A private Facebook group called “Primary John Thune in 2022” has attracted over 3,000 members. One of them, Bruce W. Whalen, said Thune’s refusal to support Trump’s claims of fraud has fueled interest.

“We can’t understand as South Dakotans why Thune, (Sen. Mike) Rounds and (Rep. Dusty) Johnson can’t see what we see,” he said.

Whalen had contemplated traveling to Washington for Trump’s protest, convinced that Thune, whom he called a “never-Trumper,” was letting the election be stolen. As Whalen watched on television as a mob of Trump supporters attacked the Capitol, he remembers almost instantly being convinced they were actually antifa activists. Antifa is shorthand for anti-fascists and is a broad description for the far-left-leaning militant groups that resist neo-Nazis and white supremacists at demonstrations and other events.

Whalen, who in 2006 had enough GOP support to represent the party in a statewide race for Congress, now sees Trump’s impeachment trial as “lofty accusations that they are trying to slime him with.”