Tempers flare as Trump supporters rally in Washington
Thousands of supporters of President Trump returned to Washington on Saturday for rallies to back his desperate efforts to subvert the election that he lost to Joe Biden.
Sporadic fights broke out between pro-Trump and anti-Trump demonstrators after sundown. WRC-TV reported that four people were taken to a hospital with stab wounds, and the Metropolitan Police Department told the station that 23 people had been arrested.
The gatherings of Trump loyalists were intended as a show of force just two days before the electoral college meets to formally elect Biden as the 46th president. Trump, whose term ends Jan. 20, refuses to concede and is clinging to baseless claims of fraud that were rejected by state and federal courts, and thrown out again Friday by the Supreme Court.
Trump expressed surprise at the rallies, publicly planned for weeks, tweeting Saturday morning: “Wow! Thousands of people forming in Washington (D.C.) for Stop the Steal. Didn’t know about this, but I’ll be seeing them! #MAGA.”
He left the White House later for the Army-Navy football game at the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, N.Y., and cheers went up as Marine One flew over a rally on the National Mall.
Michael Flynn, the former national security advisor recently pardoned by Trump, was speaking from the stage at the time.
“That’s pretty cool. Imagine just being able to jump in a helicopter and just go for a joy ride around Washington,” said Flynn, whose pardon wiped away his conviction for lying to the FBI during the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.
At a pro-Trump demonstration in Washington a month ago, Trump thrilled supporters when he passed by in his motorcade en route to his Virginia golf club.
That demonstration, which drew 10,000 to 15,000 people to the capital, ended late in the evening with scattered clashes between Trump loyalists and local activists near Black Lives Matter Plaza and the White House.
On Saturday, police took more steps to keep the two sides apart, closing a wide swath of downtown to traffic and sealing off Black Lives Matter Plaza.
Saturday’s rallies, including one downtown in Freedom Plaza, were smaller than on Nov. 14, but drew a larger contingent of the Proud Boys, a far-right group known to incite street violence. Some wore bulletproof vests as they marched through town.
The group saw its profile raised in September when Trump told members to “stand back and stand by.”
After Saturday’s rallies ended, downtown Washington quickly devolved into crowds of hundreds of Proud Boys and the combined forces of antifascist or antifa activists and local Black Lives Matter supporters — both sides seeking a confrontation in an area flooded with police officers. As dusk fell, they faced off on opposite sides of a street, with multiple lines of city police and federal Park Police, some in riot gear, keeping them separated.
One Proud Boy yelled out, “You cops can’t be everywhere!” The group later dispersed.
Antifa activists also were more organized this time, with their own bicycle corps forming walls of bikes to match those of the police.
Earlier in the day, a group of about 50 men wearing the Proud Boys’ signature black and yellow circled the perimeter of Black Lives Matter Plaza, where about 200 anti-Trump demonstrators were rallying.
The demonstrators, apparently determined not to engage with hecklers, chanted vulgar slogans and at one point started singing “Jingle Bells.” One man talked back to onlookers but was yelled at and told, “Don’t interact!”
The pro-Trump assembly on the National Mall, called the Jericho March, was described on its website as a “prayer rally” with speakers “praying for the walls of corruption and election fraud to fall down.”
The Freedom Plaza rally also featured a series of speakers pushing debunked claims of election fraud to a receptive audience.
Sylvia Huff, a demonstrator who came from Gloucester, Va., to show her support for Trump, said the legal defeats hadn’t shaken her belief that he won the election.
“I believe the courts were on the take, too,” she said. The Supreme Court, where three of the nine justices were appointed by Trump, “was just afraid of a political backlash,” she said.
Among the speakers was Sebastian Gorka, a former Trump advisor, who urged demonstrators not to give up even after Friday’s Supreme Court decision. He said he wanted to send Trump a video and held up his phone, cueing the flag-waving crowd to chant, “Stop the steal.”
The organizers of this rally seemed intent on avoiding confrontations, telling demonstrators ahead of time to avoid certain hotels and marking off large chunks of downtown Washington as “no-go zones.”
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