Keith Scott says January 6, 2021, was “the greatest day” of his life.
The 49-year-old had arrived in Washington, DC, as a member of the “Stop the Steal” movement, which believes former President Donald Trump’s lies that the 2020 election was stolen from him, and marched to the US Capitol with them.
“I felt like a patriot that was standing beside our Founding Fathers speaking up against King George,” Scott told CNN in an interview on the one-year anniversary of the insurrection.
A year on, Scott is blunt about the movement he was a part of, calling it a cult. His story is complicated – he still believes much of the “Stop the Steal” propaganda, for example – but his journey is illustrative of how Americans like him, who said he had never attended a Donald Trump rally, get caught up in a movement based on misinformation and how it takes over their lives.
Scott, who was living on the south side of Atlanta during the 2020 election, was angry at Fox for calling Arizona for now-President Joe Biden, so he started listening to Alex Jones, a conspiracy theorist who had Trump on his show in 2015. Scott heard an ad for a “Stop the Steal” caravan, so he went to see it in Atlanta.
That was just the beginning. He spent the next few months living mostly in his car, driving through the night and across the country to almost every “Stop the Steal” rally.
“I felt like we were doing something,” Scott said. “If nothing else, we were showing patriotism, because we were standing up for – whether we were right or not – we felt like we were standing up, making our voices be heard.”
There’s no evidence of widespread election fraud in the 2020 presidential contest, and Biden’s victory in the Peach State has been affirmed by both hand and machine recounts. Trump and his allies’ efforts to throw Trump a victory in the state are the subject of a criminal probe from the district attorney in Scott’s home of Fulton County, who has said she’s probing “his attempts to influence the administration of the 2020 Georgia general election.”
There were several times Scott said he thought he was done protesting, only to be reeled back in. He missed Thanksgiving with his family, in part, he said, because they objected to his hanging around so many people without masks as Covid-19 surged through the country. After a protest in Lansing, Michigan, he was ready to drive back to Atlanta, when someone told him the “Stop the Steal” website had been updated: in 36 hours, they were to have an event in Phoenix, where Rudy Giuliani – Trump’s one-time lawyer – would supposedly present evidence of election fraud.
He was off to Phoenix, where he was beginning to learn about the fringe groups and characters that started to attach themselves to the “Stop the Steal” movement. He says he heard Jacob Chansley, the “QAnon shaman,” who has since been sentenced to 41 months in prison for his role in the insurrection, address the crowd.
A buddy of Scott’s at the protest said to him, “These Q people are nuts.” Scott played along. “So I go, ‘Yeah, the Q people are crazy.’ … I just wanted to seem like I was in the know. I didn’t know what Q was.”
Before long, he was driving 30 hours to another rally in Alpharetta, Georgia. At this point, Scott said, “I was not in control of my actions.” He was addicted, he now says. “I felt like I needed to be there. I felt like my voice mattered.”
And he kept thinking he’d soon hear the evidence he was looking for – from Giuliani, or Trump-connected lawyer Sidney Powell or Trump’s former national security adviser Michael Flynn. “The people that were giving evidence of election fraud, so to speak, it was the same message that we had heard a day before or weeks before. It was, ‘It’s coming. It’s coming. It’s going to be revealed,’” Scott said. “Just keeping us holding on for the next breath.”
He did hold on, missing Christmas with his family that year as he traveled to Washington, DC, ahead of January 6. On the day of the riot, he ended up near an entrance on the west side of the Capitol. He watched people fight with police, smash windows and climb inside. Scott said he did not go inside the Capitol, and he has not been contacted by the FBI. As of Tuesday, 209 people have pleaded guilty to Capitol attack-related charges. More than 700 have been charged.
Scott says he saw “bad” things that day “regardless of which side you’re on.” But he added that “the people that actually, you know, had physical confrontations with police officers, they should be held accountable for that.” And he said he did wonder at the time, “How far is this gonna go? How does this end? This doesn’t end well.”
When it was all over, he visited a friend in Texas, where he said he kept muttering to himself that he felt like he just got out of a cult. His friend suggested maybe he had. A couple days later, Scott decided to write a book called “Election Fraud Cult,” which he’s hoping will help warn people about joining similar movements.
“My point is to look out for people,” Scott said, noting he’d met people who lost their jobs or were estranged from their families because they spent all their time on “Stop the Steal.”
“Whether it’s politics or something else, don’t get so caught up that you’re not making your own decisions anymore.”