On the day after, the right side of Capt. Carneysha MendozaCapt. Carneysha Mendoza A 19-year veteran of the Capitol Police, Mendoza led officers battling rioters in the Rotunda of the Capitol on Jan. 6.’s face burned painfully where pepper spray and other chemicals had seeped into her pores. She could still picture the enraged faces of those who had attacked her and her colleagues under the Capitol dome. Some had worn fatigues like the ones Mendoza donned as an Army soldier stationed at the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001.
That day, the United States had weathered a faceless attack orchestrated covertly from beyond the country’s borders. This time, Mendoza had faced a very different enemy: fellow Americans, many of them wrapped in red, white and blue, inflamed by a sitting president.
Mendoza waited in her office at the headquarters of the U.S. Capitol Police for news she did not want to hear. Capitol Police bike patrol officer Brian D. Sicknick, who had collapsed hours after responding to the riot, lay in critical condition at George Washington University Hospital. The 42-year-old had suffered two strokes, destroying the tissue at the back of his brain.
Just after 9:30 p.m., the call came. Sicknick had gone into cardiac arrest. He was gone. Mendoza rounded up other officers and headed to the hospital.
As they arrived, Sandra Garza, Sicknick’s partner of 11 years, stood alone in a room with his body, saying goodbye. A blanket covered him up to his chest. Garza touched his hand. It was already cold. She moved her fingers up his arm, where it seemed warmer, and let her hand linger.
Near midnight, when it was time to remove Sicknick’s body, Mendoza and her fellow officers lined a hallway leading to a rear loading dock. They saluted as he rolled past, toward a van that would take him to the medical examiner’s office. Mendoza ordered the convoy first to drive by the Capitol.
Two thousand miles away, in the western suburbs of Phoenix, Clint HickmanClint Hickman As chairman of the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors in 2020, the longtime Republican resisted Trump’s efforts to overturn the election results. woke up late on Jan. 7 in a house that was not his own.
After a grueling year as chairman of the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors, the Republican had eagerly handed off his gavel at a long-planned ceremony on the morning of Jan. 6, only to arrive home to find two sheriff’s deputies waiting in an unmarked car in his driveway.
Their tone was urgent: You shouldn’t be home tonight, one said.
“It’s not that bad,” Hickman responded. As chairman, he had faced threats and a large protest outside his home after he and the board had certified Joe Biden’s win in the county in late November.
The deputy asked whether he had been listening to the news. There are massive protests in Washington, the deputy said. They’ve broken into the Capitol.
Hickman had to see for himself. Following his wife into the house, he looked at the scenes on the television and blanched. If President Donald Trump’s supporters were willing to attack the Capitol, who knows what they might do on a residential street in Phoenix. He and his wife rounded up their three children and relocated to a relative’s house, where he stayed up late, watching until Congress confirmed Biden’s victory.
Morning had come, and Maricopa County was quiet. Hickman was unsure if the threat had passed. He called his family farm. He wouldn’t be coming in to work today.
As their flight began its descent toward Denver on the night of Jan. 7, Salud Carbajal and Joe Neguse were on edge.
In nearly every seat, in every row, it seemed to the two Democratic congressmen, the other passengers were decked out in pro-Trump clothing. We’re surrounded by insurrectionists, Carbajal thought.
As the lawmakers headed back from Washington to their districts — Carbajal to the central California coast and Neguse to Boulder — they wore casual clothes, masks and winter coats. They did not display their congressional lapel pins, though they stood out from their mostly White fellow passengers in other ways: Carbajal had emigrated from Mexico as a child, and Neguse is the son of Eritrean immigrants.
The atmosphere on the plane was charged. Then a chant began, a few voices at first.
“F--- Biden! F--- Biden!”
Louder and louder it grew, as others joined in. The lawmakers sat stunned.
The plane touched down. As Carbajal waited for his connecting flight to California and checked his phone, his dismay turned to fury: Officer Sicknick was dead.
The violent insurrection aimed at thwarting the democratic transfer of presidential power quickly became known by its date: Jan. 6. But the forces that drove Trump’s supporters into the halls of the Capitol did not fade after that day.
Many of those who took part in the deadly attack returned home undeterred, still convinced Trump’s lies about the election were true. In the coming months, his supporters would push for new examinations of the results and demand more restrictive voting laws in the name of ballot security. Election officials around the country would receive hundreds of menacing emails and calls after Jan. 6, a Washington Post investigation found.
Listen to threats collected by The Post
Trump declined to address The Post’s findings about the spread of violent rhetoric. Instead, spokesman Taylor Budowich accused the media of failing to examine the 2020 election, leaving it “up to the people to seek the truth.”
After Jan. 6, Trump would emerge emboldened, bluntly threatening those who did not share his obsession with last year’s vote and positioning himself to retake the White House in 2024.
Most ominously, a deep distrust in the voting process would spread across the country, supplanting a long-standing acceptance of election results. That shift would shake the foundation on which the American experiment was built — the shared belief that the nation’s leaders are freely and fairly elected.
American democracy had held on Jan. 6. But the events that followed showed that day would not be the last test.
One day after
As his bus trundled south toward Florida on Jan. 7, Paul HodgkinsPaul Hodgkins The 38-year-old crane operator from Tampa traveled to Washington to show his support for Trump after absorbing false claims that the election was rigged — a decision that would drastically upend his life. felt uneasy.
The crane operator, then 38, had followed the mob into the Capitol and ended up in the well of the Senate, holding his Trump flag next to the desk where Vice President Mike Pence had been sitting just 40 minutes earlier. What felt like a strange dream in that moment had started to curdle into something far darker almost immediately. Emerging from the building, Hodgkins had seen people brawling and had learned that a woman had been shot.
Some of his bus mates clung to the hope that Trump would somehow remain president.
Hodgkins was skeptical. “I don’t see how that’s possible,” he recalled thinking. “We’re all going to have to eat the depression that he’s going to be leaving office.”
Word spread on the bus that Hodgkins had gone inside the Capitol. A couple of women asked him to share his experience, but he demurred.
A text came through from his mother, who had not wanted him to travel to Washington in the first place. She told him she never wanted to talk about what had happened at the Capitol that day.
By the time Douglas Jensen returned to Iowa, viewers around the globe had watched a video clip of the 41-year-old construction worker in a QAnon T-shirt chasing Capitol Police officer Eugene Goodman up a marble staircase outside the Senate chamber. Jensen’s wife had seen the news, too. Facing her displeasure, Jensen went to the Des Moines Police Department early on Jan. 8 and sat for an hours-long interview with two FBI agents.
Jensen told the agents he had not planned to go to the Capitol that day, but he went at Trump’s direction. He said he had wanted to witness the arrests of the vice president and members of Congress. He said he was a patriot. Although Jan. 6 did not end the way he had hoped, he believed that Pence and members of Congress still might be arrested on Inauguration Day. But he also hinted at his own doubt, asking the government agents conducting the interview whether he had been duped: “Can you guys let me in on that, if you know if these arrests are real?”
