Tanzina Vega: This is The Takeaway, I'm Tanzina Vega. We've been talking about the future of the Republican party and one of the many states where the presidential race came down to razor-thin margins was in North Carolina, which has only voted for a Democratic presidential candidate once since 1980 and that was Barack Obama in 2008. While state election officials from both parties have said there have been no credible reports of election fraud of any kind across the country, Trump's supporters have taken to the streets to protest the election results.
Alice Wilder is a freelance journalist reporting on the far right and she talked to Trump supporters in Raleigh, North Carolina over the weekend many of them repeated false claims about the election, signaling just how powerful President Trump's misleading rhetoric around the election has been.
Speaker 1: We're seeing screw-ups or problems are only in the swing states that we know who controls. That just screams fraud right there. We want Pennsylvania state legislatures to just basically say, "We don't care. Supreme Court, you're wrong. All mail and ballots have to be in by 8:00 PM."
Speaker 2: The results were one thing on November 3rd and now they're morphing into something completely different. Last time I checked I didn't know the media could call elections.
Tanzina: Alice told me just how pervasive election misinformation had become in the state.
Alice Wilder: What I heard was just a fundamental misunderstanding of how elections work in this country and how elections have worked under this pandemic. Basically, Donald Trump has been running a misinformation campaign. In tandem with his presidential campaign, it's been key to his strategy trying to break down people's trust in vote by mail saying that if election results aren't decided on election day, then there is evidence of fraud. They are really following the president's lead here. It actually makes perfect sense to me that they would believe all of the things, repeat all the things that he has been saying for months now.
Tanzina: The president has also really been able to influence his supporters among the people that we consider to be his base and it didn't just start a couple of months ago. This feels like it started from the very beginning where the president in 2016, at least in the lead up to his election as president really focused on the "white working class" voters or aggrieved white Americans, who in many ways had reason to be upset with their lot in this country.
A couple of years ago, we were looking at higher rates of unemployment, drug addiction, the breakdown of family units in many ways that were affecting largely white working-class Americans. The president seems to have taken advantage of those legitimate grievances and really use his messaging and a lot of his misinformation at least to influence them to support him, and believe a lot of the conspiracies that he's bandied about as well. Is that something that you found?
Alice: Yes, I think you're exactly right. It's always worth reminding people that Donald Trump's political career began with a racist conspiracy theory, which was birtherism saying that Barack Obama was not born in the United States and even in an election that he won in 2016, he alleged that millions of votes were being cast illegally. Again, this is him using white people's fear of a growing minority presence in the country, whether it's Black people, whether it's Latinos, Latinx people, he is playing on this fear and elevating it and using white identity politics to rile up his supporters.
Tanzina: It seems to be increasingly effective. When you pushed back on some of the protesters that you met in North Carolina about the unproven allegations of voter fraud, what did they say?
Alice: It was an interesting experience talking to them about it. I was speaking with one young man on the corner who was protesting and this young man was alleging that mail-in ballots were being sent to everyone universally and I have spent a lot of time researching and reporting on vote by mail and so I told him I had to request a mail-in ballot in North Carolina, and this is something that varies widely state to state. As soon as I corrected him on that, he was like, "Oh, well, you know, but it's universal in some places."
When I was speaking to that group of young men, one of them told me I have a video that's evidence of voter fraud and I said, "Well, show it to me." Then he pulled it up on his phone and he said, "Oh, it was just taken down by Twitter." You see the speed at which these things are being uploaded and social media companies are trying to take them down because they're manipulated fake videos and it's basically like a game of whack-a-mole.
Tanzina: Now, it's not just the protesters, Alice, because there are protesters, or should I say Trump's supporters, who are protesting what they believe because the president is saying that he believes that this election has been stolen from him, but now we're seeing more and more GOP officials, including Mitch McConnell saying that the president is within his rights to do this. What is it that these protestors are looking for? At what point will they accept this election or president-elect Biden or are they just not seemingly willing to do that until this process plays out even longer as Mitch McConnell has stated it could?
Alice: I heard a couple of different things. I asked many of the protesters what they thought would happen next. One of them told me that he wants the Pennsylvania state legislator to openly defy a Supreme Court ruling around the election, which is a pretty interesting comment coming from a campaign that has run off of law and order, and then you have this supporter saying simply defy the Supreme Court. Meanwhile, I've seen a lot of Trump's supporters organizing online, asking supporters to email the Supreme Court and ask them to start investigating this election.
Keep in mind the Supreme Court it's not an investigatory body, it is the judicial branch of our government. It is just not even possible for them to do that. People are asking for investigations, they're asking for state legislatures to defy the Supreme Court. I think when it comes down to it from the people I spoke to, I don't think that they would believe the results unless they were looking over the shoulder of every ballot counter.
Tanzina: Is it just the president who is at fault in terms of promoting this idea that the election has been stolen or is it also our media outlets to blame here, at least according to the protests?
Alice: I think that the president is responsible. I don't think that he is the only one doing it. I think he is the ultimate setter in the case of this president breaker of norms, and so if he had conceded there would certainly be groups of people who would say, "You shouldn't have done that. We believed that it was fake," but because he is not taking that route, people are following after him. When I asked folks where they got their news, they said they don't watch network TV news. They don't listen to mainstream news outlets, they get their news from extremely far-right, fringe, complete disinformation websites.
I actually think that the media has done a pretty good job of explaining vote by mail as well as we can. Of course, I'm biased because I'm a member of the media, but explaining vote by mail, telling people over and over again, we're not going to have the results on November 3rd, but if people decide that they're only going to listen to the news that echoes what they want to believe, then it's pretty hard to get around that.
Tanzina: What are Trump's supporters going to do with this energy? That the base seems to be energized still in this moment and is there a sense of where they want to take that now, the anger against the media, the frustration with the Democratic party, for example?
Alice: Yes, I think that they will continue to have public demonstrations. The organizing around having people email the Supreme Court is one example. In addition to organizing amongst themselves on social media, it's important to remember that these activists are working in tandem with the Trump campaign. There are hotlines that have been set up for people to call in with examples of voter fraud. The Trump campaign is nowhere near conceding and is still pursuing these lawsuits and I think their supporters in the street and on social media are going to continue to support them in those efforts.
Tanzina: Alice Wilder is a freelance reporter in North Carolina. Alice, thanks for joining Us.
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