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Contrasting Rallies Meet At Ohio Statehouse As Biden Wins Presidency

The first ones downtown were the wizards. Decked out in long cloaks and pointy hats, they were roaming around the Statehouse on Saturday morning playing a geocaching game when political organizers from across the spectrum descended on Capitol Square.

In front of the Statehouse's west side stairs, supporters of President Donald Trump toting signs like “Stop The Steal” and “Four More Years” took turns with the bullhorn. Almost no one work masks, and people gathered in close as they chanted slogans. 

Joe Healy from the Trump Club of Columbus and Central Ohio, helped organize the noontime gathering – which was planned even before the Associated Press and other media organizations called the presidential race for Democratic former Vice President Joe Biden.

Healy opened up on the bullhorn with a prayer.

“Oh God, the enemies of freedom have conspired to steal this election, and they are corruptly committing voter fraud as we speak. Put it to a stop, oh God,” he said. “Strengthen our hands, strengthen the president and all his legal team, and all this assistants to root out this fraud.”

Trump and his supporters have continued to make baseless claims of voter fraud in the days following Election Day, as several key states worked to complete their counts of legally-cast absentee, mail-in and provisional ballots. Trump has thus far refused to concede, falsely claims that the contest is "far from over," and says he will pursue legal challenges against the results.

Joe Healy leading prayer.
Credit Nick Evans / WOSU
Joe Healy leading prayer.

Among many of the speakers, there was a similar blend of evangelical prayer and conspiracy theory – casting the moment in almost apocalyptic terms, as a struggle against evil and the wicked.

One woman prayed, “Please bring us peace, no matter who wins.” She was shouted down with angry cries of “No!” before altering course: “We won, we won. But please let it be peaceful, God.”

Rich Hoffman came in from Cincinnati, and was the first to directly address the AP's announcement that Biden had carried Pennsylvania and reached the 270 Electoral Votes needed to win the presidency. The news brought a chorus of boos from the crowd, and Hoffman suggested the AP called the race to distract from a press conference held by Trump’s legal team in Philadelphia.

He urged the crowd to reject reports that Biden won, and made vague suggestions toward opposing the president-elect with violence.

“There are two options,” Hoffman said. “We can win this with the rule of law and court, it might take a few months, it’s going to be a long process but we can handle it, right? Or, we play the game a different way, and we don’t want to talk that way right now, but I think we all know what we’re talking about.”

A group of Trump supporters confronting a man who showed up with a large Biden sign.
Credit Nick Evans / WOSU
A group of Trump supporters confronting a man who showed up with a large Biden sign.

Around the corner, on the north side of the Statehouse, progressive organizers held a gathering of their own. But while Trump supporters evinced a kind of vehement obstinacy, the mood among the winning side wasn’t giddy triumphalism.

Speakers like Andrew Lin, from Socialist Alternative, talked instead about the policy work on health care or climate change that will only be harder with the U.S. Senate likely in Republican hands.

“Joe Biden won’t fight for any of that unless we make him,” Lin said.

“And we can’t rely on the government to fight the far right,” Lin went on, as a counter protester ran in cursing Biden and waving a “Don’t Tread On Me" flag hanging from a red, white and blue baseball bat. 

Ohio State Highway Patrol officers, who were stationed outside the Statehouse, quickly intervened and asked the man to leave.

A group of pro-Biden demonstrators on the north side of the statehouse.
Credit Nick Evans / WOSU
A group of pro-Biden demonstrators on the north side of the statehouse.

Activist Morgan Harper, who ran a popular but unsuccessful primary challenge for Columbus’ congressional seat, spoke as well – assuring the group that progressive activism played an important role in securing Biden’s victory.

Harper told the crowd to enjoy the day, but be ready to get back to work tomorrow. 

“I want to encourage people to take a little bit of a breather, because the last four years have been taxing for all of us as a country,” Harper said afterward. “But the main point is, it was taxing for a lot of us before Trump. Our problems did not begin with Donald Trump, he accelerated them.”

As of Saturday afternoon, few Republican officials in Ohio had publicly acknowledged Biden's victory. Lt. Gov. Jon Husted – a former Secretary of State and the co-chair for Trump's re-election campaign in Ohio – said in a tweet that "it appears Joe Biden will be declared the winner of last week's election & when election officials declare the final results, we should honor the outcome."