Some of the faithful had arrived in the area days in advance from as far away as Florida or Texas, waiting to hear the former president trot out a familiar list of grievances.
Their patience was soon rewarded.
“We are done having our lives controlled by politicians in Washington. We are done with the mandates,” he said, in reference to rules brought in to control the coronavirus pandemic.
“The radical Democrats want to turn the United States into a communist country,” he continued.
“We won those elections. We won them big. We can’t let them get away with it.”
Earlier speakers had kept to similar themes, slamming 2020 election victor President Joe Biden as “weak” and “deranged,” and taking aim at the “lamestream media,” who were duly booed by the crowd.
It was a greatest hits of Trumpism, playing all the expected notes: a stolen election, the unfairness of the media, open borders and how the United States has become “a laughing stock all over the world.”
There was a carnival feeling for much of the day.
Flags proclaiming “Trump 2020” and “Trump 2024” fluttered in the desert wind, as chants of “Let’s Go Brandon” erupted from the good-natured crowd. The slogan has become code in right-wing circles after a news reporter mistook coarse anti-Biden chants.
“It’s just a party atmosphere,” said Jonathan Riches, who was attending his 40th Trump rally.
“It’s almost like a MAGA Woodstock. It’s patriots from around the country getting together for the common good of this country. We love our president.”
MAGA is an acronym for Trump’s 2016 campaign call to “Make America great again.”
While some filtered out as Trump was still speaking, perhaps to escape the parking crush, those who stayed until the end declared themselves happy with what they had heard.
“He’s encouraging, because he’s not giving up and we’re not giving up because we’ve lost our country,” 58-year-old Tony Cunio said.
“I’m supporting him because I want the country to get back to where it was before.”
‘The biggest’ crowd
Trump abandoned a pledged press conference on January 6 — the anniversary of the invasion of the Capitol by his supporters — and the rally was his first major public outing since October.
As is customary, he proclaimed it to be “the biggest” crowd, going “further than the eye can see,” though accurate figures on attendance were not immediately available.
In the lead-up to his election win in 2016, and throughout his presidency, tens of thousands of supporters would throng venues to hear him speak.
But crowds have since dwindled, and Saturday’s turnout appeared to be far smaller than those of earlier rallies.
The gathering, on farmland in Florence, 60 miles (100 kilometers) from Phoenix, featured a raft of Republicans who have echoed Trump’s unsubstantiated claims that the 2020 election was fixed.
They included Kari Lake, whom Trump has endorsed for governor of Arizona in this year’s race. She has previously said she would not have certified Biden’s victory if she had been in office at the time.
Trump, who lost his Twitter megaphone for his claims about the poll, has been a much lower-key presence in US politics since leaving office.
But he still looms large in the Republican party, where adherence to his theories — or at least not publicly denying them — is often vital to survival for members of Congress and state legislatures.
Few Covid-19 precautions
Trump has largely shunned major media outlets since leaving office.
But last week, he ventured onto National Public Radio (NPR), where he said he recommends that people get vaccinated against Covid-19 — a hot-button issue in the United States, where there is widespread vaccine hesitancy on the right.
There were almost no masks or other anti-Covid precautions in evidence among the crowd in Florence, despite the Omicron variant wave that is washing over the United States.
Nationwide, more than 750,000 people a day are testing positive for the disease.
The rally comes 24 hours after pro-Trump TV channel OAN was dumped by its main distributor.
Trump had repeatedly directed his fans towards the conspiracy theory-peddling outlet, which is hoping to take a bite out of the market for right-wing viewers dominated by Fox News.
The event also comes after the founder of the Oath Keepers — a far-right militia group — and 10 others were indicted for seditious conspiracy over their role in the January 6 assault on the Capitol.