If there is one city in America that is used to almost anything when dealing with demonstrations, it is Washington. In the US capital, protests of all kinds are part of the cityscape, at least in pandemic-free times. Anti-abortionists, climate activists, peace activists, friends of guns: there is hardly a day on which smaller or larger groups don’t come together somewhere in the government district, usually without problems.
What is happening this Wednesday, however, is of a different character – and therefore causes nervousness. Tens of thousands of Donald Trump supporters are expected in the city, and not a few of these supporters are likely to come from militant circles: members of militias and right-wing extremist groups such as the Proud Boys. They all come to take part in several protests against the result of the presidential election because, in their view, there was widespread electoral fraud for which there is no evidence.
The elected president has encouraged these protests and promised that he will speak to his supporters on the spot. “You won’t get this White House,” Trump said at a campaign rally in Georgia on Monday. “We’ll fight like hell.”
Guns, jeeps and camouflage suits
The concerns of the authorities and many residents stem from the fact that members of the Proud Boys and similar violent groups are apparently planning to smuggle weapons into the city. There have recently been increasing reports on social media of bearded guys in camouflage suits driving through residential areas in jeeps with non-local license plates. Carrying of weapons is prohibited in Washington. It is also becoming apparent that the protests will attract radical left-wing counter-demonstrators, which increases the risk of clashes.
The city government therefore set up roadblocks on Tuesday and mobilized several hundred unarmed soldiers from the National Guard to stand guard at various locations. The mayoress has urged all residents of Washington to avoid the city center entirely for the next few days, and the chief of police announced that every available police officer will be on hand to deal with the protests – a mood of alarm that has seldom risen in recent years.
On Monday evening, the police arrested the leader of the Proud Boys, who had made his way to Washington from Florida. He had admitted on social media that the last time Trump supporters met in Washington in December, he burned a “Black Lives Matter” flag attached to an African American church. Several black parishes have asked the police for increased protection because they fear further attacks by right-wing extremists.
Trump’s supporters hope for Mike Pence
The biggest protest is expected in front of the Capitol. Congress will meet there on Wednesday to confirm Joe Biden’s election victory. Vice President Mike Pence has the constitutional role of reading the counted votes of the electorate – a purely formality that normally receives little attention. This time, however, everything is charged because of Trump and an astonishing number of Republicans who have said they will object to the electoral vote being confirmed.
The procedure is something like Trump’s last contingent, which is supported by his supporters on the street. It will fail because the House of Representatives ruled by the Democrats (and probably also the Senate) will not agree to an objection – and thus the de facto cancellation of the election.
The hope of Trump and his supporters, however, is that Pence will intervene in Trump’s favor, whatever. “I hope that our great Vice President stands up for us,” said Trump on Monday. However, Pence has no leeway, and he cannot simply postpone the handover to Biden, as some in Trump’s environment would like. The Vice President is facing a decision, she noted New York Times: “He has a choice between the constitution and his boss.”