LEFT: Paul Hodgkins, front, stands in the well of the Senate. (Capitol Police/Associated Press) RIGHT: Douglas Jensen confronts a Capitol Police officer. (Manuel Balce Ceneta/Associated Press)
Some rioters exhibited a flash of remorse after the insurrection, but others remained in Trump’s thrall. Even as his supporters faced the consequences of their actions, they echoed the president’s never-ending false claims and came up with their own spurious theories about stolen ballots that they shared in their communities.
A day after the Capitol attack, a Longview, Tex., real estate agent named Ryan Nichols took to Facebook to clear up a rumor. In a video taken at the Capitol, he had bragged that he was taking part in a “second revolution.” Now he wanted people to know that it had been Trump supporters, not anti-fascist agitators, behind the violence.
“Sure, there may have been some ‘Antifa’ in DC, but there wasn’t enough to ‘Storm the Capital’ themselves,” Nichols wrote.
With his time in the White House dwindling, Trump barreled forward — looking to channel his supporters’ fears toward a new cause. The president condemned the “heinous” violence at the Capitol in a Jan. 7 video. But in the same message, he issued a directive to his base and elected representatives.
“I continue to strongly believe that we must reform our election laws to verify the identity and eligibility of all voters and to ensure faith and confidence in all future elections,” Trump said.
Pence was more focused on the near-catastrophe he had just lived through. Two days after the attack, he sat down in his ceremonial office in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, next to the White House, and wrote three sets of letters to people he counted among the heroes of Jan. 6. They included the Senate staffers who had grabbed the ornate wooden boxes containing the electoral college certificates documenting how each state’s electors had voted. Those staffers were protecting the papers Congress was relying on to complete its duties that day.
“I want to thank you for your work Wednesday and Thursday during the joint session of Congress and express my sincere gratitude for carrying the boxes of electoral votes out of the Senate chamber when rioters stormed the Capitol,” the vice president wrote. “Your quick thinking and rapid response, ensuring the ballots were secured and work of Congress could continue, are testaments to your character and commitment.”
Pence sent similar missives to the House parliamentarian and the Senate chaplain, Barry Black. At the vice president’s request, Black had delivered a closing prayer just before 4 a.m. on Jan. 7, after Congress had reconvened and certified Biden’s victory. Pence signed all the letters by hand and arranged for their delivery by mail.
After an initial burst of bipartisan horror at the Capitol riot, many Republican officials fell back in line with Trump.
“He still had the base,” one GOP lawmaker recalled observing at the time. That conclusion was shared by House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), who had paused his regular phone calls with the president after the insurrection but resumed them a few days later when he realized Trump’s hold on the GOP appeared to be stronger than ever.
Other Republicans’ condemnation faded quickly, too. Six days after Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (S.C.) denounced Trump on the Senate floor, he accepted a ride with the president on Air Force One for an appearance along the U.S.-Mexico border in Texas. Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.), who had blamed Trump’s “crescendo of conspiracy theories” for the Capitol attack, quickly came out against the impeachment proceedings that Democrats were already seeking.
Campaign advisers met with Trump in the Oval Office to devise a poll to test public support for impeachment, then circulated the results among Hill Republicans to prove such a move would be risky.
“We got to everyone,” said a Trump aide. “We got McConnell, we got to McCarthy.”
The message: If you vote for impeachment, “you’re screwed.”
Six days after
Six days after the insurrection, Trump’s election lies bloomed anew in Phoenix. Republicans in the Arizona Senate subpoenaed Maricopa County, demanding that it turn over its nearly 2.1 million paper ballots, which had been packed up in cardboard boxes and stored away in a facility known as the Vault.
Trump had narrowly lost the state, thanks largely to Biden’s 45,000-vote margin in the county, home to Phoenix and more than 60 percent of Arizonans. A hand recount of a sampling of ballots had confirmed the accuracy of Biden’s victory. State and federal judges had rejected lawsuits challenging the results. In December, a state judge had knocked down a previous effort by the Senate to obtain ballot images and tabulating machines from Maricopa, saying the subpoena was improperly filed.
The Republican senators were undeterred.
Their new push surprised Stephen Richer, the recently elected Maricopa County recorder, whose responsibilities included leading the county’s elections office.
Richer, a Republican, had no reason to doubt the election tallies that had resulted in his own come-from-behind win in November. He had been trailing on election night, but after days of counting — marked at one point with a tweet from Trump to “STOP THE COUNT” — he had overtaken the Democratic incumbent.
On Jan. 14, Richer headed to the state Capitol for what he thought would be a one-on-one, get-to-know-you meeting with Senate President Karen Fann. He hoped a personal meeting might help bring the temperature down.
Instead, he found Fann in a conference room with five other members of the Senate’s GOP leadership. Skipping any small talk, the lawmakers immediately began lecturing him about the county’s obstinacy. Fann explained that her constituents were angry about the election and that she needed to respond. Another Republican, Sen. Vince Leach, cited a debunked claim that “kinematic artifacts” — essentially, folds in paper ballots — could prove whether they were fraudulent.
The Senate was in charge, they explained, and they would lead a new top-to-bottom review of the election. The senators were treating him like a petulant child, Richer thought to himself. His hopes of soothing tempers evaporated.
No one mentioned the violence in Washington.
Far to the north, in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, Houghton County Clerk Jennifer Kelly was also growing increasingly anxious.
For weeks, she had fielded complaints about Biden’s narrow victory in the state, many from people she’d known all her life. Trump had won Houghton County by 14 points, but that did not stop them.
At first, they sent sharp questions — direct but polite — to her official courthouse email account. But in the weeks following the attack on the Capitol, the complaints grew more heated.
Residents began accosting Kelly on the street, in Walmart and at the grocery store, angrily complaining that pro-Biden forces had manipulated machines made by Dominion Voting Systems — repeating one of Trump’s many unfounded claims. “You could feel their anger and disgust with an election they thought was corrupt,” she said.
The county tried to head off concerns by inviting Kurt Knowles, a representative of a Dominion subcontractor, to answer questions at a public meeting. On Jan. 12, Knowles appeared by Zoom and faced a barrage of queries about right-wing reports that machines in Houghton and nearby Keweenaw County had been manipulated to switch votes from Trump to Biden.
“That couldn’t happen,” Knowles answered confidently, explaining that the machines were not connected to the Internet. He then walked through the layers of precautions that would prevent vote switching.
Seated at a long wooden table next to the county’s five commissioners, Kelly hoped the detailed explanation from a knowledgeable outsider might finally subdue the suspicions.
It didn’t — not that day, and not even after Biden’s inauguration on Jan. 20.
Weeks later, the Senate acquitted Trump on charges that he had obstructed the election and incited the riot. Just 10 Republicans in the House and seven in the Senate supported the impeachment effort.
29 days after
As the Georgia General Assembly prepared to convene a new session, Republican lawmakers found themselves inundated.
