WASHINGTON – A crowd waving American flags and wearing “Make America Great Again” hats gathered Saturday in Freedom Plaza in support of President Donald Trump and his unfounded allegations of voter fraud in the presidential election.
Within hours, the scene became unruly. Videos posted to social media showed confrontations between Trump supporters and opponents and people wearing pro-Trump attire attacking bystanders. In one incident, a bystander pulled out a knife after arguing with Trump supporters. In another, police pepper-sprayed people involved in a scuffle.
The rally was organized by Women for America First, a conservative group that organized last month’s “Stop the Steal” rally, which drew tens of thousands of people.
As many as 15,000 people were expected Saturday, according to the group’s permit.
Trump tweeted Saturday morning that he was unaware of the event, “but I’ll be seeing them!” People cheered as he flew on Marine One on his way out of town for the Army-Navy football game in West Point, New York.
The mood in Freedom Plaza was celebratory as speakers including Sebastian Gorka falsely claimed Trump had won the election and urged demonstrators to keep the pressure on state legislatures.
A few blocks away, things were getting tense near Black Lives Matter Plaza, not far from the White House. Police in riot gear formed a line to separate members of the Proud Boys, a far-right nationalist group, from counterprotesters. Proud Boys antagonized police, demanding to be let through and trading expletives with counterprotesters.
The crowd started to thin by mid-afternoon. Many didn’t wear masks, despite a mask mandate set by Washington, D.C., Mayor Muriel Bowser. Organizer Cindy Chafian told attendees to wash their hands but mocked COVID-19 precautions like social distancing and mask-wearing.
Chants of “CNN sucks, Fox News sucks too!” “Four more years!” and “Fight for Trump!” broke out as massive speakers blared pro-Trump songs such as “Real Women Vote For Trump.”
As the rally concluded, a small crowd of Trump supporters bearing flags and signs marched to the Supreme Court where they broke into chants of “USA” and “Four more years.” The crowd started to disburse as police worked to clear the street.
The Supreme Court on Friday denied an effort to prevent battleground states from casting their Electoral College votes for President-elect Joe Biden on Monday.
“The courts do not decide who the next president of the United States will be,” former national security adviser Michael Flynn said. Though the Supreme Court’s decision has all but sealed Trump’s political fate, he contended, “There are paths that are still in play.”
Flynn pled guilty to perjury for lying to the FBI over his conversations with a Russian ambassador before Trump became president, but Trump pardoned him last month.
Some attendees appeared to support QAnon, the baseless conspiracy theory that the FBI has deemed a domestic terrorist threat.
Lisa Parry and her husband, Richard, drove 14 hours from Florida to show their support for Trump and demand transparency from the government. Parry, who wore a “Million MAGA March” sweatshirt, said she doesn’t believe Biden could’ve won the election.
The night of the election, “I went to bed at 1 o’clock and Trump was ahead. There’s no way,” Parry, a retired nurse said. “I don’t believe it. It’s fakes.”
No allegations of widespread voter fraud have been substantiated, and a few dozen lawsuits raising such allegations have failed. Even Attorney General William Barr has said there is no evidence of fraud that would have affected the outcome of the presidential race.
Enrique Tarrio, the chairman of the Proud Boys, implied he had been invited to the White House on Saturday. But White House Deputy Assistant and Deputy Press Secretary Judd Deere told USA TODAY that Tarrio was merely on a Christmas tour open to the public.
For Trump supporters, the rally is a way to express their disillusionment and anger over the election, Amy Kremer, chair for Women for America First, previously told USA TODAY. She traveled to the nation’s capital as part of a two-week, cross-country bus tour.
“We want him to continue to stay strong and fight to expose this voter fraud and demand transparency and election integrity,” she said. “The second purpose is really to support each other.”
The rally comes just days before electors from all 50 states and Washington, D.C., meet in their respective capitals to cast votes for president based on the popular votes in each state. Biden won 306 electoral votes and Trump got 232; a presidential candidate needs 270 to win.
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‘We, the people, are pissed’
Robin Pressley, 53, of eastern Tennessee, came to the November rally and returned Saturday in pro-Trump attire. She said if the Electoral College formalizes the win for Biden on Monday, they’ll be back in the streets.
“We’ll be back out here. We’re not going to quit,” she said. “We, the people, are pissed.”
Pressley, who owns a cleaning business, and her husband, Greg, said they believe the election results still could be overturned although nearly every lawsuit alleging voter fraud has been struck down in court.
“I don’t know how he’s going to do it,” Pressley said. “But God’s gonna take care of things.”
“Trump will be inaugurated on January 20th,” Greg Pressley said. “The last word’s not been said yet.”
Stephanie Liu, a research assistant from New York, came to the rally with Chinese Americans for Trump to protest “election fraud.”
“It’s so obvious … the media was lying,” she said. “That makes America look so bad in front of the whole world.”
Cynthia Brokenshire, Elizabeth Mortimer and Anmarie Kaziamis met on Facebook and carpooled from New Jersey to Washington Saturday morning. They couldn’t attend the previous rally in November but made a point to come Saturday to support the “Stop the Steal” campaign.
“Our democracy is at risk,” Kaziamis said while holding a Trump flag. “I wouldn’t miss this one for the world.”
Several groups, including the anti-Trump organization Refuse Fascism and anti-fascist group All Out DC, held counterprotests at Black Lives Matter Plaza, just a few blocks from the White House.
To avoid confrontation, organizers of Saturday’s rally told demonstrators to avoid certain hotels and designated parts of Washington as a “no-go zone.” Five people were arrested Friday night and were charged with disorderly conduct, inciting violence and assault, among other charges.
Skirmishes between protesters and counterprotesters broke out across the city at the November rally. At least 20 people were arrested on a variety of charges, including assault and weapons possession, The Associated Press reported.
Contributing: Will Carless; Associated Press