Nightly protests outside the White House began the evening that its resident made headlines in Helsinki. Now in its third week, it has morphed into equal parts demonstration, roast and dance party.
Unlike the Women’s March or March for Our Lives — single-day events attended by thousands — the modest, day-to-day rally dubbed the “Kremlin Annex” has a different flavor. Organizers welcome those who want to confront President Trump daily, at high volume.
The issues — a Supreme Court selection, family separations at the border, possible collusion with Russia — matter, they say. Which issue the protesters show up for doesn’t. “We don’t plan on stopping until Donald Trump is gone,” the group’s website says.
Philippe Reines, a longtime Hillary Clinton spokesman, said protests began July 16 after Trump appeared to side in Finland with Russian President Vladimir Putin, who denied his country interfered in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. That night, Reines tweeted: “If someone flew home from Helsinki they’d get back to DC around 9pm. Probably jet lagged. You know what I’d hate if I just got back & needed to sleep? A bunch of people outside my home with bullhorns & air horns.”
And a movement was born. Reines said the “common denominator” that kept protesters coming was a demand for accountability.
“There’s a sense if you don’t do it, it’s not going to get done,” he said.
Reines passed the baton to other activists, including Adam Parkhomenko, an Arlington native and former national field director for the Democratic National Committee.
“The umbrella is Putin and Russia,” Parkhomenko said. “Our ultimate goal is to get this guy out of office.”
Parkhomenko, whose father is Ukrainian, envisioned something like Ukraine’s Euromaidan, where demonstrators took to the streets for weeks in 2013 to protest that nation’s move toward Russia and away from the European Union. The protests, during which dozens were killed, led to the Ukrainian revolution and removal of President Viktor Yanukovych.
Euromaidan was organic, and the bill of fare changed daily — just as it does at the nightly White House protest, giving it a vaudevillian flavor. There are bands, speakers, stunts and the occasional celebrity.
The sampling of offerings has included appearances by actress Alyssa Milano and Stormy Daniels attorney Michael Avenatti, as well as members of Congress. On Day 10, there were protesters dressed as sharks, timed to Shark Week. There have also been mariachi bands, painters working on resistance-themed canvases and T. rexes holding signs that read “Back from extinction to protest.”
The size of the protests vary — Parkhomenko estimated more than 1,000 turned out to hear Avenatti, while other nights might see fewer than 100 people. Longtime Trump antagonist Rosie O’Donnell is scheduled for Monday.
Kremlin Annex organizers are accepting donations that benefit a political action committee aligned with the Democratic Party. The protests have cost about $9,000 so far — including payments for musical groups, a sound system and sign-making materials — while bringing in about $120,000 from 5,000 donors, Parkhomenko said.
“We have an opportunity to use our voice in a very different way than those in Ukraine,” Parkhomenko said. “Where in the world can you literally set up outside where the head of country lives with a sign that says ‘Treason?’ ”
Anne Alston, 76, of Herndon, Va., recently held the “T” in a “Treason” sign that was on display. Despite the pouring rain, Alston said she felt she couldn’t leave. She wondered whether those who embrace Trump’s “Make America Great Again” slogan wanted to return the country to a time when her ancestors were slaves or battled segregation.
“As long as they have this rally, I’ll come,” she said. “If we go home and don’t do anything, this country will disappear.”
The White House didn’t respond to requests for comment about the nightly gathering.
On a recent night of the protest, held from 7:30 p.m. to about 9 p.m., rain or shine, at Lafayette Square, unofficial emcee Justin Johnson was looking for a new chant. The end of the event was approaching, and Johnson had run through his best material.
There are serious chants in response to the administration’s border policies (“Kids need parents!”) or the midterm elections (“Vote blue!”). But Johnson, who calls Trump “Don-occhio” and criticizes his golf game (“We don’t need a president who hits bogeys”), chose something more lighthearted.
“Liar, liar, pants on fire!” he shouted into the mic. The crowd — about 100 people gathered on a night that couldn’t decide whether it was rainy or clear — gleefully amplified the schoolyard taunt.
Outside the White House, not everyone agrees with the Kremlin Annex protest agenda. There are tourists who wander by, bemused. There are people who simply want to take a picture with their children in front of the White House fence.
Some go by while wearing red “Make America Great Again” hats. Students with the conservative Young America’s Foundation walked by and began shouting, “Build the wall!”
One recent evening, protesters argued with Jarrett Wiggonton, of Franklin County, Va., a member of conservative group Turning Point USA. Wiggonton said he had come to see 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.
“From the alt-left and the alt-right, we need to come together as Americans,” he said as protesters chanted “Lock him up!” a short distance away. “What makes America great is open debate, different ideas and civil discussion. This is just nonsense.”
Others saw the protest as an outlet for venting frustrations for a few days while in the nation’s capital.
Chandra Prater, 33, a self-
described “stay-at-home mom” from Los Angeles, bought a plane ticket to Washington after Trump’s Helsinki summit. She called the Trump-Putin meeting “treasonous” and said she had to do something, joining the Kremlin Annex protest for three nights before returning to California.
“I wanted to say I did everything in my power to stop them,” she said. “The president is so unpredictable that I don’t think any of us know what will be effective. There is an element of stabbing in the dark.”