WASHINGTON (NewsNation Now) — Hundreds of supporters of President Donald Trump descended on the nation’s capital Tuesday to cheer his baseless claims of election fraud a day before a congressional vote to affirm Joe Biden’s victory.
Just blocks from the White House, protesters — many without masks — gathered in Freedom Plaza to decry the vote in the Electoral College. As temperatures dropped to the low 40s and a steady rain swept onto the streets, hundreds remained in the plaza into nightfall.
“I’m just here to support the president,” said David Wideman, a 45-year-old firefighter who traveled from Memphis, Tennessee.
Wideman acknowledged he was “confused” by a string of losses from the president’s legal team in their attempt to overturn the results of the election and didn’t know what options Trump had left.
“I not sure what he can do at this point, but I want to hear what he has to say,” Wideman said.
Trump tweeted his support for the protesters: “Washington is being inundated with people who don’t want to see an election victory stolen by emboldened Radical Left Democrats. Our Country has had enough, they won’t take it anymore! We hear you (and love you) from the Oval Office. MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN!”
The speakers included former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn, whom the president pardoned after he was twice convicted of lying to the FBI in special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation.
“We stand at a crucible moment in United States history,” Flynn told the mostly maskless crowd. “This country is awake now.”
President Donald Trump will personally address the gathering on Wednesday as he seeks to rally populist support for his last-ditch efforts to overturn his loss to President-elect Joe Biden.
The White House confirmed Tuesday that Trump will speak at a rally on the Ellipse just south of the White House. The protests coincide with Wednesday’s congressional vote expected to certify the Electoral College results, which Trump continues to dispute.
The rallies have local officials bracing for potentially violent street clashes. With downtown D.C. businesses boarding up their windows, Mayor Muriel Bowser has requested a limited National Guard deployment to help bolster the Metropolitan Police Department. During a press conference Monday, Bowser urged local area residents to stay away from downtown D.C. and avoid confrontations with anyone who is “looking for a fight.” But, she warned, “we will not allow people to incite violence, intimidate our residents or cause destruction in our city.”
Crowds of President Donald Trump’s supporters have started gathering in the nation’s capital a day before Congress votes on affirming Joe Biden’s election victory.
Footage from Freedom Plaza shows groups of protesters waving flags, many without masks, ahead of Wednesday’s congressional joint session to count electoral votes. Trump’s supporters planned rallies in Washington for Tuesday and Wednesday, seeking to protest the results of the 2020 election.
Election officials from both political parties, governors in key battleground states and Trump’s former attorney general, William Barr, have said there was no widespread fraud in the election. Nearly all the legal challenges from Trump and his allies have been dismissed by judges, including two rejected by the Supreme Court.
National GUARD MOBILIZED OVER CONCERNS OF VIOLENCE
Bracing for possible violence, the nation’s capital has mobilized the National Guard.
“There are people intent on coming to our city armed,” D.C. Acting Police Chief Robert Contee said Monday.
A pro-Trump rally in December ended in violence as hundreds of Trump supporters — some wearing the signature black and yellow of the Proud Boys faction — sporadically fought with anti-Trump demonstrators attempting to bar them from Black Lives Matter Plaza, an area near the White House.
At least 33 people were arrested after the rally and a 29-year-old man was arrested in connection to reported stabbings near the protests.
On Monday, Metropolitan Police Department officers arrested the leader of the Proud Boys, Henry “Enrique” Tarrio, 36, after he arrived in Washington ahead of this week’s protests. Tarrio was accused of burning a Black Lives Matter banner that was torn down from a historic Black church in downtown Washington during the December protests.
A warrant had been issued for Tarrio’s arrest for destruction of property, police said. He was also facing a weapons charges after officers found him with two high-capacity firearm magazines when he was arrested, a police spokesman said.
Trump has encouraged this week’s protests and hinted that he may get personally involved. Over the weekend, he retweeted a promotion for the rally with the message, “I will be there. Historic Day!”