In emails and phone calls and in person, their friends and neighbors demanded new laws to stop the kind of fraud that Trump had convinced his supporters had caused his defeat. It was fresh evidence that the base was strongly behind the former president.
Several senators told Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan (R) that they had to pass new election laws, even as some acknowledged they did not buy Trump’s claims of fraud.
“I get it that you think you’re responding to what you think is the will of your constituents,” responded Duncan, who presides over the state Senate. “But at the end of the day, you’ve got to be honest with them. When someone says the Earth is flat, you’ve got to vehemently disagree with them because you know it’s not flat.”
Like many of his GOP colleagues, state Rep. Alan Powell did not believe that evidence had emerged proving that fraud had tainted the 2020 election. But he did think it was possible that some fraud had occurred, and he supported tightening laws to make it harder to cheat in the future.
At a committee hearing in February, Powell tried to explain his view, saying that widespread fraud “wasn’t found — it’s just in a lot of people’s minds that there was.”
The hate mail and ugly phone calls poured in. One Trump supporter called from Massachusetts to tell Powell, “I know who you are and I know where you live because your address is public.”
Colleagues urged Powell to report the call to state law enforcement. Instead, he called back. The man, a retired police detective, assured him that he didn’t mean for his message to sound threatening. “I’ll take you at your word,” Powell replied.
LEFT: Rep. Alan Powell (R) speaks in favor of a bill in the House chamber in Atlanta. RIGHT: House Speaker David Ralston (R) listens during a debate on proposed voting measures. (Photos by Alyssa Pointer/Atlanta Journal-Constitution/AP)
The pressure was so great that House Speaker David Ralston (R) gave his blessing to House Republicans to submit any election bills they wanted, no matter how severe. Ultimately, dozens of Republican lawmakers submitted bills in the name of securing Georgia elections.
Yet there was a limit: GOP leaders were eager to please Trump but did not want to hurt Republican turnout. When his colleagues floated the idea of banning drop boxes, Ralston squashed the notion after internal polling showed that many GOP voters liked that method of turning in absentee ballots.
In hearings that kicked off in early February, Georgians claimed without evidence that thousands of noncitizens had voted in the election, that the chain of custody had been broken for thousands of absentee ballots in the Atlanta area, that the length of time it took election officials to complete the count — about a week — was evidence of fraud. Some poll watchers testified that they didn’t trust the system not because they saw wrongdoing, but because they couldn’t see everything that was happening.
“They could have been building a warship back there and I wouldn’t have known the difference because you couldn’t get close enough,” said one woman, Ginger Bradshaw, a floral arranger from Fulton County, who described seeing “barricades” and “big blue shields” erected around workstations at the World Congress Center in Atlanta, where she had served as a poll watcher.
Bradshaw did not say that she had seen fraud. But sentiments like hers bolstered lawmakers who were pushing legislation granting new powers for poll watchers.
Duncan felt a wave of dread when the first major bill came to the Senate floor — a bill so restrictive that House leaders had already indicated it was unlikely to prevail on their side of the building.
He couldn’t bear to preside over the Senate that day. Instead, he sat in his office and watched the debate on TV.
41 days after
In the early morning of Feb. 16, more than half a dozen officers showed up at the door of Paul HodgkinsPaul Hodgkins The 38-year-old crane operator from Tampa traveled to Washington to show his support for Trump after absorbing false claims that the election was rigged — a decision that would drastically upend his life.’s Tampa home. Awakened by loud knocking, he grabbed a towel to put around his waist and opened the door.
“Hands!” yelled one agent, a hand on his gun holster. Hodgkins let the towel drop to the floor.
After an agent helped him into a pair of shorts, Hodgkins turned over his two phones, laptop, a tablet, the clothes he wore to the Capitol, the Trump flag, his backpack and the four guns he kept in his closet and truck. He was taken to the federal courthouse in Tampa, where he was released hours later on bond.
Hodgkins would be charged with five counts, including obstructing an official proceeding. The former Eagle Scout, who had never gotten in trouble with the law before, was mortified.
“People acted like children and destroyed a place because they didn’t get what they wanted, and when I realized it had turned into that, I felt rotten,” he said. “I didn’t feel wrong for wanting an audit or for supporting Donald Trump, but I do feel remorse for crossing the line. I wish I had just stayed home.”
After failing to anticipate the Jan. 6 attack, the FBI was now racing to track down the hundreds of people in the predominantly White crowd who had swarmed the Capitol that day and then walked out, unhindered.
Some within the FBI and Justice Department privately conceded the bureau had failed to grasp the scale of the threat. Officials simply didn’t believe that the kind of people showing up to a Trump rally would break the law, let alone act out violently.
“There was a bias,” said one person familiar with the FBI’s work before and after Jan. 6. “The bias was the belief that middle-aged, largely law-abiding people don’t burn, loot or throw things at police officers. We underestimated the desperation, anger and conspiratorial nature of the crowd.”
A senior FBI official said the bureau “strongly disagrees with this characterization. As our actions in the lead up to January 6 demonstrated, this was not business as usual. The FBI took the threats of violence seriously and responded accordingly.”
Inside a sand-colored office building north of the Capitol that houses the FBI’s Washington Field Office, the Jan. 6 investigation was turning into a round-the-clock job, seven days a week. Extra agents were brought on to help with the crushing workload — including an entire class of new graduates from the agency’s academy in Quantico, Va. The “Blue Whale” — one of a handful of FBI mobile command centers crammed with additional surveillance and communications equipment — sat outside.
At first, the FBI could barely keep up with what agents and prosecutors called the “low-hanging fruit” — the perpetrators who gleefully posted recordings of themselves breaking the law. Each day, thousands of new tips poured in, and the agency routed them to field offices around the country. Many proved useless, but a small portion produced valuable information, matching names and social media accounts to blurry faces on video.
The FBI quickly built a digital intake system to handle the leads, much like the system used effectively after the mass shooting at a Las Vegas concert in 2017. Now that model faced its greatest test.
Cellphone data from around the Capitol complex proved to be a fruitful investigative trove. Agents quickly sifted out numbers that appeared regularly and were likely to be lawmakers, staffers and lobbyists, focusing instead on those that popped up only on Jan. 6. The result was hundreds more suspects to check against social media accounts, E-ZPass toll records and credit card receipts.
Federal investigators also turned their attention to another deep well of information: the threatening social media posts that analysts, academics and former national security officials had flagged in the weeks leading up to Jan. 6.
FBI agents wanted to share leads with the D.C. homeland security department, whose officials had sought to pass along online threats before the attack. Donell HarvinDonell Harvin As the head of intelligence at D.C.'s homeland security office, Harvin led a team that spotted warnings that extremists planned to descend on the Capitol and disrupt the electoral count., the head of intelligence at D.C.'s homeland security office, who had invited the FBI to view material two days before Jan. 6, agreed to send two analysts to work full time with a federal task force identifying suspects.
In the first eight weeks of the investigation, federal authorities arrested hundreds of people on charges related to the Capitol attack.
