Hauppauge, New York – “Keep America Great” flags rippled in the wind. One woman clung to a cardboard cutout mask of United States President Donald Trump’s face. QAnon believers, far-right militia supporters and anti-vaxxers mingled.
“We will not comply!” the crowd chanted. Virtually no one wore protective face coverings.
“There’s election fraud,” Claribel Rodriguez, 36, told Al Jazeera.
The 36-year-old doula insisted the vote was marred by “statistical inconsistencies”.
“It would be nice to know exactly what happened – what the truth is,” she added. “There’s a lot of weird stuff going on.”
Nearby, a vendor hawked “stop the steal” T-shirts.
“The election was stolen from [Trump],” said Gene Schaefer.
The 21-year-old, wearing an American flag as a cape, was confident Trump was poised for another four years in the Oval Office.
“As long as the [US] Constitution prevails, he’ll end up winning,” he added.
Indeed, an overwhelming majority of Republican voters are convinced Trump was cheated, despite elections officials, cybersecurity experts, and the president’s own attorney general insisting otherwise.
“I’m holding out hope that Trump is going to overcome this fraudulent election,” Eric Singh, an Oyster Bay web designer, echoed. “They’ll bring out all the evidence very soon. When it happens, the left will be very surprised.”
He argued that Biden’s entire family is “corrupt,” and accused mainstream media of wrongfully propping up the president-elect.
“The media doesn’t decide who becomes president – the president is elected by the people,” he added. “The media is doing all that they can to delegitimise the investigation that Trump’s legal team is doing.”
“They kicked out all GOP poll watchers, they wouldn’t allow them in,” Singh explained. “They kicked them all out, after they said, we’re stopping the count, and then they resumed the count after they kicked everyone out. That’s not transparency.”
‘A 50-50 shot’
“Do I think there was a massive fraud in the election? Absolutely,” Danny Kikel, the bartender at a German pub in Queens, said.
“Our entire election system is compromised. Some people think that Trump still has a chance, others don’t. But everybody agrees that the election is a corrupt disaster,” he said.
Mike Reyes, a Black Trump supporter in Manhattan, agreed.
“I believe it was rigged – it was foul play,” said Reyes, 32.
Reyes, who said the cost of his mother’s diabetes medication plummeted during the Trump presidency, hypothesised that he could still seize a second term in the exceedingly rare event of a “contingent election.”
“It’s a 50-50 shot that Trump gets another four years,” he said.
The red ripple
The liberal metropolis that forged Trump is notorious for its prickly relationship with the president. Yet Trump scored 92,000 more votes in New York City in 2020 than in 2016, according to in-person voting data compiled by the City University of New York’s Center for Urban Research.
“It is surprising but there is a very much silent [conservative] majority that lives in New York City,” Martha Ayon, a Democratic political strategist, told Al Jazeera. “We call ourselves this diverse, wonderful mosaic, but that mosaic also represents voters and people that view Trump as a leader and someone that’s effective, and represents their values.”
Conservative pockets in South Brooklyn, Queens, and Staten Island also drove the city’s red ripple, Ayon said.
“From Throgs Neck [in the Bronx] to South Shore, Staten Island – even in the bluest parts, there’s always conservatives – we’ve always co-mingled,” she added.
Latino support for Trump
Trump’s “law and order” presidency also resonated among religious conservatives and small business owners in the Bronx’s Latino neighbourhoods, particularly in the wake of George Floyd’s death and the unrest that followed.
“The Latino community thinks that defunding the police is ridiculous,” explained Fernando Acosta, Jr, chairman of outreach for the New York Young Republican Club. “We’re working class – all we want to do is work for our families, provide food for our families. They want to know they have a proper lifeline when it comes to police.”
Acosta, too, wasn’t yet prepared to accept a Biden presidency.
“There is definitely a legal path for Donald J Trump,” he said. “If he sees it, I’m not going to question the guy that has made a career taking risks.”
“A lot of Latino friends who come from socialist nations are getting very, very scared that they might experience some kind of socialism wave here in the United States and lose the freedoms they fled those countries for,” said Javier Castro, 28.
