For about an hour on Friday afternoon, a group of less than 50 protesters stood around at the Wisconsin State Capitol arguing amongst themselves about unsubstantiated claims of voter fraud in America’s majority Black cities.
Less than 24 hours later, a larger, more diverse and more joyous group swarmed the Capitol Square after it was declared Joe Biden was elected the 46th President of the United States.
On Friday, the “Stop the Steal” protesters were outnumbered by Madison residents enjoying the warm fall afternoon. Two students threw a frisbee nearby.
But on Saturday, after AP, CNN and other media outlets declared Biden the winner of the presidential election, shortly before 11 a.m., Biden supporters led a car and bike caravan around the square as hundreds of people gathered at the top of State Street celebrating with hip-hop music.
A small group of Trump supporters was also at the Capitol, continuing to dispute the results of the election.
The pro-Trump group was there because the president has spent the previous months, weeks and days falsely casting doubt on the validity of absentee ballots and the legitimacy of the results in the presidential election. The Friday protest happened as Joe Biden neared 270 electoral college votes, largely because of absentee ballots in states such as Pennsylvania that were still being counted on Friday, but where Biden was declared the victor by major news outlets on Saturday.
There were few masks and a large number of flags at the Trump rally on Friday. There was a Make America Great Again flag that also said “F–k your feelings” and a few anti-Black Lives Matter thin blue line flags. These rippled in the breeze beside a Don’t Tread on Me Gadsden flag, a lot of American flags and one flag displaying the Marvel comic character Punisher with pro-Second Amendment messages.
One of the protesters, Jon George, said Biden’s win in Wisconsin was suspicious because a large number of absentee votes from Milwaukee were tallied by the county around 4 a.m. on Wednesday morning.
George said these ballots came in after the 8 p.m. deadline on Nov. 3 and should not have been counted. In fact, the ballots arrived on time but Milwaukee’s central count location for tallying absentee ballots did not finish counting all of them until early Nov. 4.
“There’s been a travesty at the ballot box,” George said. “We’re seeing unbelievable numbers of ballot harvesting, voter fraud, election fraud and nothing’s being done to correct the situation in cities like Detroit, Philadelphia and Atlanta.”
George said that in Milwaukee a video on social media shows absentee ballots arriving in a Milwaukee police cruiser late at night to pad Biden’s vote total.
“Just in Milwaukee in the middle of the night, 170,000 ballots were delivered to Milwaukee after the deadline for Election Day,” he said. “About 4 o’clock in the morning a big stack of ballots came in on a police cruiser.”
The video George was referring to actually shows Milwaukee Elections Commission Executive Director Claire Woodall-Vogg taking a police escort to bring Milwaukee’s completed vote tally to the Milwaukee County Courthouse to be reported.
George also claimed Wisconsin had a 90% voter turnout, which he said would be suspicious compared to past elections, except the actual turnout rate — while indeed a record — was only 72.66%.
As George was speaking, a man named Justin who refused to give his last name walked up. Together, George and Justin pointed to various videos from social media that purport to show evidence of fraud across the country.
Justin said voter fraud is possible across the country this year because in the 2018 midterms a congressional campaign in North Carolina was tampered with. He did not explain how a nationwide fraud could be pulled off if tampering in a congressional district was caught.
Protest organizer Alex Bruesewitz spent most of the first hour of the rally doing TV interviews. His brother, Nick, said he’s just out to “protect American interests.”
“We completely understand if this election is lost, it’s lost,” Bruesewitz said. “But if it’s lost due to something illegal then we represent fighting back against that. All we want is transparency from the media, from the president, from the vice president, from the Biden campaign and from all the cities in America on what exactly is happening.”
In Wisconsin, all aspects of the election, from voting at the polls to the certification by the Wisconsin Elections Commission, is a publicly observable process. Republican and Democratic election observers are watching votes being counted across the country.
Organizers spent so long doing TV interviews at the Trump rally on Friday that attendees were starting to disperse when an equally sized group of Black Lives Matter protesters arrived at the Capitol blaring the song “FTD” (F- Donald Trump) by YG.
Soon the two groups formed up in lines, yelling back and forth and eventually they’d fully melded into a scrum. One side, largely maskless, wore red hats and waved MAGA flags. The other, mostly in masks, carried a Black Lives Matter flag.
A young boy, aged 10-12, wearing a MAGA hat and waving a pro-police flag, told two college-aged women that he was “smarter than both of them combined.” Trump supporters chanted “U-S-A,” while the BLM protesters chanted “No justice, no peace.”
As the two groups yelled, Trump campaign lawyer Jenna Ellis told a smaller group of Trump supporters that the campaign has “truth on its side.” She did not give any evidence of the voter fraud she was saying had occurred.
Trump campaign lawsuits alleging voter fraud have been dismissed in Georgia and Michigan.