WASHINGTON – One day before Congress votes to certify that Joe Biden won the presidential election, Trump supporters who refuse to accept the reality of his defeat were demonstrating in Washington again. The city is bracing for potentially violent protests promoted by President Donald Trump himself.
All Tuesday afternoon, people bundled against the cold but many free of masks arrived in downtown Washington for what they see as a last stand for Trump, who has continued to falsely assert that the election was stolen from him.
Although many Republican lawmakers, all 10 living former defense secretaries and election officials across the country have said Trump should stop attempting to overturn the results of the election, his refusal to do so has energized his followers. One Wednesday demonstration has a National Park Service permit for up to 30,000 people. Trump said on Twitter that he will speak at 11 a.m. Wednesday, and he praised those who were echoing his inaccurate version of events in the streets.
“They won’t stand for a landslide election victory to be stolen,” he said Tuesday evening.
For hours, speakers turned election conspiracy theories into winding speeches, closed their eyes to pray and shared discount codes for MyPillow, a company owned by a Trump ally.
They ranted against the need for masks, vaccines, and precautions against a virus that has killed more than 355,000 Americans.
“I’m going to give everyone three action steps . . . turn to the person next to you and give them a hug,” one speaker exhorted the crowd. “Someone you don’t know . . . it’s a mass-spreader event! It’s a mass-spreader event!”
D.C. Police are not enforcing the District of Columbia’s mask mandate, despite the growing coronavirus surge. The city is averaging 233 new coronavirus cases daily, and hospitalizations are up 12% compared with last week. The Washington region set a daily record for new coronavirus infections Friday.
Local law enforcement will instead focus on arresting anyone who is unlawfully armed, while the National Guard works to manage crowds and block streets. D.C. police said that shortly before 2 p.m. Tuesday, officers pulled over a North Carolina bus for a traffic violation. Police said one person inside, who has not yet been identified, possessed two firearms – a rifle and a semiautomatic handgun, along with a large magazine.
In recent weeks, right-wing groups have used the conservative social media site Parler and the encrypted messaging app Telegram to discuss how to sneak guns into the city, where there are laws banning openly carrying firearms and prohibiting such weapons on federal lands and near protests.
Recent pro-Trump protests ended in violent skirmishes. In December, members of the Proud Boys, a male-chauvinist organization with ties to white nationalism, spent hours attempting to reach activists in Black Lives Matter Plaza, being repeatedly blocked by police. Later in the evening, four people were stabbed amid a crowd of Proud Boys and Trump supporters outside Harry’s Bar, which has become a Proud Boys gathering spot.
When the leader of the Proud Boys, Enrique Tarrio, returned to D.C. for this week’s events, he was arrested. D.C. police took him into custody Monday afternoon on a warrant charging him with burning a Black Lives Matter banner taken from a historically Black church during the December demonstration.
He faces a misdemeanor charge of destruction of property and two felony counts of possessing large gun magazines at the time of his arrest.
On Tuesday afternoon, Tarrio appeared in D.C. Superior Court, where he pleaded not guilty. A judge released him but barred him from the city, pointing to his social media posts in which he threatens to set fire to more signs. Tarrio could be arrested if he is seen in D.C.
Later, the crowds in Freedom Plaza would turn his name into a chant: “En-ri-que!”
They cheered for a Michigan lawmaker, a pastor who told them it was “time for war,” and a man wearing a patch representing the far-right armed group Three Percenters, who told them to “fight, fight, fight.”
Arielle Early, 17, flew from Northern California after she saw Trump’s tweets calling for demonstrators to come to the nation’s capital.
“What I love about Trump is that he rallies people to come here and fight,” she said.
Early said she dropped out of school in 2017 after being bullied for supporting Trump. On Instagram, she found a community of like-minded young Trump die-hards. She plans to meet with those virtual friends this week in Washington.
Diane Marney, a real estate agent who lives in Wyoming, said she sees this week’s demonstrations as the single most important event in her lifetime. She worries about what a Biden administration will mean for her son, who works in a coal mine. She compared her decision to come to D.C. to her grandson’s decision to serve in the military.
“I want to do the same as him,” she said. “Just not with a gun.”
An afternoon rainstorm sent some demonstrators scurrying toward their hotels, but hundreds remained as streetlights flicked on over a sea of Trump flags, yellow “Don’t Tread on Me” banners and signs that read “Mask Free Zone.”
One man held a wood carving that resembled a can of Twisted Tea. Chris Bouland, 43, said it represented the viral video of a Black man at a gas station who hit a White man in the face with a can after the man would not stop calling him the n-word. The beverage then exploded, sending tea flying. The video has been shared countless times, set to music and remixed.
Bouland, who traveled from Arkansas, said the video reminded him of his fellow Trump supporters.
“You know, if you mess with us, you don’t want to open that can of a– whooping,” he said.
He and his wife, Jo, are planning to wake up early Wednesday to be there for Trump’s expected 11 a.m. speech at the Ellipse.
“We’re not backing down,” she said as Chris Bouland nodded.
Behind them, the crowd of hundreds at Freedom Plaza began to recite the Pledge of Allegiance.
“This is not about Democrats versus republicans, or Trump versus Biden,” Jo Bouland said. “This is about good versus evil. This is about saving our country.”
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The Washington Post’s Keith L. Alexander contributed to this report.
Video: http://www.washingtonpost.com/video/local/proud-boys-leader-vows-to-keep-fighting-after-arrest/2021/01/05/4ab7cd43-2340-4f0c-b53c-4c008b22d90c_video.html(REF:alexanderkl/The Washington Post)
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