The bureau also threw itself at one particularly ominous sequence of events from the day: the planting of pipe bombs outside the Republican and Democratic national committees’ headquarters on Capitol Hill. At the outset of the investigation, some law enforcement officials suspected the bombs might have been planted as a means to draw critical resources away from the surging crowds; other investigators found that unlikely because the bombs were planted overnight and the bomber could not know when they would be discovered.
48 days after
On the Hill, lawmakers pressed Capitol Police leaders to explain how the agency had so badly let down its guard. Acting chief Yogananda D. Pittman acknowledged that the department had not stationed enough officers around the building, lacked sufficient pepper balls and other crowd-control weapons, and had not followed lockdown protocols, leaving the Capitol and its occupants exposed to the marauding crowds.
The rioters had also exploited two of the building’s vulnerabilities. The majority of the Capitol’s exterior windows featured shatterproof glass, but some Trump supporters smashed the few that were not reinforced, and they streamed into the building early on in the attack. And while security officials assured lawmakers as the siege unfolded that automatically locking exterior doors would keep out the mob, rioters who climbed through the windows were able to unlock the doors from the inside by pressing and holding release bars, triggering a fire-safety feature. Other rioters then poured through the doors.
Capt. Carneysha MendozaCapt. Carneysha Mendoza A 19-year veteran of the Capitol Police, Mendoza led officers battling rioters in the Rotunda of the Capitol on Jan. 6. told the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee how she had rushed to help officers, becoming trapped among rioters as she pushed her way into the Rotunda. At one point, her arm was pinned in a railing and nearly broken.
“Of the multitude of events I’ve worked in my nearly 19-year career on the department,” she testified to a rapt committee in February, “this was by far the worst of the worst. We could have had 10 times the amount of people working with us, and I still believe this battle would have been just as devastating.”
At least 140 Capitol and D.C. police officers had been assaulted in the siege — emerging from the fight with broken limbs, concussions, cuts and chest pain. Two officers who battled the rioters took their own lives within nine days. Sicknick, who was doused with chemical spray, suffered two strokes. The medical examiner later found he had died of natural causes but noted that “all that transpired played a role in his condition.”
Mendoza was among the wounded. For weeks, she had tried to ignore the burns on her face, keeping a supply of fresh aloe leaves in her refrigerator to rub on her cheek for fleeting relief. But the pain worsened to the point that it awakened her in the night, so she finally visited the emergency room. Doctors diagnosed her with chemical burns and a skin infection.
She was prescribed antibiotics and was eventually on six medications, including one to break down and replace her top layer of skin. “I could feel my skin getting thinner when I put it on,” Mendoza said. “The healing was sometimes the most painful part.”
Protecting her son, Christian, then 10, presented an additional challenge. Mendoza initially had tried to keep the trauma of that day from him, leaving him with his uncle in the immediate weeks after Jan. 6 while she worked nonstop and struggled to sleep.
But after the hearing, Christian searched her name online and discovered her Senate testimony. “There’s now like a million pictures of you, Mom,” he said. And he mustered the courage to ask: “When are you getting a new job?”
Mendoza hadn’t prepared for the moment. “Look, this is my job,” she blurted out, before immediately regretting her words. “It pays the bills. What do you want, to be homeless?”
59 days after
Clint HickmanClint Hickman As chairman of the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors in 2020, the longtime Republican resisted Trump’s efforts to overturn the election results. , the Maricopa County supervisor, could see the plume of smoke rising in the distance from 20 miles away, getting closer and closer as he sped west on Interstate 10 through the desert in his pickup truck in early March.
There had been fires before at his family’s egg farm outside Phoenix since his grandmother founded it in 1944 — a natural risk of the dust and the massive wooden chicken barns. But even from the cab of his truck, he knew this blaze was going to be the worst in the family’s history. The burning barn was packed with tens of thousands of hens.
All afternoon, firefighters fought the flames, which had started after a loader used to scrape chicken manure overheated. As Hickman worked to account for his employees, his phone was pinging with texts and calls from friends and colleagues. Along with messages of support, some posed an odd question: Had Hickman seen the Gateway Pundit story?
The headline on the right-wing website: “After Finding Shredded Ballots in the Dumpster Earlier Today — A Mysterious Fire Breaks Out at Maricopa County Official’s Farm.”
The innuendo-filled story claimed that Maricopa officials such as Hickman were scheming to hide 2020 presidential ballots before turning them over to the state Senate for an audit. “There better be a good investigation into these fires,” the story concluded, questioning whether shredded ballots could have burned in the chicken coops.
Hickman was flabbergasted.
“It was our darkest day,” he said. “And this was just jaw-dropping.”
The fire killed 165,000 hens. Even though officials quickly determined the cause and debunked the claim about shredded ballots, online speculation flourished. In one version, Hickman was said to have packed the barns with ballots and lit it on fire. Others theorized that he was about to blow the whistle on corrupt county colleagues and the fire was set to send him a message. In the strangest incarnation, Hickman was accused of grinding up ballots and mixing them in with the chicken feed — then setting the barn ablaze to cover up his misdeeds.
The angry emails and phone calls persisted for months.
Around the country, false theories about the election were percolating and simmering, growing ever more intricate as Trump’s supporters traded claims in Facebook groups and Telegram channels. Some speculated that tabulating machines had been hacked — by the Chinese or the Iranians or the Venezuelans or hordes of communists. Others proposed that Democrats had somehow used the expansion of mail-in balloting that had accompanied the pandemic to flood the system with fake ballots for Biden.
All of the theories were rooted, ultimately, in an inability by die-hard Trump supporters to accept that millions of their fellow citizens had rejected the president. After imbibing Trump’s dark warnings about “deep state” conspiracies for years, it seemed plausible to many that thousands of volunteers and public officials who administer the nation’s elections had rigged the entire thing.
Gabriel SterlingGabriel Sterling A top official in the office of Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger (R) who warned that Trump’s rhetoric could inspire violence. , a senior aide to Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, even heard it from his own relatives.
A longtime Republican, Sterling had managed campaigns, worked for a GOP congressman in Washington and served on the Sandy Springs City Council in suburban Atlanta. He voted for Trump in 2016 and in 2020. But in the weeks after the election, amid the swirl of false claims of fraud in Georgia, he vocally denounced those promoting the unsubstantiated theories.
The public stance put him at odds with his conservative family. One relative peppered Sterling via Facebook messages.
“The fact that there were more votes than registered voters in the US will never be explained away,” the relative wrote in February.
“There were not more votes than registered voters,” Sterling replied.
“ALL Americans went to bed with Trump significantly leading across the board, only to wake up to see him at a considerable deficit,” the relative wrote in March, in a lengthy message that echoed false theories popularized by Fox News personality Sean Hannity and others that Biden’s win was a statistical impossibility.
He concluded: “C’mon Gabe! You believe that BS?”
Again, Sterling replied patiently. “Most of the charges are [coming from] people who aren’t lying but don’t understand what they are seeing,” he wrote.
