Scores of demonstrators charged with rioting in the District on Friday were well organized, ready to confront police and prepared to violently disrupt the inauguration, according to some of the protesters and organizers.
Details of the disturbances in a four-square-block area downtown that led to more than 230 arrests began emerging after protesters made their first court appearances Saturday, a process that continued through the evening as defendants were brought into D.C. Superior Court in batches of 10. Most faced a felony charge of rioting, which carries a maximum 10-year prison sentence.
The preparation undertaken by protesters included arriving armed with hammers and crowbars, police said in court filings that also said officers moved in to make arrests after windows were broken on storefronts and a city emergency vehicle, and a parked limousine was set on fire shortly before President Trump’s swearing-in ceremony.
Before protesters took to the streets, leaders of an umbrella organization for the demonstration operated a detailed website, designated a media spokesman, had “street” medics to tend to injured demonstrators and said in news releases that the group included protesters who were willing to be arrested.
The group protesting in the District was accompanied by a volunteer lawyer from Colorado who was among those arrested, court records show.
Of those facing rioting charges, 70 were from the District, Maryland or Virginia, according to addresses they provided after their arrest, with the remainder from 24 other states, including large groups from New York and Pennsylvania.
The limousine set ablaze on K Street near 13th Street NW was attacked as an “explicit demonstration of our increasingly corporate state, which Trump’s presidency epitomizes,” said Tom Faison, 22, a District resident who works in film production and was part of the protests. He was not arrested but was outside court waiting for a friend who had been charged.
Faison said attacks were done with “nuance and intention,” while conceding that some may view the violence as undermining their cause. He said that what appeared chaotic was purposeful in its symbolism and that vandalism at a Starbucks shop and a Bank of America branch were executed as attacks on capitalism and corporate greed.
“That’s what we’re making a strong stand against. I think that all of Washington, D.C., feels that way, even if they wouldn’t express it in something that results in a limo getting burned,” said Lacy MacAuley of the District. MacAuley is the spokeswoman for DisruptJ20, a collection of anti-capitalist, antifascist and progressive groups rooted in the District and elsewhere that organized the protest.
“It may have been something we haven’t seen in a while in Washington, but there have been many times in our history where people have risen up and expressed that kind of rage, that kind of hatred directed toward fascism, toward authoritarianism,” MacAuley said.
And there wasn’t enough violence to suit Tom Massey, 32, of Philadelphia.
“I think there should have been more violence yesterday,” said Massey, who was among those arrested. Asked if he participated in the violence, Massey replied, “There were some rocks thrown.” He said that he hopes next time, demonstrations will be “more successful. I’ll get to punch a Nazi. I didn’t get to do that yesterday. The police stopped me.”
But others said the spectacle of broken glass, flame and police in riot gear undercut the message.
Casey Webber, a 27-year-old baker from the District, said he was acting as a medic, helping others, when he was arrested Friday.
He said he “hated” the fact that the protest had become violent. “I live in D.C. I don’t want any of that. I’m Quaker. It’s against my religion.” Webber said he had friends who were nervous about protesting so he went mostly to support them. He said he’s not an anarchist. “I work for a living,” he said.
The violence “helps demonize and delegitimize us,” said Payton McDonald, 23, of Ann Arbor, Mich. But, McDonald added, “The violence of the state needs to be met with a level of protest that complements it.”
Seth Cadman, 25, is from Virginia Beach but lives in Humboldt County, Calif., where he said he makes a living growing marijuana. He said he was “kind of in shock” after his arrest.
Cadman called himself an anarchist and said “when I heard about J20, I knew I had to be a part of it. I don’t like the idea of Donald Trump being my president.”
He said he and others were trying to “disrupt things” when police decide to make a “show of force.”
Defense attorneys and protesters complained of what they called harsh police tactics that included corralling hundreds of protesters into a spot at 12th and L streets NW and then arresting them, a process that took seven hours to complete.
They said the hardcore members responsible for much of the destruction, known as the “black bloc,” had escaped arrest before police corralled the group, or managed to push through the line of officers. Faison said that many of those arrested were not involved in the violence. “They were ideologically down but as far as actual charges, I’m 99 percent sure those people did nothing but assemble without a permit,” he said.
Longtime D.C. defense lawyer Heather Pinckney said that in the 15 years she has practiced, she does not remember seeing demonstrators charged with felonies. Typically, she said, protesters are charged with misdemeanors or given citations and sent home.
A spokesman for the U.S. attorney’s office said a felony is charged if any person suffers serious bodily injury or property damage exceeds $5,000. Police said in court filings that the damage caused by the group was in excess of $100,000.
Return court dates were being set for February and March for the first sets of protesters released Saturday.
An arrest affidavit filed against one of the defendants, and similar to others, said police had been closely monitoring the group because it had “expressed intent” on social media to disrupt the ceremony. The affidavit said many carried anarchist flags, wore masks, were dressed primarily in black, and moved quickly and in a “cohesive manner” bashing windows with baseball bats and hammers.
Many protesters declined to speak as they left court, but they were met outside by organizers who had set up a food line with bottled water and a clothing drive to replace jeans, T-shirts and hooded sweatshirts seized by police.
Henry Hughes, 61, dressed in jeans, a flannel shirt and a North Cascades National Park hat, held a jug to collect money for those arrested. A copy editor for a transcription company who lives in Marblemount, Wash., he said that although he was blocking entrances Friday and was nowhere near the torched limousine, he didn’t object to the destruction.
“Property damage is not violence,” he said. “Violence against other people is violence.”
Dan Morse contributed to this report.