WASHINGTON — Tens of thousands of people clad in red, white and blue rallied and marched in support of outgoing President Donald Trump in Washington, D.C., on Saturday afternoon to protest supposed “voter fraud” in the 2020 presidential election. But as night fell, skirmishes between protesters and counter-protesters broke out across the city.
At least 20 people had been arrested as of Saturday evening on a variety of charges, including assault and weapons possession, The Associated Press reported. One stabbing was reported, two police officers were injured and several firearms were also recovered by police.
The daytime rally – advertised by several names including Million MAGA March, Stop the Steal and March for Trump – started at Freedom Plaza, where the crowd’s chants of “four more years” and “stop the steal” largely drowned out event speakers. Part of the group then marched to the Capitol.
The crowd was largely protesting “voter fraud,” to “show support for our President” and to “preserve the integrity of the vote,” according to various event pages. Trump has refused to concede and leveled baseless allegations of voter fraud to falsely claim the election was stolen from him.
Most of the rally participants were not wearing face masks, which help prevent the spread of COVID-19. The massive crowd, filled with red Make America Great Again hats and large flags with Trump’s name, was an unusual site in the nation’s capital, a liberal city. Biden won D.C with 93% of the vote, according to the Associated Press.
Many in the crowd traveled from across the U.S. to attend the event, some from Texas, North Carolina, Indiana, Wisconsin, New York and New Jersey.
Tracy Lavis, wearing a red Trump flag as a cape, waved a large American flag in the square with others who traveled with her from Michigan for the event.
“I needed to be here. We all need to show our president some support,” Lavis said, explaining she took an overnight bus to get to D.C. for the rally. “He needs it. He needs us. He’s been rung through the ringer since day one.”
Lavis, like other supporters, railed against the integrity of the election and the media declaring former vice president Joe Biden the victor. “It’s not fair. Every legal vote should be counted,” she added.
Jeremy Cleary and his mother, Lois, drove from Pennsylvania to support the president. “This is far from over,” Jeremy Cleary said of Trump. “He’s still in it.”
He noted that he hadn’t seen any violence and said he hopes that continues.
“No matter what happens with the election, I’m hoping we can all come together after,” he said. “I have a lot of faith in the American people that we can do this.”
Marcello Milone, who traveled with his family, including his 15-year-old son, from South Carolina, said they were there to “demand the truth.”
“I don’t understand how the country went to bed with Trump up by tons of votes on Election Night then days later Biden is called the winner,” he said, waving an American flag. “It doesn’t make any sense.”
Biden made a comeback in several swing states after millions of absentee and mail-in ballots were counted. The delay was due to a significant rise in mail-in ballots amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Milone argued recounting votes in many states was needed and it would reassure the country of the results.
“If you can do this today, whether you like Biden or you like Trump, what happens when you don’t like the next one,” he added. “We need the truth because this is a fundamental aspect of American democracy.”
Fewcounter-protesters were spotted near the initial rally, but several D.C. locals held up signs reading “TRUMP LOST.” The small group attracted the attention of some Trump supporters, who laughed at the group and yelled things like “you’re a joke” and “the election was rigged.”
Jan Bisaga, 27, waved a black “TRUMP IS OVER” sign at Republicans marching around the Capitol. “Welcome to DC!” he screamed while waving at Trump supporters. “Trump lost! Woo!” Trump supporters threw things at him, tore his sign and yelled expletives and “brainwashed by the media!”
Bisaga, who lives in the D.C. area, said he decided to come out and antagonize Trump’s supporters. “I wanted to celebrate Biden’s great victory and to be honest, troll these Trump supporters,” he said, laughing. “Them marching isn’t changing the outcome just like me being out here isn’t doing anything.”
Later Saturday, Trump supporters faced off with a group of about two dozen counter-protesters near the Supreme Court, where liberals held up signs supporting Biden and Black Lives Matter. One poster said “We made it great on Nov. 3! Go home!”
Dozens of officers – several in riot gear – and metal barricades separated the two groups as they screamed expletives at one another through megaphones. Police had to move back counter-protesters several times as Trump supporters yelled threats and dared them to come face-to-face.