65 days after
As theories about the 2020 election results metastasized, numerous Republicans recast the Jan. 6 attack as peaceful, describing the rioters as patriots and political prisoners — tacitly sanctioning mob violence as an acceptable method of protest.
Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson (R) told a conservative radio host in March that he had never felt threatened because he knew “those are people that love this country, that truly respect law enforcement, would never do anything to break the law.” A few weeks later, Trump told Fox News’s Laura Ingraham that the day had been a “lovefest,” where people were “hugging and kissing” the police.
The FBI was arresting an average of four Jan. 6 suspects a day. The day after Trump’s interview, a D.C. man was charged with striking police officers repeatedly with a long pole wrapped in red, white and blue. And a Texas man was arrested and accused of battling police with their own stolen shields, then lighting an object on fire and throwing it into a police line.
Some defendants were already signaling that they planned to blame their actions squarely on Trump.
“I went to Washington, D.C., because I believed that is what the President asked us to do,” Nichols, the Texas real estate agent, wrote to a judge in an unsuccessful attempt to be let out on bail. Nichols and a friend had egged on other demonstrators and engaged in violent, destructive acts and assaults on Capitol Police officers, according to court documents.
“I left when the President posted on Twitter and Facebook for everyone to leave. So I did,” Nichols told the judge.
To some judges, Trump’s rhetoric was not an excuse for rioters’ actions but rather an ongoing threat. His praise for the insurrectionists and his refusal to accept the election results could continue to radicalize his supporters, they warned.
“The steady drumbeat that inspired defendant to take up arms has not faded away,” U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson wrote, ordering one defendant remain jailed until trial. “The canard that the election was stolen is being repeated daily on major news outlets and from the corridors of power in state and federal government, not to mention in the near-daily fulminations of the former President.”
Indeed, even among those facing prison time, Trump’s ongoing pull was apparent.
Ronald “Ronnie” Sandlin of Tennessee, who allegedly plotted with two other men to bring weapons to the Capitol, had repeatedly told the judge that he regretted his actions. At one hearing, he could be heard weeping.
“Your honor, have mercy on me,” Sandlin said. “Please.”
But he conveyed a different message to friends and family.
“I’m in a cell block with all Capitol people,” Sandlin texted his mother on March 30. “I’m proud to call them my friends we stood up for what we believed in and sacrificed.”
“It may sound self serving but I truly believe I have a divine destiny to fulfill and I/we made history that day and the full implications of our actions [have] yet to be realized,” he wrote.
The implications were already clear for those contending with the aftermath. Mendoza and another officer tried to console each other in an ongoing text thread, sharing their nightmares and fears, often late at night.
Mendoza was working constantly, but when she occasionally had time for rest, she slept fitfully, plagued by a recurring dream that someone was breaking into her house.
106 days after
Across the country, the pressure from Trump and his supporters was getting results.
In mid-April, more than 2 million Maricopa County ballots and hundreds of tabulating machines were taken to the Arizona Veterans Memorial Coliseum, a concrete former basketball arena in downtown Phoenix.
A state court had ordered the county to comply with the subpoena issued by the GOP-controlled state Senate, which was determined to review the ballots cast in the presidential race despite the lack of evidence of problems with the vote.
The company tapped to run the project: a little-known firm based in Sarasota, Fla., called Cyber Ninjas, which had no previous experience administering or auditing elections. Its chief executive, Doug Logan, had touted claims that the election was marred by fraud.
Problems emerged nearly from the start. The company offered little explanation of its procedures, including the UV lights that workers shined on every ballot at one point. One audit worker told a reporter the light was intended to help shoot down a claim that some ballots had been smuggled in from Asia and could be identified by bamboo fibers in the paper.
Once predicted to last just a few weeks, the project dragged on.
The pro-Trump media outfit One America News (OAN) streamed footage from the arena floor online 24 hours a day, breathlessly covering the process as the start of a national movement that would lead to a reconsideration of the election results. Host Christina Bobb, who served as a volunteer lawyer with the Trump campaign after the election and huddled with the president’s attorney Rudolph W. Giuliani at a Washington hotel on Jan. 6, used airtime to raise private donations to help fund the ballot review.
Three months after the Capitol siege, Trump supporters had something to cling to.
“We need one state. They’re all going to fall like dominoes,” proclaimed Mike Lindell, CEO of MyPillow, who was spending millions of his own money on films and rallies promoting false claims about voter fraud.
The leaders of Maricopa County — nearly all Republicans — could not believe what they were seeing. The election had been strength-tested over and over again, and yet now their ballots were in the hands of amateurs with an agenda.
A distressed Stephen Richer, who had largely remained silent because he had not been in office in 2020, joined the county’s six other elected officials in a scathing public letter May 17 that denounced the process as a “sham” and a “spectacle that is harming all of us.”
Two days later, Richer received a disturbing message on his cellphone:
Listen to threat to Maricopa Recorder Stephen Richer
The spotlight on the Arizona recount was only growing, thanks in part to the former president.
Trump was transfixed as workers in brightly colored shirts unpacked ballots and loaded them onto spinning plastic trays. He began conferring privately with Lindell and Bobb.
“Incredible organization and integrity taking place in Arizona with respect to the Fraudulent 2020 Presidential Election,” Trump said in one of two statements he issued about the recount on a single day in late April. “They were among the earliest to see that this was a Rigged Election!”
Throughout the spring, at his private Mar-a-Lago Club in Florida, the former president buttonholed visitors about what was unfolding in Arizona, recounting his grievances with the 2020 election over steak and lobster.
“You’re our president!” a man yelled out in April as he walked through the lobby. “Thank you,” Trump mouthed back.
At one dinner, Trump approached a table where the guests tried to engage him in small talk. But he was not interested, instead recounting in granular detail how he believed the vote was fraudulent in states such as Georgia and Arizona.
“Everyone is talking about the election,” he told them. “It’s the biggest story on earth.”
On another night, an ally tried to engage Trump in a discussion for plans about a future presidential library. “He was totally uninterested,” the person said. “And he just immediately launched into how the election was stolen.”
With the Arizona review underway, Trump began discussing how to secure election reviews in other states, such as Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, New Hampshire and Georgia.
Perhaps, he told allies, he could soon be back in the White House.
Republicans from other states began making pilgrimages to Phoenix to tour the recount operation inside the coliseum. Though they were mostly backbencher lawmakers and candidates for office, OAN and other pro-Trump media outlets described them as official state delegations, suggesting to viewers that those states would soon follow Arizona’s lead.
In public, Fann, the state Senate president, repeatedly said that no matter the recount’s outcome, Biden’s win in the state would not be overturned. But she did little to puncture the enthusiasm of those who believed the opposite, including members of her own caucus and Trump himself.
When one constituent emailed Fann to complain that the lawmaker refused to say the ballot review would result in Biden’s win being decertified, she responded cryptically: “Our only goal is to get this audit finished before they try to shut us down again. Sometimes honey does better than vinegar when you want to get something done. The vinegar will come at the end.”
