MAGA hats and QAnon: Inside Trump’s first rally of 2022

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Christie Disinger, left, and friend waiting to get into Trump's rally in Florence, Ariz., Saturday, Jan. 15, 2022.

Former President Donald Trump’s rally Saturday night in Florence, Ariz., was an attempt to add a distinctly MAGA tilt to the midterm election season.

But for the thousands of his most faithful followers — some of whom traveled to the rally site at Canyon Moon Ranch from neighboring states — it was a chance to imagine and push for the former president’s own attempt to regain office. Attendees called for Trump to run again in 2024. Many doubted he was truly ousted from the White House in the first place.

“I hope states decertify the election. I want to hear him say it’s over, we are ready to move on and hold a new election,” said Ray Kallatsa from Tucson, who arrived at the rally site early. “I do think it’s possible, very possible.”

Arizona is the epicenter for Trump’s false claims of a stolen election. Over the course of the past year, his allies have attempted to undermine the 2020 results with a widely criticized and partisan ballot review in Maricopa County that only reinforced President Joe Biden’s win.

The opening speakers for Trump included many of the main figures pushing conspiracies that there was widespread, coordinated voter fraud in 2020. MyPillow CEO and Trump ally Mike Lindell promised he had “enough evidence” to prove the election was rigged — a claim he’s been teasing for months. Trump-endorsed gubernatorial candidate and former local news anchor Kari Lake called for those who were involved in the “shoddy” 2020 election to be locked up. Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.), who was recently censured by Congress for sharing an animated video depicting the murder of another House member, told people to prepare for the next election.

“Can you feel the storm building? It’s America,” He said using a phrase commonly said by QAnon conspiracy followers as winds whipped up dust and dirt across the festival grounds.

Spread out in a sea of red MAGA hats and T-shirts emblazoned with “Trump won,” the former president’s fans roared in support as he aired complaints about the election and made swipes at the Biden administration. To an almost entirely maskless crowd, Trump taunted infectious disease expert Anthony Fauci and criticized vaccine mandates. And he raised popular conspiracy theories about the Jan. 6 riots, trying to recast that day one year ago as a peaceful protest and the rioters who stormed the U.S. Capitol as “political prisoners.”

“These people are living in hell, they're being hounded like you hound the worst animals,” Trump said. “The real insurrection took place on Election Day, Nov. 3,” Trump said.

The crowd gave a standing ovation.

Photo editing by Katie Ellsworth.

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