WASHINGTON — Conservative protesters drawn to Washington D.C. by the planned rallies in support of President Donald Trump’s refusal to accept the results of the presidential election were confronted by D.C. activists and surrounded by police Friday as the nation’s capital prepares for a possibly tense weekend of protest.
Dozens of Trump supporters in red Make America Great Again hats and no masks squared off with masked D.C. activists who arrived to defend art and protest signs on the fence surrounding Lafayette Square – the center of months of racial justice protests. They shouted, holding up their phones to record the interaction for their respective audiences on social media, then eventually dispersed as police officers on bicycles circled the plaza.
“As I look at this scene right now, I can’t help but to think how much this is truly the personification of two Americas,” a Black Lives Matter D.C. activist observed as she filmed the scene.
Small confrontations were ongoing through the late afternoon near the White House.
The president called Saturday’s rallies – which have been promoted by far-right media personalities, white nationalists and conspiracy theorists – “heartwarming” in a tweet Friday afternoon.
“I may even try to stop by and say hello,” Trump wrote.
The rallies, including a Women for America First event that received a permit Friday from the National Park Service, are expected to kick off about noon at Freedom Plaza. A “Million MAGA March,” “March for Trump” and a “Stop the Steal” demonstration are also planned.
Counterdemonstrations organized by D.C. anti-fascist and anti-racist groups will gather nearby.
According to the lone permit the Park Service issued, pro-Trump demonstrators will march from Freedom Plaza to the Supreme Court on Saturday afternoon. Rallygoers will also hear from a roster of speakers that includes several lawmakers; former White House aide Sebastian Gorka; Trump ally Matt Schlapp, who is head of the American Conservative Union; and incoming Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., who has openly backed QAnon, a baseless conspiracy theory that Trump is leading the fight against a cabal of Satan-worshiping saboteurs who traffic children.
Friday’s confrontations at Black Lives Matter Plaza were the second time in as many months that self-identified Trump supporters had torn down photographs from a memorial honoring Black men and women killed by police.
“It’s horrible because it’s a memorial to the people who died and who didn’t get justice and so to see them stepping on it and being careless about it, it’s just frustrating,” said Nadine Seiler, 55, who has spent weeks tending to the fence and the artwork placed there.
In anticipation of the rallies Saturday, Seiler said she has spent the past few days “quadruple zip-tying” the most meaningful artwork to the fence to prevent it from being removed. Some activists had supported the idea of temporarily removing pieces from the fence to protect them.
Although none of the rallies organizers have announced plans to gather at Black Lives Matter Plaza on Saturday, the square has become a flashpoint for those who oppose Trump and those seeking to make a stand against D.C.’s liberal activists.
D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser, D, has said city officials are monitoring social media chatter around the planned events and will support “peaceful First Amendment demonstrations.” The mayor also warned out-of-town visitors against bringing firearms to the city, noting D.C. has stricter firearm laws than other parts of the country – and no firearms, with or without a permit, can be brought within 1,000 feet of a protest, according to D.C. law. The Park Service also bans guns at demonstrations.
Videos of a caravan of gun-toting demonstrators led by Infowars founder and conspiracy theorist Alex Jones began to circulate on social media late Thursday as the group made its way through Richmond.
Christoper R. Barron, a spokesman for the Women for America First march, said the group will “welcome all peaceful protesters in support of President Trump” but does not condone violence. Barron declined to comment on the simultaneous pro-Trump rallies planned for Saturday because, he said, organizers were not involved in planning those.
The rallies have garnered support from Fox News host Sean Hannity as well as more fringe figures, including Enrique Tarrio, chairman of the Proud Boys; white nationalist Nicholas Fuentes, who marched in Charlottesville; Jack Posobiec, who promoted the “Pizzagate” conspiracy that led to a 2016 shooting at D.C. pizzeria Comet Ping Pong; Scott Presler, a pro-Trump activist who works with anti-Muslim hate group ACT for America; as well as Jones.
Beginning 6 a.m. Saturday, Constitution Avenue will be closed between 18th Street NW and Pennsylvania Avenue NW. On the other side of the Mall, Independence Avenue will be closed from 14th Street to Ohio Avenue SW. Several main thoroughfares, including New York Avenue and G, H, I and K streets, will be shut down from 9th Street NW to 18th Street NW.