The thousands who flocked to the District for President Trump’s inauguration Friday reflected a divided and polarized nation.
There were multitudes of adoring followers, and there were thousands of protesters. Most condemned Trump peacefully, but others turned violent and clashed with police, leading to at least 217 arrests.
And under sodden skies that delivered a drizzle from time to time, there was the traditional parade up Pennsylvania Avenue to the White House — a route that took the 70-year-old real estate businessman past a new $212 million hotel that bears the Trump name.
The mood was light and friendly along the parade route when bystanders told Harold McGrath, 61, of Solomons, Md., that protests had turned violent just several blocks away. He was startled to hear it.
“I was pleased with how well-behaved everyone’s been,” McGrath said.
The throngs of inauguration-goers who began gathering hours before dawn — celebrants and protesters alike — were well-behaved. They filed through security checkpoints that opened at daybreak, streaming toward the Mall, where Trump would give his first address as the 45th president from the west front of the Capitol Building, staking out the choicest spots along the parade route.
Like McGrath, many had no inkling of the tumultuous protests taking place outside the secure oasis.
Less than two miles from where Trump was scheduled to be sworn in, black-clad anarchists armed with crowbars and hammers marched through the city’s streets, breaking windows, tossing newspaper boxes into the streets and smashing the windows of a long, black limousine parked on K Street NW outside The Washington Post. The limousine was set ablaze later in the day, spreading dark smoke throughout the area before firefighters extinguished the flames. D.C. police said three officers were injured and 217 people were arrested.
Police were restrained during most of the protest marches, but against the self-described anarchists they deployed concussion grenades, flash-bangs and pepper spray, at one point encircling a group and moving in to make arrests. Squads of police on motorcycles and bicycles outflanked protesters, cutting off the path of their intended march.
The group had a second violent confrontation with police on the same street in the afternoon, their ranks swollen by other groups who drifted over to join them once their own protests ended.
“Do you think I need stitches?” Robert Hrifko asked firemen standing in front of Engine Company 16 on 13th Street NW.
The 62-year-old had ridden his Harley-Davidson ultra classic from Saint Augustine, Fla., to join Bikers for Trump for the inauguration — the largest of the pro-Trump demonstrations.
“I was on the sidewalk. A protester was throwing an aluminum chair at a cop while he was moving on his bike,” Hrifko said. “I tackled him, and one of his compadres came up with a rock in his hand, and bam!”
A puffy welt on his cheekbone dribbled blood down into his beard.
“You guys are EMT, you tell me. Do I need stitches?”
They shook their heads, telling him he would be all right.
Other protesters sought to block security checkpoints into the cordoned-off expanse that included the Capitol Building, parade route and White House.
“You want a wall! You got it!” they chanted, linking arms to block a gate at Third Street NW.
Patrick Maher, 51, took a 5 a.m. train from New York City on Friday morning to show his support for Trump.
But minutes before Trump was to be sworn in, Maher was walking back to Union Station to head home.
“I couldn’t get in anywhere,” said Maher, who said he was blocked from entering the red gate.
“They’re babies, they’re children,” he said of the protesters. “I’m disappointed I’m not going to see the speech.”
Some protesters passed through the checkpoints. Six of them, wearing dark-blue shirts that, together, spelled out “RESIST,” staged a disruption just as Trump took the oath of office.
“We the people!” the group shouted, standing on chairs and raising their fists. They were quickly removed by police.
Trump supporters and detractors came face-to-face all over the city. In one case, a protester grabbed 10-year-old Josh Wheeler’s antiabortion sign and threw it to the ground, leaving him to tears.
Josh’s father, Todd Wheeler, said the protester had pushed the boy and called him names, though another anti-Trump activist helped comfort Josh afterward.
“We’re disappointed in the police for letting them do that,” said Wheeler, whose family came to Washington from Indianapolis.
Trump’s inauguration capped a campaign that galvanized millions of Americans who were eager to embrace a Washington outsider willing to say, or tweet, whatever is on his mind. Many of them traveled to the District on Friday to see their champion sworn in.
Kathy Aulson, 55, a emergency-room nurse and attorney from Waxahachie, Tex., said she made plans in October to come to Trump’s inauguration.
