When 'Stop The Steal' Became A Mob, Arizona Stood Front And Center

By Ron Dungan
Published: Thursday, February 25, 2021 - 5:10am
Updated: Thursday, February 25, 2021 - 7:54am

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Jake Angeli
Hope O’Brien/Cronkite News
Jake Angeli at a protest in Phoenix following the November 2020 election.

There didn’t seem to be much of a plan. The presidential election was over, and Joe Biden won. Ordinarily, that would be the end of it, but there was nothing ordinary about 2020.

President Donald Trump said the election had been stolen from him. His supporters backed him at rallies, like one in Arizona, where people carried signs that said “stop the steal.”

Some carried flags or guns. There were signs that referred to QAnon, an online conspiracy theory. But the rally was peaceful and had a carnival-like atmosphere, with flags, speeches and songs.

Allegations of election fraud continued, and as Congress gathered to certify the Electoral College votes, protesters gathered outside the U.S. Capitol.

Arizona played a role in what happened next.

Chuck Coughlin
Jimmy Jenkins/KJZZ
Chuck Coughlin

“Since Arizona starts with A, ­we’re at the top of the list,” said political consultant Chuck Couglin, president of HighGround, Inc.

Arizona’s vote was close, just more than 10,000 votes, and Rep. Paul Gosar chose to challenge the vote, Coughlin said.

As Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema wrapped up her remarks on Gosar’s challenge, protesters stormed the Capitol.

Stop the Steal had become a mob.

Just about every faction of the far-right had a presence — QAnon, the Proud Boys, the Oath Keepers and others.

Coughlin says that factionalism could weaken the Republican Party moving forward.

“I can’t speak to individual QAnon, or Antifa, or Patriot movements,” Coughlin said. “I think they’re all the same. I look at them as all the same, because they all feed on division, they all feed on hate, they all feed on the success of partisan division.”

Some protesters who roamed the Capitol had Arizona ties. In photos, Jacob Anthony Chansley, also known as Jake Angeli, was front and center. He stood shirtless, dressed in a fur cap with horns, holding a spear with an American flag attached. The Q Shaman.

“He’s obviously a very memorable figure, I think deliberately so,” said Jack Bratich of Rutgers University. QAnon derives from a mysterious online figure, who alleges that a cabal of Democrats and Hollywood insiders are involved in child sex traffic, Satin worship and cannibalism. Trump was supposed to bring an end to it.

Hope O’Brien/Cronkite News
Jake Angeli at a protest in Phoenix following the election.

“I think what QAnon gave protesters is again, a kind of a mission, a fanaticism and a belief that they’re working for a kind of crusade, for an apocalyptic crusade,” Bratich said.

Q made bold predictions that did not come true, but that never seemed to matter to QAnon backers, who had a slogan: Trust the plan.

“There’s this, the phrase ‘trust the plan’ overrides even these failed prophecies and failed predictions,” Bratich said. “And that’s what Q kind of is, is like, an insider, but he or they is also a kind of prophet, but mostly wrong, right?”

Some groups on the far right believe that a revolution, or a race war, is coming. But that hasn’t happened. A number of protesters await trial, and there are signs that the extreme right has begun to splinter. A group of academics who track extremists met online a few days after the storming of the Capitol.

“There will be some enduring popularity for this movement. And that means that there will always be a temptation for politicians to court, and feed this movement, because they'll get great political utility from doing so,” said Emerson Brooking, of the Atlantic Council.

Some of the faithful believe, for reasons that are not clear, that Trump will be sworn into office on March 4. Other QAnon supporters have begun to have doubts. A few have left the movement. 

“We're at a point of transition,” Brooking said. “If your motivation for going to the Capitol on the sixth or even for spreading and actively participating in some extremist forums was tied to your support of President Trump, that's been severely tested now.”

Some Republicans want to move on, but others continue to dispute the election.

As some commentators have observed, there are congressmen and women who still believe: QAnon may splinter and fade, but it’s not going away.

It’s a voting bloc.

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