Protests planned for Washington, D.C., this week are likely to attract large numbers of President Donald Trump’s supporters, including conspiracy theorists, militia groups and members of the extremist group the Proud Boys, raising concerns of violent confrontations.
The rallies are planned to coincide with the official congressional vote to certify the electoral college votes from the November presidential election and declare President-elect Joe Biden the winner. Far-right groups from around the country have vowed to descend on the capital to protest the vote and attempt to pressure lawmakers into voting against certifying the results, an outcome that even the leaders of the effort admit is extraordinarily unlikely to happen.
Trump himself has amplified conspiracy theories about the election and encouraged his supporters to show up at the protests. “Statistically impossible to have lost the 2020 Election. Big protest in D.C. on January 6th. Be there, will be wild!” he tweeted on December 18. On Sunday, the president again promoted the protests, writing on Twitter, “I will be there. Historic day!”
In preparation for the protests, the Washington Metropolitan Police Department has stepped up precautions, including erecting signs stating that open carry of guns is illegal in the capital. National Guard troops will support local police officers and Mayor Muriel Bowser warned residents to avoid the downtown area during the protests. She said she is evaluating whether a curfew is necessary to quell violence, according to local media reports.
On Monday afternoon, conservative social media pages and groups dedicated to themes including #stopthesteal continued to promote at least four planned rallies in the capital on Wednesday, starting at 7 a.m. The National Park Service, which regulates permits on federal properties, confirmed that at least three of the protests have been awarded permits. Those three permits would allow a maximum of 15,000 protesters, though enforcing such limits is practically impossible.
Enrique Tarrio, chairman of the Proud Boys, has been pushing the protests on the social media platform Parler. On Monday, he re-posted an image from the political group Latinos For Trump advertising a “Freedom Rally” planned at a downtown park and promising to feature a “Livestream” from Trump. Tarrio serves as the chief of staff for Latinos for Trump, a group that has ties to the Trump administration.
Tarrio posted last week that Proud Boys would attend the protests “in record numbers” but that they would not be wearing their signature black-and-gold clothing.
“We will be incognito and we will spread across downtown DC in smaller teams,” he wrote.
Proud Boys sued over violent protests
When the Proud Boys protested in Washington D.C., last month, violent scuffles broke out between protesters, counter-protesters and police. At least 23 people were arrested.
Tarrio later bragged on social media that he had set fire to a Black Lives Matter banner. That action, as well as the Proud Boys’ calls for violence in the run-up to the protests, forms the basis of a lawsuit filed Monday against the group by the Lawyers’ Committee for Human Rights.
“White supremacists like the Proud Boys would rather see the country burn than to see it united together under justice and freedom for all,” said Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee.
The lawsuit, filed in Washington, D.C., Superior Court, cites numerous instances of Proud Boys posting threatening and violent messages on social media before last month’s protests. It seeks damages on behalf of the Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal Church and notes that the group is pushing for similar violence in the protests this week.
“Indeed, Tarrio has given explicit instructions to his followers to engage in violence at the inauguration, urging the Proud Boys to ‘take over’ and using inflammatory rhetoric intended to paint the Proud Boys’ actions as ‘revolution[ary],'” the lawsuit reads.
Tarrio responded to the lawsuit on Parler saying “I welcome this with open arms.”
Extremist groups unite
The Proud Boys are by no means the only extremist group planning to descend Wednesday on Washington, D.C.
The militia group the Oath Keepers posted on its official website that “The Oath Keepers will be in DC” and “See you there.”
On Facebook, a quick survey of private and public groups dedicated to the militia group the Three Percenters, as well as “Patriot” and Confederate causes, contained dozens of posts encouraging supporters to attend the capital and protest the election results.
Daryl Johnson, a security consultant and former senior analyst for domestic terrorism at the Department of Homeland Security, said protests like this aren’t going away any time soon.
“I think we’ll be seeing these types of events continuing into the near future,” Johnson said. “If they’re not connected to Trump leaving the White House, they’ll be related to gun restrictions or to coronavirus restrictions. We’re in for this for another several months to a year at least.”