“I knew who was going to win,” she said.
“There was no way we weren’t coming,” her husband, Patrick, 65, said.
They stood on the west lawn of the Capitol Building looking for a good spot to see Trump, who had never held elective office before.
“It’s history,” she said. “It’s a non-politician, a businessman. I like that he’s not bought. I like he funded his own campaign. I like he’s not politically correct. I like everything about him.”
Tammy Hodges leaned against the barrier on Pennsylvania Avenue, cold even in her three shirts, two pants and plastic poncho.
“We love our kids,” she said to her similarly shivering friend Cindy Young. “We love our kids.”
She sounded slightly less sure each time she said it.
“I never dress in layers in the south,” said Hodges, who had come from Louisiana.
Hodges and Young waited for hours in front of the Newseum on Pennsylvania Avenue to see their teenage daughters participate in the inaugural parade. Hodges said their town of 50,000 people raised $185,000 to pay for the trip after the West Monroe High School Raiders band and color guard were invited to perform.
Otherwise, many of the 200 band members could not have afforded the trip, Hodges said.
“Those children would never have the opportunity to leave our small town to see these things,” she said.
John Westlake, 57, a retired Army first sergeant and member of Bikers for Trump, also stood in the spitting rain along the parade route with his daughter, Jessica Westlake, 26. She has joined the Marine Corps and is waiting to leave for basic training. Her father said his concern for his daughter’s safety attracted him to the billionaire businessman, who has pledged to strengthen America’s armed forces.
John Westlake recalled how, in the post-Vietnam era, another new Republican president beefed up the military.
“Coming in back in ’77, the Army was in bad shape,” said Westlake, of Coventry, Conn. “When Ronald Reagan was elected, all of a sudden the Army got all kinds of nice new equipment.”
But Trump’s inflammatory rhetoric has angered and offended millions of other Americans, making him the most unpopular incoming president in at least four decades. Thousands of his detractors trekked to Washington to make their voices heard.
Amanda Custer, 33, started the day by marching with the antifascist, anti-capitalist group down 13th Street NW. She had come in from Fort Wayne, Ind., to “enjoy the festivities.” She was startled when the march took a violent turn a few blocks in.
“I don’t appreciate the violence, but I believe in equality, unity. There should be justice,” she said.
Liz Levine drove to the District from Florida to witness her first inauguration, and said she felt despair.
“I’m a victim of sexual violence,” Levine, 58, of Margate, Fla., said as she waited in a drizzle at a security checkpoint on Seventh Street NW. “I feel traumatized that we are putting a sexual predator in the White House. I feel completely and utterly betrayed.”
Despite her outrage, Levine said she has prayed for Trump.
“God loves everyone,” she said. “I pray for the Holy Spirit to crack open his head and bring in some enlightenment.”
Harry von Feilitzche, who grew up in Bavaria and whose grandfather spent time in Nazi prison camps, said fascism is not a theoretical concern.
“He definitely has fascist tendencies,” von Feilitzche said as he waited outside a checkpoint at Seventh and D streets NW. “If Trump does everything he says, he’s definitely a fascist.”
Von Feilitzche, 51, who lives in rural Virginia, clutched a sign that urged “decency, ethics, free trade and social justice.” He said his grandfather “would not have stayed quiet.”
“America has never had a dictatorship,” he said. “Most people are unaware of what a slippery slope it is to go from political radicalism, to repression, to dictatorship.”
But some Trump supporters tried to reach out to those fearful of the new president.
David Sadler wore a blindfold and stood with his arms outstretched.
The foam board on a lanyard around his neck said: “We the people . . . will make America Greater! I count, u count, I trust u, do u trust me? Let’s hug. God is Love.”
Many giggled and walked away. But others stopped and wrapped their arms around Sadler, who came to the District from Montgomery, Ala.
“Thank you, God bless you,” he said to each one as he tightened his arms around them.
He said that, on Inauguration Day, it was important for him to send a message of unity.
“The message has been, ‘Trump supporters are so hateful,’ and that’s not true,” Sadler said.
After about an hour, Sadler took his blindfold off, ready to walk away from the Capitol Building, when a man leaned in for one more hug, whispering, “Thank you for doing this.”