HIDALGO, Texas — Organizers of the three-day We Stand America rally were clearly frustrated on day two: In an arena built to hold thousands of spectators, only a few hundred people showed up.
On a stage in the South Texas border town of Hidalgo, they blamed the lackluster crowd of liberal media and activists, saying they maliciously stole free tickets that were intended for veterans and officials of law enforcement to keep seats empty.
It was just the first conspiracy theory of the time.
Within minutes, there were several false claims that the 2020 election was stolen. “It’s not from Hitler himself that we’ve seen evil cross the country,” said Mark Finchem, a congressman from Arizona who is running for secretary of state there. He described Arizona’s current top election official as both a “demon” and “a plant” (not the horticultural variety).
‘Don’t Poke the Mama Bear’
The event held late last month in the Rio Grande Valley – which included a parade of conservative stars including Ted Nugent and Michael Flynn, Trump’s former national security adviser – was not just one of many right-wing symposia and conferences taking place across the country. on an almost weekly basis.
These events are similar to religious awakenings, a mixture of protest and celebration. There is anger, but also celebration. There are tailgate parties and barbecues and prayer services, the threads that make up the social fabric of Trumpism. The lectures illustrate how Trump and his false claims about the election have become a culture as much as a cause.
In Hidalgo, there were FJB bumper stickers in the parking lot — JB for Joe Biden, F for an expletive — as well as flags proclaiming “Stolen, Rigged, Fraud, Election 2020.” The t-shirts read “Don’t make California my Texas”.
One speaker called President Biden “that monster in the White House,” adding that “officials hate you and hate freedom.”
Christie Hutcherson, one of the organizers, called the event apolitical, saying the focus was on the “humanitarian effort” to save children who were illegally crossing the border with the help of coyotes, as we calls the smugglers in the border region. She claimed, without evidence, that young children were kidnapped and killed for “organ harvesting”.
Ms Hutcherson, the founder of Women Fighting for America, a group that describes part of its mission as protecting values and spreading ‘biblical truth’, called herself ‘mama bear’. Countless other speakers and attendees have adopted the nickname. “Don’t poke the mama bear,” said one woman, who declined to be named. “We’re fed up and you got the wrong people.”
Republicans have made inroads in South Texas, a predominantly Hispanic region that had been a Democratic stronghold for decades. In 2020, Trump won Starr County, a rural community along the border he lost in 2016 by 33 percentage points. And while Biden won in other more populous counties along the southern Texas border, including Hidalgo County, many voters turned sharply to Trump.
The crowd at We Stand America events, however, seemed to have more out-of-towners than locals and more white attendees than Hispanics. Many attendees came from Albuquerque and Phoenix, or came from Dallas and Oklahoma City.
The highlight of the three days for many of them was a Sunday morning march to the border fence.
Maria Elena Veliz, a resident of nearby Edinburgh and one of the local Tories in the crowd at Sunday’s protest, sat in a chair at the edge of the stage. She said she attended weekly protests at a local abortion clinic for more than a decade as part of her own efforts to stop women from having abortions.
“I’m not one of those people who thinks everything you do is fine, that we can make excuses,” she said. “This is my #1 issue and I will do anything to support people who agree with me. I’m here for unborn and born babies.
Another woman who declined to be named as she walked said she was “grossed by open border Democrats who don’t care what happens to children.”
The group was accompanied by a man with a military-style rifle strapped to his chest. They prayed when they arrived at the fence, in an area near the National Butterfly Center. The center, a victim of right-wing misinformation being spread online, had closed over the weekend due to threats and security concerns.
The demonstrators prayed to “stop the slave trade at our borders”. Some threw up their hands. Others held American flags. A few knelt on the dirt hill. And they ended up singing Amazing Grace.
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Watch the President
On Politics regularly features work by photographers from The Times. On Thursday, Al Drago watched Marine One, the presidential helicopter, arrive at a regional airport in Brandy Station, Va., as President Biden flew to a prescription drug pricing event. Here is the story behind this image:
The president usually travels with several helicopters, partly as a security measure. Although President Biden typically flies Air Force One, when we travel to small regional airports too small to accommodate the big plane or close enough to Washington, the presidential envoy will use a series of helicopters. Typically, Secret Service, White House staff and the press pool will fly ahead in four V-22 Nighthawk Ospreys, operated by Marine Helicopter Squadron One. With their huge rotating turboprops, they put on quite a show.
Thursday, once we had landed after the 20 minute flight from Joint Base Andrews, we lined up against the edge of the tarmac to capture the arrival of the President on Marine One, which is one of three Sikorsky VH-3Ds Identical Sea Kings. I noticed a bit of cloud cover, causing the light to change every moment. The press basin cast a shadow over the windows of the terminal, letting us glimpse inside.
You’re not supposed to know which helicopter the president is flying, so I snapped a series of images as people pressed against the glass with their cameras and smartphones as Marine One began to approach. I joked with a fellow photographer that the little boy probably had a better camera than me.
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