Tuesday, a judge banned Tarrio from entering the District of Columbia, with very limited exceptions to meet with his attorney or appear in court.
At a November rally, which drew about 15,000 people, Trump staged a limousine drive-by past cheering crowds in Freedom Plaza, on the city’s iconic Pennsylvania Avenue. And at the December rally, which drew smaller numbers but a larger contingent of Proud Boys, Trump’s helicopter flew low over cheering crowds on the National Mall.
BUSINESSES BOARDING UP AHEAD OF DC RALLY
Now with downtown D.C. businesses boarding up their windows, Mayor Muriel Bowser has requested a limited National Guard deployment to help bolster the Metropolitan Police Department.
During a press conference on Monday, Bowser asked that local area residents stay away from downtown D.C., and avoid confrontations with anyone who is “looking for a fight.” But, she warned, “we will not allow people to incite violence, intimidate our residents or cause destruction in our city.”
A U.S. defense official told The Associated Press that Bowser put in a request on New Year’s Eve to have Guard members on the streets from Tuesday to Thursday to help with the protests. The official said the additional forces will be used for traffic control and other assistance but they will not be armed or wearing body armor.
Some 340 D.C. National Guard members will be activated, with about 115 on duty in the streets at any given time, said the defense official, who provided details on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations. The official said Guard members will be used to set up traffic control points around the city and to stand with district police officers at all the city’s Metro stops. Contee said Guard troops will also be used for some crowd management.
“Some of our intelligence certainly suggests there will be increased crowd sizes,” said Contee.
D.C. police have posted signs throughout downtown warning that carrying any sort of firearm is illegal and Contee asked area residents to warn authorities of anyone who might be armed.
Because D.C. does not have a governor, the designated commander of the city’s National Guard is Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy. Any D.C. requests for Guard deployments have to be approved by him.
The defense official said that there will be no active duty military troops in the city, and the U.S. military will not be providing any aircraft or intelligence. The D.C. Guard will provide specialized teams that will be prepared to respond to any chemical or biological incident. But the official said there will be no D.C. Guard members on the National Mall or at the U.S. Capitol.
At previous pro-Trump protests, police have sealed off Black Lives Matter Plaza itself, but the confrontations merely spilled out to the surrounding streets. Contee on Monday said sealing the area again was “a very real possibility” but said that decision would depend on the circumstances.
“We know that historically over the last few demonstrations that BLM plaza has been a focal point,” Contee said. “We want to make sure that that is not an issue.”
Police released downtown parking restrictions ahead of expected protests and some hotels are set to close during the duration of the protests.
The National Park Service has received three separate applications for protests on Tuesday or Wednesday, with estimated maximum attendance at around 15,000 people, said Park Service spokesman Mike Litterst. On Monday, a stage was being assembled for one of the protests on The Ellipse, just south of the White House. So far three protests had received permits for Tuesday and Wednesday.
Organizers plan to rally on Tuesday evening at Freedom Plaza and again all day Wednesday on the Ellipse, including an expected 1 p.m. Wednesday march to the Capitol. Expected attendees include high-level Trump supporters like Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton and Republican strategist Roger Stone, a longtime Trump devotee whose three-year prison sentence was commuted by Trump. Stone was convicted of repeatedly lying to Congress during the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.
After the Dec. 12 pro-Trump protests, at least two local Black churches had Black Lives Matter banners torn down and set ablaze. Contee said the hate-crimes investigation into those incidents was still ongoing and that his officers would be out in force around area churches to prevent similar incidents.
“We will be increasing out visibility around the churches in the area,” he said.
On Monday the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under the Law filed a lawsuit in D.C. Superior Court against the Proud Boys and Tarrio on behalf on one of the vandalized churches, Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal Church.
“We will not allow white supremacist violence to go unchecked by the laws of the land,” Rev. William H Lamar IV, pastor of Metropolitan AME, said in a statement.
The Associated Press contributed to this report