160 days after
Michigan state Sen. Ed McBroom, a conservative lawmaker with a deep religious faith, is known by his colleagues as “the king of the Upper Peninsula” — a nod to his popularity in this remote region of the state.
In June, officials in Houghton County turned to the fourth-generation dairy farmer for help, hoping to put to rest the rumors still circulating in their community of hacked voting machines and Trump votes that had been flipped to Biden.
A Lindell-produced film called “Absolute Proof” that aired on OAN had stirred up local residents with false claims that bad actors had used remote manipulation to switch 1,143 of the roughly 18,500 presidential votes cast in Houghton County for Biden. The film asserted it was all part of a broad plot to hack the election.
On June 15, McBroom appeared via Zoom at a county commissioners meeting and tried to tamp down concerns. The allegations, he said, were “made up.”
“What keeps on being postulated is something that is just not possible,” he said.
Some residents in the audience were not satisfied and demanded a fresh audit of the results. “What can be the harm? Let’s settle this,” said one speaker to scattered applause.
Eight days later, McBroom’s Senate Oversight Committee released a report on the election — a withering 55-page dissection of unsubstantiated claims promoted by Trump and his allies. The conclusion: Citizens should be confident in the results of Michigan’s election.
The blowback was immediate. A few local GOP committees around the state passed resolutions censuring McBroom. One activist called him “a servant Satan.” Trump went after him personally, issuing a statement that claimed the report was a coverup and that McBroom was “really a Democrat.” The former president said Michigan voters would “not stand for Republican senators not to act on the crime of the century.”
McBroom received scores of angry calls, emails and text messages, some calling for him to be “strung up” or “shot.”
Disheartened, McBroom tried to take the long view. My reputation and image are in the hands of God, he told himself.
Truth-tellers were no longer welcome in the GOP. Nor were those who saw the insurrectionists as anything other than patriots.
Trump loyalists had ousted Rep. Liz CheneyRep. Liz Cheney The GOP congresswoman from Wyoming worked behind the scenes to make sure the Jan. 6 electoral count was not disrupted. Afterward, she paid a steep political price. (Wyo.), who had repeatedly denounced his “destructive lies,” from her House leadership post. Republican lawmakers torpedoed an attempt to form a bipartisan commission to examine the forces and failures that led to the assault. And on June 15, 21 House Republicans voted against a measure to award the Congressional Gold Medal to the Capitol Police officers who had fought off the rioters.
A few days later, angry conservatives booed Pence and chanted “Traitor!” at a Faith & Freedom Coalition conference in Florida, an echo of the ominous shouts inside the Capitol on Jan. 6.
Cheney — a conservative standard-bearer and daughter of a Republican vice president — defied GOP leadership and agreed to work with Democrats on a committee to investigate Jan. 6. One summer evening, she walked off the House floor and onto the Capitol steps, where she was greeted by one of her new and unlikely allies, Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), a fellow member of the committee.
A knot of students visiting from Miami University of Ohio were lingering nearby. A young woman approached Cheney. “I’m not sure that I agree with you on many things,” she told the Republican congresswoman, but added that she wanted to join her new cause: “How can I fight alongside you?”
“Every single American has a responsibility,” Cheney told her. “Our institutions are very fragile. Every single person has a duty.”
The fallout was particularly acute for the handful of GOP state officials who had stood by the election results, such as Raffensperger, Georgia’s secretary of state.
Days before the state GOP convention was set to convene in early June, Gabriel SterlingGabriel Sterling A top official in the office of Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger (R) who warned that Trump’s rhetoric could inspire violence. , the Raffensperger aide, ran into a pro-Trump activist at a Young Republicans event in Atlanta, who asked whether he and his boss were planning to make the trip to the coast for the party gathering.
No, Sterling replied.
That’s probably a good thing, the activist retorted. She and others were likely to throw rocks if they showed up.
At the convention at Jekyll Island, the crowd warmly welcomed two rivals going for Raffensperger’s job. U.S. Rep. Jody Hice (R-Ga.), who voted against the electoral college count and had been talking to Trump regularly, showed up with boot-shaped “Boot Brad” pins. And David Belle Isle, the former mayor of Alpharetta, passed out fliers with an illustration of Raffensperger with devil horns.
“What happened in Georgia had a tremendous impact to the rest of the nation,” Hice said at the convention, embracing the false claim that Trump won the state. “We’re in the fight of our lives for this country. We are the tip of the spear in this battle.”
The delegates voted to censure Raffensperger. And Brian Kemp — the GOP governor who formally certified Biden’s win — was greeted with such loud boos that it was hard to hear him in some corners of the vast convention hall.
It didn’t matter that Kemp had signed a sweeping elections bill months earlier in response to the demand from Trump supporters. The law was not as harsh as Duncan and others had feared it would be, but it stripped some powers from the secretary of state and gave the state elections board and lawmakers new sway over local election administration.
Other GOP-controlled states raced to pass their own voting bills, citing the need to bolster public faith in elections. Florida Republicans enacted one of the most far-reaching laws, dramatically restricting mail balloting, even though the GOP had revolutionized the use of that voting method in the state. Texas passed legislation that added new criminal penalties for election officials and curtailed voting methods used in 2020 in Houston, where a surge of Black voters had turned out.
Several state legislatures passed bills granting new powers to partisan actors to challenge ballot counting and making it easier for the party in power to replace local election officials. The measures seemed built for a future when rejecting election results could be routine — and raised the prospect that partisan loyalists, rather than county professionals, could become arbiters of election disputes.
By the end of September 2021, GOP lawmakers around the country would introduce more than 400 bills restricting voting access — and would pass 33 laws in 19 states.
And Republicans lining up to run for office were echoing Trump’s false claims that he won the 2020 election. By the end of summer, nearly a third of the 390 GOP candidates who had expressed interest in running for statewide office publicly supported a partisan audit, downplayed the Jan. 6 attack or directly questioned Biden’s victory, according to a tally by The Post. Among them: 10 candidates running for secretary of state, a position with sway over elections in many states.
It was an overwhelming signal of Trump’s hold on the GOP.
199 days after
Inside the Arizona Federal Theatre in Phoenix on a Saturday in late July, Melissa Marsh, a landscape designer from Northern California, listened, rapt, as Trump championed the recount still underway in the state.
“The results will be so outrageous,” Trump said, promising the ballot review would spur action elsewhere.
“Now it’s turning out to be a revolution in this country,” he added.
Marsh, 60, had followed the fraud allegations since election night, when she had learned of a false claim that multiple states where Trump was ahead had stopped counting at 10 p.m. She became mistrustful of Fox News that night after the network called Arizona for Biden. She now relied on Telegram and MyPillow’s Lindell for information about the vote.
“Mike Lindell has shown through data scientists and facts and evidence of how the election is fraudulent, how the ballots are not matching up,” she said, adding: “The media’s fake. It lies.”
