As word came on Saturday that the election had been called for Joe Biden, hundreds of supporters of the defeated president began amassing at Pennsylvania’s state capitol building in Harrisburg to protest.
It was a split-screen simulcast of America’s intensified political division, as Donald Trump’s defeat was jubilantly celebrated 130 miles east in Philadelphia, and in cities around the country.
And just as Trump has refused to accept the outcome, so too have many of the around 75m people who voted for him, claiming instead that his loss was the result of ballot fraud – a baseless assertion promoted by the White House – and media manipulation.
“We need to make sure every legal vote is found and to make sure this election is fair,” the Yorktown state representative Mike Jones told a cheering crowd. “If we allow this country to succumb to socialism, it will not because the left overpowered us, it will be because good men and women did nothing.”
Many here repeated a belief that the media and big tech had been against Trump since the start, with Biden as something of a ride-along.
“The election has been called by the media. The government has not certified the votes, so anything could still happen,” said Mary Wallace, a Harrisburg resident, adding: “I want nothing more than for Donald Trump to have four more years.”
Wallace’s words echoed those of the president on Saturday morning, when he said his opponent “has not been certified as the winner of any states, let alone any of the highly contested states headed for mandatory recounts, or states where our campaign has valid and legitimate legal challenges that could determine the ultimate victor.”
Contrary to presumptions of Trump’s base as a white monolith, the Pennsylvania protest attracted a diverse crowd, with many describing themselves as Hispanic, Asian, and African American.
Many blamed the media, again, for portraying them inaccurately, and said that Democrats had made political assumptions about them based on race.
“I’m just an American,” said Alysia McMillan, who ran unsuccessfully as a Republican candidate for the Arizona house of representatives in August. Her politics, she said, was frequently misconstrued by her ethnicity, which she described as Black, White and Korean.
“White liberals are always trying to apologize to us, but they’re just protecting their own privilege. Malcolm X warned us about that. The Black Lives Matter protests are another scam. It’s full of white people who want Black people to fight their battles. The white guys turn up at BLM protests, burn down some building, and then blame Black guys.”
Interspersed among the crowd were members of militia groups, including Angry Viking Patriots of America and the Pennsylvania Three Percenters. “I fully expect this to go to the supreme court,” said Dylan Stevens, who goes by the moniker the Angry Viking.
“This isn’t about conspiracy theories, it’s about common sense … I fully expect Trump to challenge this and he should.”
Stevens, who has lost privileges to use social media, including Facebook, did not dismiss the potential for violent clashes in the weeks to come.
“Sure there are fanatics and extremists but we’re a well-regulated militia,” Stevens said. In an address to the crowd, he added: “Somehow the word patriot has become a four-letter word. Somehow, the media painted us – you! – as the bad guys.”
In Michigan, another swing state that flipped for Biden after Trump’s win in 2016, hundreds of Trump supporters gathered at the state capitol to chant “four more years” and “we won”, even after major media outlets, including Fox News, had called the election.
On the steps of the capitol building, a local activist involved in multiple anti-lockdown protests this year shouted conspiracy theories about “globalists” through a megaphone and said that Trump wanted veterans and retired police officers to volunteer and help keep the election results from being certified.
“Tyranny is knocking on our door. It has kicked our door in. It is in our threshold and we must push it back,” said Kevin Skinner, 34, one of the founders of an anti-lockdown group Stand Up Michigan.
“The media called it for Biden today. Big whoop, guys. We knew they were going to do that,” Skinner said. “The media is the false prophet of Revelations 13. The media is part of the kingdom of darkness and we are exposing them right now!”
Many people in the crowd repeated stories about malfeasance in the ballot-counting process that had already been debunked by local news outlets and by election officials, including a well-respected Republican election official.
Some Trump supporters said they were simply not sure whom they would actually trust to tell them the legitimate results of the election. “I don’t know,” said one 55-year-old man from Ionia, there with his wife and two sons. “That’s a good question.”
But some pro-Trump protesters said they would accept the election results from Republican officials.
“At a certain point you have to trust your local party officials to say yeah, we’re confident that it’s fair,” said Tom Barker, 54, from Detroit.
The prevailing sentiment, so far as one exists, is that the America that Barack Obama once described as clinging “to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them … as a way to explain their frustrations”, and Hillary Clinton called “deplorables”, had only been strengthened and supported by Trump.
“It’s not over,” said Josephine Kolomov, 24, from South Carolina, in Harrisburg. “Trump has stood up for us for four years, and now I want to stand up for him. I am saddened [by the call] but I don’t think it’s over. Trump doesn’t give up.”