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The cult

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MOBILE, AL- AUGUST 21: Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump greets supporters after his rally at Ladd-Peebles Stadium on August 21, 2015 in Mobile, Alabama. The Trump campaign moved tonight’s rally to a larger stadium to accommodate demand. (Photo by Mark Wallheiser/Getty Images)

There are three kinds of people in the United States at the moment: those who believe a fact — Joe Biden won the election — those who believe a fascistic Big Lie crafted by Donald Trump and amplified by the words and deeds of countless Republican politicians all across the country — Trump won the election but it was stolen from him by massive amounts of voter fraud — and those who are so detached and alienated that they have no real opinion on the matter.

I’d put the percentages at roughly 40/30/30. Behold some representatives of the middle 30%:

A few hours after President Trump was impeached for inciting an insurrection Wednesday, a group of Republicans gathered at a suburban Cincinnati movie theater.

The program? To hear firsthand from six Trump loyalists who attended the Jan,. 6 rally in Washington D. C. – the very rally that ended with a riot at the U.S. Capitol and the second impeachment for the president.

Federal agents are arresting those who stormed the Capitol, and virtually every Republican has denounced the violence.

Chris Hicks, a Clermont County Republican and leader of Clermont for Trump organization, wanted the public to hear from local people who went.

The 40 people who showed up to the R.J. Cinema and Distillery in Union Township Wednesday didn’t blame Trump for the riot that ensued.

“I support him more than I ever did,” Doug Gerrard, of Owensville, told The Enquirer outside the theater. “He still speaks for me. He’s being attacked by the news media. He’s being attacked by the Democrats, I don’t think it’s for any reason.”

Recent polls show such views aren’t unusual among Republicans. A Quinnipiac University poll out Monday shows majorities of Republicans believe there was widespread election fraud, do not hold Trump responsible for the storming of the Capitol, and see Trump as protecting, rather than undermining, democracy.

Hicks opened the night by asking the audience a few questions. Is their support for Trump increasing, decreasing or staying the same?

The mostly maskless audience used clickers to record their vote. On the big screen, a bar graphed flashed showing 77% of the 40 people there liked the president more in the past week; 23% had the same opinion. Not one had a lower opinion of the president.

East of Cincinnati in suburban and rural Clermont County – a county President Donald Trump won with 68% of the vote – Trump still has ardent supporters.

Many of the people at the theater didn’t want to give their names to The Enquirer, even those on the panel who said they attended the Jan. 6 rally. None on the panel said they entered the Capitol and had no idea the Capitol was breached until after they left.

One gave her name to The Enquirer before the event.

Cindy Alvey, a Pierce Township resident, went to Washington, D.C. with a few friends to hear Trump speak. She didn’t know anything was wrong until an alert came on her phone that the mayor of Washington, D.C. announced a curfew. She left the rally shortly after that.

“The bottom line is, 99.9 percent walked calmly, peacefully to the Capitol and stood around with our flags,” Alvey told The Enquirer.

Alvey and others on the panel described a rally with little police presence, which concerned them, particularly as people started scaling walls and trees outside the Capitol.

“I’m thinking at the time, wait a minute, this guy is dangling from scaffolding and nobody is telling them this is a danger,” one of the women who attended the rally told the crowd Wednesday. She wouldn’t give her name. “You would think they would have a better protection, police saying something.”

Hicks said he wanted to organize the event to separate fact from fiction and didn’t want conspiracy theories to be repeated. But he had his work cut out for him.

Several on the panel repeatedly brought up Antifa, blaming the nebulous, loosely-knit group of left-wing activists for various aspects of the riot.

There is no evidence Antifa played any role in the riot at the Capitol. Public records revealed the mob that stormed the Capitol was made up overwhelmingly of Trump supporters, including Republican donors, Republican Party officials, far-right militants, military members, and adherents of the QAnon myth. Those attending the rally believed Trump’s baseless and repeatedly debunked claims that Joe Biden has stolen the election.

Hicks had to cut off several panelists who speculated about Antifa’s presence at the rally.

One panelist, who refused to give her name after the speech, recalled an awkward encounter in an elevator with a man dressed all in black at her hotel in Washington, D.C. the night before the rally. She tried to start a conversation with the man, telling him she was going to the Trump rally the next day.

“He goes, in a very solemn tone, ‘Well, that’s obvious from what you’re wearing,” she said. “When we got off, I said, Mark, I think he might be Antifa, that was weird.”

Hicks stopped her.

“I want to tell the panel, I do not want us to jump to conclusions,” Hicks said. “I’ve been to a lot of hotels and countries in the world and there’s lots of weirdos…That doesn’t make them anything.”

After the event, Hicks dismissed the conspiracy theories as part of politics. He didn’t think that took away from the overall message.

“What you heard tonight, there was no ‘We’re going to rush the Capitol,'” Hicks said. “They thought they were at another Trump rally.”

What are the options for dealing with a public in which three out of ten adults are basically in or at least on the margins of a literal cult, while another three don’t know or care that this is the case?

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