The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Trump, who often portrayed liberal protesters as ‘thugs,’ is silent on violence among his supporters

Members of the pro-Trump Proud Boys and anti-Trump protesters stand off near Black Lives Matter Plaza in Washington. (Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images)

President Trump and many other Republican officials spent much of this year characterizing anti-racism protesters as “violent demonstrators” who put the safety of Americans at risk. But this past weekend’s gatherings of Trump supporters backing the president’s efforts to overturn the 2020 election show that violence is an ongoing concern at these protests — one that the president and many GOP leaders have chosen to ignore.

After thousands of mostly maskless Trump supporters descended upon the nation’s capital this past weekend to voice their lack of confidence in the victory of President-elect Joe Biden, the mainstream media and even the Republican Party, things became violent as night fell.

The Washington Post reported that at least four people were stabbed near a bar known as a gathering point for the Proud Boys, a male-chauvinist group known for its connection with white nationalism.

The agitators determined to find trouble were successful — and posturing quickly turned into punching, kicking and wrestling.
Again and again, officers swarmed, pulling the instigators apart, firing chemical irritants and forming lines between the sides. At Harry’s Bar, an ambulance arrived, but the extent of injuries was unknown.
Each time a fight was de-escalated, another soon began in a different part of town.

Saturday night’s violence wasn’t the first time this weekend that those wanting to keep the president in office found themselves in violent altercations. There were reports that there were scuffles Friday night near Black Lives Matter Plaza before many of the weekend’s official events even started.

And this isn’t the first time Trump supporters behaved violently at gatherings. There were multiple incidents during the 2016 election in which those among the then-candidate’s base physically assaulted media members and those protesting Trump’s policies. And Trump often egged them on, even once saying that he’d like to “punch” a protester in the face himself.

The president has not done that in response to reports that those who voted for him got into altercations this weekend, nor have GOP lawmakers who often accused anti-racism protesters of inciting violence.

Trump won the support of many voters in recent months by claiming that anti-racism protesters were destroying America’s cities with their violent behavior. Much of his suburban voter outreach was rooted in fearmongering that very often wasn’t supported by the reality of the protests calling out police violence against Black people. But that didn’t keep Trump, his fellow Republicans and the conservative media that often furthers their talking points from attempting to associate liberal activists with violence.

But now that violence seems to be a recurring part of pro-Trump protests — there were incidents of violence at the November protest of Trump supporters in D.C. following the election — the president and many other conservative elected officials have largely gone silent.

The harshest critics of the president will interpret this lack of response as some type of support. Trump made headlines in September when he failed to aggressively condemn the Proud Boys during a presidential debate — something that some members of the group interpreted as an endorsement of their politics and even behavior.

Even if it is not the case that Trump supports the violent acts of his followers, his failure to speak out will reaffirm one perception of him held by his critics: Trump isn’t that concerned about “law and order” and being “tough on crime” when those misbehaving are among his tribe. As long as those involved in physical disruptions are showing their loyalty to him, Trump appears willing to turn a blind eye to the harm that they cause their fellow Americans.

And that will continue to be an issue of concern for Americans who are looking forward to a peaceful transition from this administration to one led by a candidate who launched his presidential campaign criticizing Trump’s support for violent white nationalists.