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'Not real… a witch-hunt': Trump voters' reaction to 'Hollywood-style' Capitol riots inquiry shows US is in a dangerous place


The details to emerge from the inquiry into the storming of the US Capitol on 6 January 2021 have been extraordinary.

An insurrection. An attempted coup. A president who did all he could to overturn an election he lost. A president who even encouraged the hanging of his own deputy.

But is anyone listening? Does anyone care? Or is American society so divided and so siloed that nothing will shift opinion?

We went to rural Pennsylvania to find out. But first, a little background.

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The purpose of the Capitol Hill committee has been to investigate what happened that day in January last year and in the months leading up to it. Crucially, the committee is examining the role Donald Trump played in it all.

From the start, the committee was dismissed by Mr Trump and his allies as a partisan witch-hunt.

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The panel consists of seven Democrats and just two Republicans, which feels pretty partisan.

But for those of us who have tuned in to the prime-time hearings, it has become plainly clear: it is not a Democratic Party witch-hunt.

One after the other, the witnesses there to expose Donald Trump as a corrupt, dangerous cheat have been Republicans, conservative ones at that; many of them one-time allies of the former president.

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‘The whole thing’s a witch-hunt’

That brings us to Kempton, Pennsylvania.

The intended audience for the hearings is people like farmers Harry and Mark, who I meet at the town’s annual summer fair.

“I think it was all orchestrated,” Harry tells me over a hot dog. He’s seen only snippets from the hearings. “It was a Hollywood presentation of something that’s not real.”

“I think the whole thing’s a witch-hunt…” fellow farmer Mark says.

Neither of them will give their surname. They are deeply suspicious of the “fake-news media” and only agreed to talk to me after they realised I wasn’t American – such is the state of things here.

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These two men, in their 60s, are a key focus for those who wish to try to prove that Donald Trump remains a persistent threat to the democratic structures in America.

Mark and Harry are not life-long Republicans, but were swayed by Donald Trump’s vision for America in 2016 and remain loyal to him today.

I put it to them that the witnesses spilling the beans at the hearings are Republicans; White House insiders who saw Mr Trump’s attempts to steal the election.

“Donald Trump has had people that call themselves his friends, stab him in the back over and over again,” Harry says.

“Do you think that he is honest and transparent, given what you’ve now heard?” I asked them.

Mark replies: “I do think that he has the interests of the country at heart.”

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‘A simple protest that got out of hand’

‘People that voted Biden – they’re turning’

The first stall to greet visitors to this small summer fair is chock-a-block full of “Trump 2024” merchandise.

The former president has left hanging whether he will run again in the 2024 presidential election. But here they would be delighted if he did.

“I truly believe he won the last election… in all my heart and soul,” the woman who runs the Trump stall tells me.

A banner with “Trump won: you know it, I know it” adorns the wall behind her. This central claim, entirely unproven, that Trump won the 2020 election has penetrated deep in communities across America.

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Biden: ‘He can’t accept he lost’

Consistent polling reveals that 70% of Republicans believe Donald Trump was the rightful winner in 2020 and that mass voter fraud delivered Joe Biden the White House.

Investigations have found no evidence to back this up.

“I hope he runs again,” another local, Sandy, tells me.

“He’s got your vote?” I ask.

“And everybody else I know,” Sandy says.

“And they will all vote for him again?” I ask.

“Oh, my God! Yeah. And people that voted for Biden that I’ve heard, they’re changing. They’re turning,” she says.

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Jan 6 Panel releases CCTV of man on Capitol tour

The persistent lure of Donald Trump and his tangible populist politics, combined with a bumpy 24 months in the White House for Joe Biden, suggests the midterm elections later this year will be dramatic to say the least.

The enduring power of Trumpism in communities across this nation is palpable. And with it, Mr Trump’s apparent disregard for the rule of law and truth seem to have penetrated deep.

More than a hundred of the Republican candidates for key political positions in upcoming local nationwide state elections back the rigged election claims.

If they win, they will be in powerful positions to interfere with the outcome of future elections or to block election certification, including the 2024 presidential race.

The search for ‘truth’

Judging the sheep shearing competition is Kelly. My conversation with her cuts to the heart of this nation’s problems.

It’s clear immediately that she is deeply sceptical of me as a journalist, but my foreign accent breaks the ice.

“As an American… how do you find out the truth?” I ask.

“I find out the truth because I do a lot of digging myself. I am on different applications with social media,” she says.

But that might not be the truth, I suggest.

“I think they need to have conversations with friends. I try to talk to my friends about what I think is going on versus what we’re being told by mainstream media,” she says.

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Watch: Extended Capitol riot footage

Like the farmers, Kelly is unwilling to give me her surname.

“Do I have to? Go with ‘Kelly’,” she says. “I am a little worried about the CIA and FBI…”

She suggests the FBI are working with the Democrats. It’s mad stuff, but not unusual.

Kelly is among millions, in an echo chamber where conspiracy theories stew.

It is a place where Donald Trump continues to convince people that they’ve been robbed and that they can’t trust their own elections.

That puts this country in a dangerous place.