It was still dark at 6 a.m. Wednesday in the Candlers Station Shopping Center parking lot, but the floodlights were enough to illuminate the steady stream of MAGA hats and posters, and a larger-than-life print-out of President Trump's face slung over someone's back.
More than a hundred Lynchburg-area residents boarded buses to Washington, D.C., ready to join the rallies and protests planned to contest "election fraud," coinciding with the congressional vote to certify President-elect Joe Biden's win in the Electoral College. Officials are estimating some 30,000 protestors for the "Save America March," among other rallies, and Mayor Muriel Bowser requested a limited National Guard deployment to help bolster the Metropolitan Police Department.
The plans to bus Lynchburg residents to the protests generated immediate interest, said organizer Amber Haskew. With a little more notice, she said, they could have filled even more bus seats, and the two buses that were chartered were packed, stopping in Bedford County to pick up protesters before its Lynchburg stop.
Haskew, who works with Liberty Counsel Action, a conservative organization that engages in litigation related to evangelical Christian values, said Liberty Counsel Action is taking accusations of election fraud very seriously. She and the group have worked on the front lines to expose the alleged misconduct, she said, and were working closely with other area conservative groups to organize the efforts to get Lynchburg protestors to D.C.
"We are working hard to make our voices heard, and encourage our legislators to respect the process by ensuring that it is one of integrity," Haskew said. "The message that we are trying to get out is that we don’t want to bow to fraud. There is a constitution, and there is a process to fix what has happened to our nation, and we hope that our representatives will take action and will stand on truth."
The buses heading to D.C., and the multi-car caravan following in their wake, are a testament to that, she said.
Some elected officials representing the Lynchburg area, including newly sworn-in U.S. Rep. Bob Good, R-5th, have also backed the accusations of fraud. Good planned to be part of the movement to object to the certification of the Electoral College results, according to a statement released by his office. U.S. Rep. Ben Cline, R-6th, also released a statement announcing that he would support objections to the certification process.
On Tuesday, three Virginia delegates — Del. Ronnie Campbell, R-Rockbridge; Del. Mark Cole, R-Spotsylvania; and Del. Dave LaRock, R-Loudoun — sent a letter to Vice President Mike Pence asking him to nullify the state's election results.
Despite allegations of voter fraud and Trump's continued attempts to contest the election results, election officials from both political parties, governors in key battleground states and Trump's former attorney general, William Barr, have said there was no widespread fraud in the election. Nearly all the legal challenges from Trump and his allies have been dismissed by judges, including two rejected by the Supreme Court.
Ann Parker, another of the organizers in Lynchburg, helped to shepherd people onto the buses and said she was excited to be a part of something "a little bit bigger."
Until this election, she said, she had always trusted politicians to do the right thing, but this year, there was reason to begin to doubt them.
She hopes for more voter transparency and said she wants to ensure greater election integrity.
"Today isn’t the last day; today is going to be the first day. We encourage everyone to get involved," she said.
For some, this past year was the first time they had been spurred to take to the streets and protest. Levi West said this was a cause that made him "get up and go do something."
"I love freedom and I want to be an American," West said. "If there is fraudulent voting going on, then that wouldn’t be freedom.”
Albert Wilson, donning a Trump 2020 hat and face mask, echoed this call to "patriotism."
Some of those waiting by the open bus doors were there to offer rides to any overflow passengers. Of those packed on the bus, Wilson was one of the few wearing a mask, though he removed it for a quick smoke break in the lot before departure.
Without Trump, Wilson said the country would "deteriorate," and it was the younger generation that would suffer.