Castro, a South Bronx poll worker, is not only convinced election fraud occurred – he said he witnessed voter interference first-hand at the polls on election day.
“I saw influencing and interfering on behalf of individuals who supported Joe Biden,” Castro recalled. “Even my Democratic friends think something is off.”
He alleged that left-leaning poll workers steered and pressured vulnerable and first-time voters to vote for Biden. Castro, who reported the suspicious activity to elections officials, however, claimed his complaints were ignored.
“It was definitely interference and it’s a shame we’re not looking into it more than we are.”
The ‘myth’ of voter fraud
For years, Trump has fanned the flames of voter fraud conspiracies.
In 2016, he declared, without evidence, that “millions of people” voted “illegally” for his opponent Hillary Clinton after he lost the popular vote. The president’s own legal team, however, ultimately contradicted him, stating in court documents (PDF) that the election wasn’t “tainted” by “fraud or mistake”.
This year, Trump’s voter fraud hotline was also shuttered after being overrun by prank callers and TikTok trolls.
“Allegations of voter fraud are largely a fraud themselves,” political scientist Lorraine Minnite explained.
Minnite, one of the county’s leading voter fraud experts, said individual cases of voter fraud in US elections are exceptionally rare. Organised voter fraud, she said – historically and now – is a myth.
“There has been no evidence brought forth by the Trump campaign that widespread voter fraud occurred during the 2020 election,” she said. “These are deliberate efforts by the Trump campaign to deceive people.”
Dozens of Trump’s lawsuits, aimed at reversing election results, she noted, have fizzled in courts around the country. Minnite described the Trump campaign’s scorched-earth legal strategy as “norm-busting”, “sloppy” and “mind-boggling.”
“[Trump] is trying to change reality,” she added.
Each year, a tiny handful of voter fraud allegations materialise into convictions. Between 2002 and 2005, Minnite found only 24 people were convicted of or pleaded guilty to illegal voting. Other investigations into illegal voting in recent years have yielded similar results.
A five-year probe into voter fraud conducted by the US Department of Justice during the tenure of President George W Bush produced only 86 criminal convictions.
“There’s a low rate of voter fraud convictions because there’s hardly any voter fraud committed,” Minnite said. “When it does happen, law enforcement follows up and does prosecute people.”
Election fraud fearmongering, Minnite said, also functions as a tool of voter suppression, particularly in minority or disenfranchised communities.
“It lays the foundation for justifications for rules to make it harder for people to vote,” Minnite said.
She pointed to a series of restrictive photo identification laws, passed in the past decade, which have minimised Black voter turnout in some cities across the country.
“Allegations of voter fraud can function as propaganda … used to justify restrictions on access to the ballot, and those restrictions have had a disproportionate effect on lower-income people,” Minnite said.
However, since the time of President Barack Obama, who turned out historic numbers of Black voters, the GOP has forcibly ramped up voter fraud messaging.
“That was a big contributor to the Republican Party’s turn in this direction of manufacturing this false narrative about voter fraud,” Minnite said. “It’s in part a reaction to Barack Obama – that’s really nationalised it.”
“If everybody can vote, they [Republicans] won’t win,” Minnite said.
‘People are mad’
As the sun set over Long Island, several maskless Trump loyalists lingered in the parking lot.
John Gilmore, a greying and bespectacled anti-immunisation lobbyist, was sceptical, but held fast to the fantasy that Trump could still somehow overturn the election results, as he strolled to his car.
“I think it’s a possibility,” Gilmore said. “ A lot of different things need to break the president’s way.”
Others, though, were less optimistic about Trump’s chances.
“I don’t see this ending well,” said Kevin Smith, a 31-year-old comedian. “There’s a shot – not a very good one.”
Smith, who called mail-in voting “absurd”, doesn’t doubt the election was rigged, but said it was time to throw in the towel.
“I want him [to win] but I just don’t see it happening,” he added.
Smith, instead, offered a grim prediction, whether Trump ultimately concedes or not.
“There’s going to be violence in the streets,” he said. “People are mad. People feel like this has been taken from them.”