading in Arizona by just more than 20,000 votes, but the state had not yet been called for either side.
“It’s not official yet,” John Ryer, a 53-year-old Scottsdale resident at the gathering, said of Biden’s win.
As media outlet after media outlet called the election for Biden, Neianne Castro was disappointed but not surprised.
“People will vote for Biden because they hate Trump,” she said while grabbing lunch at a Mexican restaurant in Phoenix after picking up family at the airport.
The 46-year-old office manager said, in her view, the counting is still going and the race isn’t over, and she questioned the election workers counting ballots.
“I mean, how much do we really know about the people who are taking our votes in and how trustworthy they really are?” she said.
Pro-Trump demonstrators gathered Saturday in Austin, outside the Texas Capitol. Kevin Rollins, 57, said Trump supporters “feel cheated” and will “be out here every Saturday until we get it resolved.”
Pennsylvania, one of the pivotal states that decided the election’s outcome, has drawn intense scrutiny from Trump supporters and allies, who have repeatedly questioned the vote-counting process this week in public statements and demonstrations outside a vote-counting site in Philadelphia.
On Thursday night, Philadelphia police arrested two armed men near where votes were being tallied. Larry Krasner, the Philadelphia district attorney, said police had been told the men were coming from Virginia for reasons potentially related to the vote count; authorities charged both men with weapons violations.
People who know the two men defended their actions, saying they went to the city to view the scene. Both had been associated with a group called “Vets for Trump,” and one worked in professional private security. The mother of one of the men said he “loved Trump very much” and “didn’t want Trump to lose.”
Just minutes after the election was called Saturday, Rudolph W. Giuliani, Trump’s personal attorney and the former mayor of New York, said the Trump campaign would file a lawsuit alleging voter fraud in Pennsylvania.
Before Giuliani spoke at a Philadelphia landscaping company, Trump supporters had gathered outside the company’s gates to argue with Biden supporters. The Trump supporters learned that news outlets had projected Biden would win Pennsylvania and its 20 electoral votes from their phones and people in passing cars, one of whom shouted the outcome at them.
The confrontations were largely verbal, not physical — except for when Jada Carter, a 23-year-old recent Hofstra graduate, dropped to her hands and feet and twerked at a Trump supporter, laughing at him.
“If you don’t like it, you can leave!” she yelled.
Berman and Miroff reported from Washington. Cleve R. Wootson Jr. in Salem, Ore.; Kayla Ruble in Lansing, Mich.; Amy Worden in Harrisburg, Pa.; Christine Spolar in Pittsburgh; Annette Nevins in Austin; and Robert Klemko in Philadelphia contributed to this report.