One day before Congress votes to certify that Joe Biden won the presidential election, Trump supporters who refuse to accept the reality of his defeat demonstrated in Washington again. The city is bracing for potentially violent protests, egged on by President Trump himself.
Though many Republican lawmakers, all 10 living former defense secretaries and election officials across the country have said Trump should stop attempting to overturn the results of the election, his refusal to do so has only energized his followers. One Wednesday demonstration has a National Park Service permit for up to 30,000 people. Trump said on Twitter that he will speak at 11 a.m. Wednesday and praised those who were echoing his inaccurate version of events in the streets.
“They won’t stand for a landslide election victory to be stolen,” he tweeted Tuesday evening.
I hope the Democrats, and even more importantly, the weak and ineffective RINO section of the Republican Party, are looking at the thousands of people pouring into D.C. They won’t stand for a landslide election victory to be stolen. @senatemajldr @JohnCornyn @SenJohnThune— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 5, 2021
For nearly eight hours, speakers repeated election conspiracy theories, closed their eyes to pray and shared discount codes for MyPillow, a company owned by a Trump ally.
Shortly before 8 p.m., they danced to a part-country, part-rap song, “Roger Stone did nothing wrong.” Stone, who was pardoned by Trump for lying to Congress and obstructing justice, appeared onstage in a pinstripe suit and feathered fedora, swinging his hips to the tune.
“I have two words to say,” Stone began. “Thank you, Jesus.”
He then launched into a speech comparing the investigation into his wrongdoing to centuries of abuses and terror inflicted on Black people. He claimed he was the subject of a “legal lynching.” He said Trump “freed this slave” referring to himself.
The mostly White crowd howled their support, chanting his name.
“I’m glad to be with you, but these days I’m glad to be anywhere other than the federal penitentiary,” Stone said.
All day, the crowd ranted against the need for masks, vaccines and precautions against the virus that has killed more than 355,000 Americans.
“I’m going to give everyone three action steps … turn to the person next to you and give them a hug,” one speaker exhorted the crowd. “Someone you don’t know … it’s a mass-spreader event! It’s a mass-spreader event!”
D.C. police are not enforcing the District’s mask mandate, despite the worsening coronavirus surge. The District is averaging 233 new coronavirus cases daily, and hospitalizations are up 12 percent compared with last week. The Washington region set a daily record for new coronavirus infections Friday.
Local law enforcement will instead focus on arresting anyone who is unlawfully armed, while the National Guard works to manage crowds and block streets. D.C. police said that shortly before 2 p.m. Tuesday, officers pulled over a North Carolina bus for a traffic violation at Ninth Street and Constitution Avenue NW. Police said one person inside, who has not yet been identified, possessed two firearms — a rifle and a semiautomatic handgun — along with a drum magazine. Such magazines can hold additional bullets. U.S. Park Police, with the assistance of D.C. police, later arrested another man at Freedom Plaza who was seen “with a handgun under his jacket.”
In all, D.C. police made five arrests Tuesday and Park Police made one. Charges included weapons violations and assault.
In recent weeks, right-wing groups have used the conservative social media site Parler and the encrypted messaging app Telegram to plot how to sneak guns into the District, where there are laws banning open carry and prohibiting firearms on federal lands and near protests.
Recent pro-Trump protests have already ended in violent skirmishes. In December, members of the Proud Boys, a male-chauvinist organization with ties to white nationalism, spent hours attempting to reach activists in Black Lives Matter Plaza, being repeatedly blocked by police. Later in the evening, four people were stabbed amid a crowd of Proud Boys and Trump supporters near Harry’s Bar, which has become a Proud Boys gathering spot.
Late Tuesday, there was another skirmish. A group of about 200 Trump supporters marched to the police line at Black Lives Matter Plaza just before 10:15 p.m. Punches were thrown at the line and a woman was bloodied. It was unclear how the clash started or whether any arrests were made. Police used pepper spray to help disperse the crowd. A D.C. Fire and EMS Department spokesman said a woman and two D.C. police officers were taken to a hospital with minor injuries from the altercation at BLM Plaza and I Street NW.
But when the leader of the Proud Boys, Enrique Tarrio, returned to the District for this week’s events, he was arrested. D.C. police took him into custody Monday afternoon on a warrant charging him with burning a Black Lives Matter banner taken from Asbury United Methodist Church during the December demonstration.
He faces a misdemeanor charge of destruction of property and two felony counts of possessing extended gun magazines at the time of his arrest.
On Tuesday afternoon, Tarrio appeared in D.C. Superior Court, where he pleaded not guilty. A judge released him but banned him from the District, pointing to his social media posts in which he threatens to set fire to more signs. Tarrio could be arrested if he is seen anywhere in the District.
Later, the crowds in Freedom Plaza would turn his name into a chant: “En-ri-que!”
They cheered for a Michigan lawmaker, a pastor who told them it was “time for war,” and a man wearing a patch representing the far-right armed group Three Percenters, who told them to “Fight! Fight! Fight!”
Arielle Early, 17, flew from Northern California after she saw Trump’s tweets calling for demonstrators to descend on the nation’s capital.
“What I love about Trump is that he rallies people to come here and fight,” she said.
Early said she dropped out of school in 2017 after being bullied for supporting Trump. But on Instagram, she found a community of like-minded young Trump die-hards. She plans to meet up with those virtual friends this week in Washington.
Diane Marney, a 62-year-old real estate agent who lives in Wyoming, said she sees this week’s demonstrations as the single most important event in her lifetime. She worries about what a Biden administration will mean for her son, who works in a coal mine. She compared her decision to come to D.C. to her grandson’s decision to serve in the military.
“I want to do the same as him,” she said. “Just not with a gun.”
An afternoon rainstorm sent some demonstrators scurrying toward their hotels, but hundreds remained as streetlights flicked on over a sea of Trump flags, yellow “Don’t Tread on Me” banners and signs that read “Mask Free Zone.”
One man held a wood carving that resembled a can of Twisted Tea. Chris Bouland, 43, said it represented the viral video of a Black man at a gas station who hit a White man in the face with a can after the man would not stop calling him the n-word. The beverage then exploded, sending tea flying. The video has been shared countless times, set to music and remixed.
Bouland, who traveled from Arkansas, said the video reminded him of his fellow Trump supporters.
“You know, if you mess with us, you don’t want to open that can of ass whooping,” he said.
He and his wife, Jo, are planning to wake up early Wednesday to be there for Trump’s expected 11 a.m. speech at the Ellipse.
“This is not about Democrats versus Republicans, or Trump versus Biden,” she said. “This is about good versus evil. This is about saving our country.”
Behind them, the crowd of hundreds at Freedom Plaza began to recite the Pledge of Allegiance.
“With liberty,” they concluded, “And justice for all.”
Keith L. Alexander, Fredrick Kunkle and Martin Weil contributed to this report.