Near Union Station, Trump supporters and counter-protesters fought, and one man was left bloodied. The man, who was wearing an American flag mask, was punched multiple times in the face by at least two people wearing all black. Police and medics quickly offered aid to the man, who collapsed on the ground.
At Black Lives Matter plaza, just a block from the White House, Trump supporters and counter-protesters faced off in a number of tense confrontations. Liberals chased conservatives from the plaza, some tearing flags from Trump supporters and screaming at them on megaphones to “get out” of the city.
Counter-protesters tore one red Trump flag from a Trump supporter and lit it on fire in the square. In another altercation, a Trump supporter used a long white PVC pipe and swung at counter-protesters after someone swiped his hat. Police increased their presence and were using bikes to make a protective line around Trump supporters trying to leave the area.
Saturday night, a group of several dozen people – many wearing all black – moved through the streets, targeting anyone in Trump attire. A group of Trump supporters were dining at P.J. Clarke’s near the White House, and someone in the group launched a firework at them, which exploded near a couple’s table as they walked away. A man who was dining picked up a chair and threw it at some journalists.
Some people traded shoves, punches and slaps, as seen via videos on social media. A man with a bullhorn yelling “Get out of here!” was shoved and pushed to the street by a man who was then surrounded by several people and shoved and punched until he fell face first into the street. Bloody and dazed, he was picked up and walked to a police officer.
After several arrests, the group and police clashed, and police used a chemical agent on the crowd. Several people graffitied a truck with a MAGA hat on its dashboard outside The Capitol Hilton and slashed one of its tires. People who were hit by the chemical were crying as others washed out their eyes with water.
Although the rally was not considered an extremist event, it caused a buzz in right-wing circles on social media including Parler and Telegram, according to the Anti-Defamation League. Much like the social media site Gab, Parler has quickly attracted the extremist crowd in addition to self-proclaimed center-right conservatives.
Oren Segal, vice president for the Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Extremism, told USA TODAY he doesn’t believe the event would be a public safety threat. “I would say the D.C. march is kind of a physical manifestation of online platforms like Parler where people are introduced to more extreme concepts,” Segal said. “That’s the danger.”
Background on today’s rallies:Trump supporters plan rallies in Washington DC, experts warn extremists may attend
Among the crowd Saturday, there were several massive 20- or 30-foot flags that supporters held out to be spotted from above. “TRUMP 2020 LAW AND ORDER” read one blue and black flag.
Merchandise carts were sprinkled on nearly every corner around the plaza, with merchants yelling “buy your stop the steal T-shirts!” Some passed out posters with Trump being depicted as Superman. One man was attempting to sell Trump face masks, screaming to the crowd, “keep your germs to yourself!”
White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany claimed on Twitter that the crowd size was “more than one million marchers,” and Trump said on Twitter that “hundreds of thousands of people” turned out. But reporters on the scene estimated that there were tens of thousands of people at the rally.
“We will WIN!” Trump said in a series of tweets Saturday afternoon.
Trump indicated Friday that he may stop by the rally, but he left the White House early Saturday to go golfing. As the presidential motorcade headed out to Pennsylvania Avenue and did a circuit of Freedom Plaza, hundreds of Trump supporters lining both sides of the streets applauded, cheered, waved and whistled.
‘Abuse of the rule of law’:1,000 ex-judges, attorneys slam Trump’s false claims of voter fraud
Earlier this week D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser and the Metropolitan Police Department said they were monitoring the events but would not provide a crowd estimate. Police released an advisory noting some roads will be closed and parking will be restricted throughout downtown D.C. and reminding the public that they are prohibited from carrying a firearm within 1,000 feet of any protest, including those who have a concealed carry permit.
Meanwhile, 500 Trump supporters — nearly all maskless — converged in Delray Beach, Florida, on Saturday to insist the election was stolen and to encourage Trump to stay in power, no matter the results. The event was highlighted by a march and speech by provocateur Roger Stone — who was pardoned by Trump.
A week ago Saturday, after states spent days counting ballots, several news outlets projected Biden to be the winner of the 2020 presidential election. USA TODAY has not found any evidence of widespread voter fraud. See more below:
Contributing: The Associated Press