The 5,000-seat venue was filled to capacity for the event. The host: Turning Point Action, a conservative group run by Trump ally Charlie Kirk, which had organized seven buses to bring supporters to Washington on Jan. 6 through its Students for Trump project.
Many of those in the audience were dubious that what had occurred in Washington amounted to an attack on a branch of the U.S. government.
Chris Park, a Scottsdale resident who works in marketing, echoed the unsubstantiated claim that FBI informants had encouraged people to enter the Capitol.
“That’s not an insurrection,” he said. “There was no actual violence that took place except for one person that got shot at the hands of the people that were supposed to be there.”
Sitting in the third row of the theater was Michelle Witthoeft, the mother of Ashli Babbitt.
A Capitol Police officer had shot Babbitt as she tried to climb through a broken glass panel in the doorway leading to the Speaker’s Lobby, yards away from the House chamber, where lawmakers were still evacuating.
Several weeks before the Phoenix rally, Trump had called Witthoeft to praise her daughter, and she had encouraged him to speak out more about her death. He took her advice, telling Fox News days later that Babbitt was an “innocent, wonderful, incredible woman, a military woman.”
The Capitol Police would formally find that the officer who shot Babbitt may have saved lives through his actions. But Republicans followed Trump’s lead. Rep. Paul A. Gosar of Arizona, who had claimed at a congressional hearing that Babbitt had been “executed,” led a rousing ovation that night in Phoenix for Witthoeft. “Ashli! Ashli! Ashli!” the crowd chanted.
For Witthoeft, the moment was surreal and bittersweet. “There was a lot of love for Ashli,” she said.
A few days later, Sterling, the Georgia election official, received a letter in the mail.
The note inside was written in cheerful, loopy penmanship, but its content was anything but upbeat:
Sterling wasn’t alone.
In Maricopa County, the venomous and profanity-laced attacks had poured in for months. The emails and calls attacked the county officials as traitors and called for their execution by firing squad or public hanging. Some were laced with anti-Semitic slurs.
A Post examination found that public officials in at least 17 states collectively received hundreds of threats to their personal safety or their lives since Jan. 6, with a concentration in the six states where Trump focused his attacks on the election results. The accounts shared with The Post show that ominous emails and calls often spiked immediately after the former president and his allies raised new false claims.
Listen to threat to Richard Barron, Fulton County, Ga., elections director
When Trump went after McBroom, so too did his supporters. The following month, the former president singled out an Arizona Republican state senator who had resisted that state’s ballot review, saying that Paul Boyer had been “nothing but trouble.” Boyer got so many threats that he became frightened for his family’s safety and canceled an out-of-state trip that would have left them alone.
This rising chatter, reminiscent of the disturbing rhetoric that emerged in the days before Jan. 6, alarmed federal officials in Washington.
On Aug. 6, the Department of Homeland Security issued a formal warning to state and local officials warning of an “increasing but modest level of individuals calling for violence in response to the unsubstantiated claims of fraud related to the 2020 election fraud and the alleged ‘reinstatement’ of former President Trump.”
Local officials didn’t need Washington to tell them what was happening. It was obvious every day when they checked their email and voice mail.
What can we do to reassure voters that we keep their ballots secure, thought Kelly, the Houghton County clerk, in advance of a usually sleepy municipal election in early August. She decided to take extraordinary precautions: She instructed her staff to record the serial numbers of voting machines, document the unbroken seals on tabulators and note in writing that no one had tampered with the equipment.
Without those measures, Kelly feared, the public would continue to doubt the results.
The low-turnout race went smoothly. But residents still peppered her with public records requests about the security of voting machines and debunked claims that Sharpie pens rendered ballots unreadable, a claim that first took root in Arizona. Months after 2020, and “we’re in the same spot,” Kelly said. “There is all this doubt, so many questions, so many suggestions that there was crookedness.”
Listen to threat against Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon
213 days after
On the first Saturday in August, Capt. Carneysha MendozaCapt. Carneysha Mendoza A 19-year veteran of the Capitol Police, Mendoza led officers battling rioters in the Rotunda of the Capitol on Jan. 6., who had been promoted to the head of the Capitol Police civil disturbance units, was called into work for an unscheduled shift. Law enforcement had received intelligence that a group might try to break into the building.
It was at least the 30th time since Jan. 6 that such a threat had prompted the force to go on high alert.
In her office, Mendoza listened to her radio and typed away on her keyboard. Whiteboards on the wall behind her tracked her team’s progress in completing tasks the Capitol Police had identified as urgent in the wake of January’s attack. Among the items listed as complete: Get rid of aging shields. Joint training exercises. Write a new pepper-ball policy.
A note hung on one of the boards, scrawled by Mendoza late one recent night. “Tragedy is not the end of our story,” it read.
She wanted the reminder, not just for herself but for her officers. But she knew many were struggling, never able to feel fully off-duty even when home with their families.
That day’s alert turned out to be a false alarm. But one day soon, Mendoza knew, it might be the real thing again.
“There is no normal anymore,” she said. “Normal is gone. This is just it.”
Hard-edged and sometimes violent rhetoric about the election persisted, even drawing back in Trump supporters who faced possible jail time for their actions.
In mid-August, a court officer found Douglas Jensen alone in his Des Moines garage, using an iPhone to watch Rumble, a video-streaming site that has become home to many right-wing personalities claiming censorship by Big Tech.
Jensen, who had been captured on video on Jan. 6 chasing a Capitol Police officer on Jan. 6, had been released from jail a month earlier. His attorney argued that he had disavowed conspiracy theories and recognized “that he bought into a pack of lies.” Under the terms of his release, he was not allowed to access the Internet while he awaited trial.
But Jensen admitted he had spent two days watching coverage of a symposium about alleged fraud in the 2020 election put on by MyPillow’s Lindell. He was ordered back to jail.
For his part, Paul HodgkinsPaul Hodgkins The 38-year-old crane operator from Tampa traveled to Washington to show his support for Trump after absorbing false claims that the election was rigged — a decision that would drastically upend his life. had agreed to plead guilty to obstructing the electoral count — becoming the first rioter to be sentenced for a felony for his role on Jan 6. At his sentencing, he asked for mercy. U.S. District Judge Randolph D. Moss said that carrying a Trump flag into the well of the Senate amounted to “declaring his loyalty to a single individual over the nation.”
“In that act, he captured the threat to democracy that we all witnessed that day,” Moss said.
As the reality of eight months behind bars set in, Hodgkins became increasingly agitated. His conviction cost him his job as a crane operator. He learned that because his sentence was for less than a year, he could not earn time off for good behavior. A friend from the Trump campaign set up a fundraising website for him. “Paul is a true patriot,” it stated. “He was unjustly sentenced to 8 months in federal prison for entering the Capitol for 15 minutes and taking a few selfies.”
Weeks before he was set to report to prison, Hodgkins hired a new attorney who had falsely argued on social media that antifa and Democrats instigated the chaos at the Capitol.
