Even as prominent Republicans, including Mitch McConnell, began to grudgingly acknowledge that Joe Biden will be the next president, a noisy grassroots movement devoted to keeping Donald Trump in office seemed to be edging closer to advocating seizing power in what would amount to a coup d’état.
The day after a group run by a local Ohio tea party leader took out a full-page ad in the Washington Times calling on Trump to declare martial law and have the military oversee a redo of the presidential election using only paper ballots — a call echoed in a tweet by Gen. Michael Flynn — a raucous “Stop the Steal” rally in suburban Atlanta urged Trump supporters to descend on the statehouse on Thursday and demand the resignations of Georgia’s governor and secretary of state. In a press release announcing the ad published Tuesday by We the People Convention, the group’s president, Tom Zawistowski, said, “We wanted to express our concerns to the President, to the legislators, courts and Congress that We the People will NOT cede our exclusive Constitutional right to elect our Representatives to judges, lawyers, courts, Governors, Secretary’s of State, Congress, corrupt election officials and local politicians, the corrupt media — or Leftist threats of violence!”
“I will see you tomorrow at the state Capitol,” attorney and Trump ally L. Lin Wood told the crowd who had gathered to hear him and former Trump campaign lawyer Sidney Powell speak in Alpharetta, Ga., on Wednesday. “Stay mad as hell! We’re not going to take it anymore!”
Though billed as a press conference, the event had the energy of a Trump rally, with tightly packed throngs of the president’s supporters — sporting significantly more MAGA hats than masks — waving flags and breaking into chants of “USA!” and “Lock him up!”
That slogan was directed at Georgia’s Republican governor, Brian Kemp, who was endorsed by Trump in 2018 and has been a strong supporter of the president, but has refused to intervene in the tabulating of results from his state’s election. The Republican secretary of state, Brad Raffensperger, also a target of derision by Wood and Powell, has maintained that the state’s election was honest and fair.
But Wood — a personal-injury and libel lawyer who has never held elected office — exhorted the crowd that it may be “time to look beyond Republicans and Democrats.” He is not representing Trump or his campaign in court, and Powell, who had been part of the campaign’s legal team, no longer is. Wood insisted he isn’t trying to profit from his efforts for Trump, but an inadvertent clue to his plans might have slipped out when he solicited contributions to his “foundation,” a far-right organization that is helping to defend Kyle Rittenhouse, who is accused of killing two demonstrators at a protest in Kenosha, Wis., in August.
“You don’t have to vote for me,” Wood said, before correcting himself: “You don’t have to give me any money.”
The ad published by We the People Convention in Tuesday’s Washington Times highlights some of the extreme executive measures used by Abraham Lincoln at the start of the Civil War and suggests that Trump must take similarly drastic actions, arguing that “today, the current threat to the United States by the international and domestic socialist/communist left is much more serious than anything Lincoln or our nation has faced in its history — including the civil war.”
Later on, the letter returns to the divide over the election results and cites recent reports of record gun sales in the U.S., stating that, “without a fair vote, we fear, with good reason, the threat of a shooting civil war is imminent.”
Though Wood and Powell also both promoted the call for martial law on their social media feeds, neither of them mentioned it directly at Wednesday’s rally. Still, they took the opportunity to regurgitate a host of unfounded conspiracy theories about the election and issued several less-than-subtle calls to action against a variety of figures they believe to be standing in the way of Trump’s second term, from state officials like Kemp and Raffensperger to FBI Director Christopher Wray and Attorney General William Barr, who one day earlier become the latest (and most senior) administration official to dispute Trump’s baseless claims of election fraud. George Soros and the Chinese government also came in for some ritual nativist abuse.
“It’s 1776 in America again, and you’re not gonna take our freedom. We’re gonna fight for our liberty,” Wood declared.
Around the same time, the White House released a 46-minute video of what Trump called “maybe the most important speech I’ve ever made,” in which he rehashed all his unproven or disproven theories about election fraud. He did not, however, echo the call for martial law. He has said he will leave office on Jan. 20 if he is the loser after all the “legal” votes have been counted.
More than anything, Wednesday’s event called attention to the chasm between the Americans, including a growing number of Republican officials who’ve accepted that Biden won the Nov. 3 presidential election, and those who, following Trump, cling to an alternate version of reality.
Though not mentioned explicitly, the QAnon conspiracy theory also was part of the context.
Wood, whose Twitter bio includes the QAnon mantra “#WWG1WGA,” or “Where we go one, we go all,” espoused the kind of rhetoric often used by proponents of the pro-Trump conspiracy movement.
“This is the battle between good and evil,” he said.
Throughout the rally, Wood made several references to Flynn, a retired general who served Trump briefly as national security adviser and whose own embrace of Q-related content has made him something of a hero among QAnon followers.
At one point, he even seemed to tease the crowd by suggesting that Flynn might be about to take the stage (though he never appeared to do so), and later elicited cheers and applause by floating the idea of “Sidney Powell and Mike Flynn in 2024.” Flynn pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI during the overlapping investigations of Russian influence on the 2016 election, but he was pardoned in November by Trump.
“We’re going to fight like Flynn and make America great again,” Wood proclaimed, a thought that was echoed by another speaker, Georgia State Rep. Vernon Jones, a Black Democrat who endorsed Trump for reelection. “Georgia has a history of going into battle,” said Jones, perhaps inadvertently reminding the audience that its military history includes participation in the Civil War.
Powell, who first emerged on the far-right scene as part of Flynn’s legal defense team, has also used her platform to promote QAnon-related content. In the wake of the election, she has become a QAnon savior in her own right, as one of the more public faces behind the quixotic legal battle to undo the results of the presidential election.
Though Wood said, “We’re not here for violence,” even likening the movement to Martin Luther King Jr.’s message of civil disobedience, as Georgia election officials have already reportedly been the targets of violent threats from Trump supporters. At a press conference on Tuesday, Gabriel Sterling, the state’s voting system implementation manager and a Republican, admonished the president for refusing to concede the election, arguing that the continued promotion of false voter fraud claims would likely ultimately lead to violence.
“Someone is going to get hurt, someone is going to get shot, someone is going to get killed,” said Sterling. “This has to stop.”
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