In court, the attorney — who had been practicing law for less than a year — laid the groundwork for an appeal and argued that Hodgkins’s signature on his plea agreement had been forged. The claim quickly drew a stern rebuke from Moss, who noted that Hodgkins had previously affirmed his signature under oath.
Within days, Hodgkins decided to abandon the idea of appealing.
On a Sunday in September, he got 10 inches of his long hair cut off, went to church and prepared to report to prison the next day.
Still, he didn’t blame the former president.
“I made my own foolish choice,” Hodgkins said. He would vote for Trump if he ran again. Maybe Trump would even pardon him one day.
229 days after
By the fall, 650 people had been arrested and charged in the Capitol attack, and law enforcement officials said they expected hundreds of more arrests. Justice Department officials, who had initially estimated the number of potential criminal suspects to be about 800 people, now calculated that between 2,000 and 2,500 people went into the Capitol on Jan. 6.
Investigators still had not found the person who planted the pipe bombs outside the offices of the Democratic National Committee and Republican National Committee. On two occasions, agents thought they might have identified a suspect. But further probing led them to dismiss those individuals as culprits.
But most Republicans, at least, expressed little interest in bringing the Jan. 6 rioters to justice. More than half said such prosecutions were very important in March. Just one quarter did by September.
GOP leaders were also ready to move on from the Capitol attack. Graham, who had rebuked the president on Jan. 6, told a group of Michigan Republicans in September that he hoped Trump would run again.
For his part, Trump began quizzing candidates seeking his endorsement, wanting to first hear that they too believed the election was stolen before issuing his nod. He threw his weight behind those challenging Cheney and other Republicans who had voted for impeachment — and ramped up pressure to reexamine last election. By late summer, he had dialed up GOP leaders in a half-dozen states, applying a personal squeeze to those who wanted to stop re-litigating the 2020 vote.
In Pennsylvania, state Senate President Pro Tempore Jake Corman (R) — who had initially resisted such a review — announced in late August that there would be hearings into the election, which Biden won by more than 80,000 votes in his state. He sought to assure Trump voters that he had the former president’s support, telling conservative media personality Wendy Bell that he had spoken about the effort with Trump himself.
“I think he’s comfortable where we are headed,” Corman said. Within weeks, a legislative committee had moved to issue subpoenas seeking a wide range of data and personal information about the state’s voters.
In Wisconsin, where Biden edged out Trump by 20,000 votes, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R) was also feeling the heat. He backed a review of the election, even hiring retired police officers at one point to investigate claims of illegality. But Trump said he had not gone far enough, accusing Vos of “working hard to cover up election corruption.”
On Aug. 23, Vos joined Trump on a private flight from the former president’s New Jersey golf club to a rally in Alabama and made his case. As they flew, Trump recounted to Vos all the problems he had heard about in Wisconsin’s 2020 vote. The assembly speaker tried to reassure him: They were working to fix the issues. He would stay in touch.
Vos had appointed retired Wisconsin Supreme Court justice Michael Gableman to run an investigation. Gableman — who attended an election fraud forum put on by MyPillow’s Lindell as part of his inquiry — quickly raised the stakes. He began issuing subpoenas to local clerks who had refused to cooperate with his investigation.
The burden would fall to election officials, Gableman said, to prove that the election was not tainted.
262 days after
During a congressional recess in early September, Carbajal drove past a political rally in downtown Santa Barbara. Carbajal, the House Democrat who had flown home to his district on California’s Central Coast the day after the riots surrounded by angry Trump supporters, pulled over to take a look.
The headliner was Larry Elder, the leading Republican candidate trying to replace Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) in the upcoming recall election, at the time about a week away. In the crowd, Elder supporters waving Trump flags and wearing “Make America Great Again” hats were already speculating about fraud.
If Elder loses, Carbajal realized with dismay, Republicans would say the vote was rigged. Again.
A few weeks later, Clint HickmanClint Hickman As chairman of the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors in 2020, the longtime Republican resisted Trump’s efforts to overturn the election results. closed the door to his office at the family farm, flicked on his computer and steeled himself to listen to the findings of the Arizona ballot review, which had finally drawn to a close.
A hand recount of nearly 2.1 million ballots had come up with nearly the exact vote totals as the certified result: Biden had won the county by more than 45,000 votes.
But the contractors hired to conduct the ballot review ladened their presentation to Fann, the state Senate president, with elaborate theories that the county could have improperly accepted some ballots or deleted data. They provided no evidence of fraud or wrongdoing but nevertheless called for more investigations — including a criminal probe by Arizona’s attorney general.
Frustration and weariness overtook Hickman’s relief.
“This is not going to be over for a long time,” he said to himself with a sigh.
Mark Finchem, the Trump-endorsed Republican running for Arizona secretary of state — which oversees the state’s elections — called for arrests and demanded that Biden’s win be decertified.
Trump jumped in the following day at a rally in Perry, Ga. “We won on the Arizona forensic audit,” he told thousands of screaming fans, “at a level that you wouldn’t believe.”
The former president said out loud the worst fears of his critics: that his obsessive focus on the past was about making it harder for him to ever lose again.
“I have great, great friends that really want what’s best for us,” Trump said. “They say: ‘Sir, you’re leading in every poll by numbers like nobody’s ever seen before. Think to the future, not to the past,’ ” he told the crowd. “And I say, if we don’t think about the past, you’ll never win again in the future because it’s all rigged. It’s all rigged.”
After predicting Republicans would win the 2022 midterms, he said there would be an “even more glorious victory in November 2024.”
That day in Phoenix, more than 100 Trump supporters gathered on the lawn of the state Capitol to protest the prosecution of the Jan. 6 rioters. A knot of people dressed in the Proud Boys’ signature black-and-yellow garb drew a shout-out from a GOP House lawmaker as he addressed the rally.
Out in the crowd, the demonstrators echoed Trump over and over again. The Jan. 6 rioters were patriots, some said. The system is rigged. Those in power are corrupt. The country is crumbling, and elections can no longer be trusted to fix it.
It was all so familiar: A year earlier, Trump supporters had voiced those same angry sentiments in the run-up to Election Day. Everything that had transpired since — the false claims about the vote, the president’s attempts to subvert the results, a violent assault on a branch of government — had only deepened the conviction of some of those gathered on the lawn that day.
To them, the options were dwindling.
“Short of bloodshed, I don’t know of any way to fix what we currently have going on,” said Wade Damms, a 47-year-old from Snowflake, Ariz., who works in construction.
“I’d take part in it,” he continued. “I’d just need someone else to be the leader.”
Jacqueline Alemany, Hannah Allam, Emma Brown, Alice Crites, Tom Jackman, Carol D. Leonnig, Marianna Sotomayor, Julie Tate and Rachel Weiner in Washington; Jeremy Duda in Phoenix; Mark Shavin in Kennesaw, Ga.; and McKenzie Beard, Caroline Cliona Boyle, Heather MacNeil, Aneeta Mathur-Ashton, Vanessa Montalbano, Megan Ruggles, Nick Trombola and Carley Welch with the American University-Washington Post practicum program contributed to this report.