'Wild' protests: Police brace for pro-Trump rallies when Congress meets Jan. 6 to certify Biden's win
WASHINGTON – A city accustomed to mass protests is gearing up for especially intense ones over what should be the most mundane of political events: the counting of Electoral College votes during a special joint session of Congress.
At the urging of President Donald Trump, however, die-hard supporters are planning to descend on the nation's capital Jan. 6, to pressure Republican lawmakers into aligning themselves with the doomed effort to overturn Joe Biden's electoral victory.
Knife fights, shouting matches, and verbal harassment of Trump opponents accompanied previous demonstrations following Biden's election win in November. Now federal and local law enforcement are bracing for what may be the most intense Trump protest yet as Congress is poised to formally declare Biden president-elect.
Various Trump groups are promoting the demonstrations online. One called "#StopTheSteal" operates the website "WildProtest.com," which proclaims that "PRESIDENT TRUMP WANTS YOU IN DC JANUARY 6."
"Be there, will be wild," says one flier.
The event has been co-signed by incoming members of Congress Lauren Boebert and Marjorie Taylor Greene.
On Friday, New Year's Day, Trump tweeted that the "the BIG Protest Rally" in Washington will be at 11 a.m. on Wednesday, Jan. 6. "Locational details to follow," Trump said.
The National Park Service has received three different permit applications for protests to be scheduled around the electoral vote count.
Women for America First, a conservative women's group which helped organize November's "Million MAGA March," requested a permit for a protest of about 5,000 in Freedom Plaza.
A group called the Eighty Percent Coalition also requested a permit for 10,000 protestors in the same area. The group, whose name is a reference to the approximately 80% of Trump voters who do not believe Biden won the election fairly, have titled their event the "Rally to Save America."
Another smaller protest titled "The Silent Majority" is organized by the South Carolina conservative activist James Epley. It will lead several hundred protestors in a march from the National Mall to the Capitol.
The United States Park Police confirmed that the permits had all been approved but not yet issued. It did not comment on specific security measures it will take to keep the peace.
"The Park Police is committed to working with its partners to protect the public and National Park Service resources by ensuring that safety protocols are in place for permitted events and other First Amendment activities," the agency said in a statement.
On the social media app Parler and far-right message boards, members of the group "Proud Boys" have discussed organizing in Washington D.C. and a leader of the group, Enrique Tarrio, suggested they will be incognito.
"The Proud Boys will turn out in record numbers on Jan 6th but this time with a twist," Tarrio said on Parler.
"We will not be wearing our traditional Black and Yellow. We will be incognito and we will spread across downtown DC in smaller teams," he wrote.
Tarrio also posited that the group may dress in all-black gear at night, a style similar to the black bloc clothing tactic used by Antifa groups who often combat the Proud Boys.
Other groups are planning to demonstrate at the Capitol itself as the House and Senate count Electoral College votes.
At least 140 sitting and incoming members of the House of Representatives will also challenge Congress' official count of the Electoral College vote.
Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., then said Wednesday he'll contest the election results, ensuring that Congress will be forced to debate the issue when lawmakers convene for the joint session.
It could all add up to a political circus on Jan. 6, from the House and Senate chambers to the streets of Washington, D.C.
More:Sen. Hawley will object to Electoral College results, ensuring a doomed fight to overturn Biden's win
More:Live politics updates: Trump to return to DC early, GOP senator says he's 'playing with fire' in contesting election
While local and federal law enforcement agencies did not detail their security strategies, they said they will be prepared as they have been for previous protests.
"While we do not discuss the means, methods, or specific resources used to carry out our protective responsibilities, the United States Capitol Police has comprehensive security plans in place and we continuously monitor and assess new and emerging threats, with the overall goal of keeping those within the Capitol Complex safe and secure," the US Capitol Police said in a statement to USA TODAY.
Many restaurants and office buildings in downtown Washington, D.C., are already boarded up, just as they were for demonstrations in the summer regarding racial justice and, more recently, the presidential election.
Washington is also in the midst of COVID-19 restrictions, including a ban on indoor eating at restaurants.
Trump, who Thursday cut short his end-of-the-year trip to South Florida and returned to the White House, has promoted the Jan. 6 protests by his backers.
"JANUARY SIXTH, SEE YOU IN DC!" Trump tweeted on Wednesday, a theme he echoed throughout the holidays.
Trump has not said whether he plans to attend any of the rallies scheduled for Jan. 6.
On Nov. 14, en route to a political rally for Georgia Senate races, Trump's motorcade passed thousands of supporters rallying in Freedom Plaza, a public square about two blocks east of the White House.
Four weeks later, departing the White House for the Army-Navy game in upstate New York, Trump had the Marine One helicopter fly over cheering supporters gathered on the National Mall.
More:The ways Donald Trump and Republicans have tried to overturn Joe Biden's 2020 win
More:Donald Trump will keep protesting, despite Electoral College vote for Joe Biden
Those Dec. 12 rallies came two days before members of the Electoral College gathered in 50 state capitals to cast their votes based on the results of the popular votes in their states. Biden, who won more than 7 million votes than Trump in the popular vote, prevailed with 306 electoral votes to Trump's 232.
Congress is scheduled to certify the Electoral College tally on Jan. 6.
Normally, Congress' task of recording the electoral votes and formally declaring a winner in the Electoral College is a formality. This year, the pro-Trump congressional factions have vowed to challenge the electoral votes in certain swing states that went for Biden.
That will trigger debates in both the House and Senate, though the outcome is not in doubt. Democrats control the House and will surely vote to confirm Biden's votes; meanwhile, enough Republican senators have said they oppose the protests and will not support dismissing Biden's electoral votes.
In pressuring Congress, Trump and his backers have voiced the same unfounded claims they made in previous lawsuits and state election complaints. A variety of judges and state election officials, including Republicans, dismissed those claims and proclaimed the elections in their states to be free and fair.
Fact check: What's true and what's false about the 2020 election
Many pro-Trump rallies across the country have seen violence erupt between the president's supporters and police and counter-protestors.
During a day of demonstrations on Dec. 12, at least four people were stabbed during a melee in downtown Washington near the Harrington Hotel. The hotel announced this week that it will be closed on Jan. 4-6, saying in a statement: "While we cannot control what happens outside of the hotel, we are taking additional steps to protect the safety of our visitors, guests, and employees."
At previous demonstrations, Trump supporters included groups like the Proud Boys and other organizations the FBI has labeled as extremists who believe in white nationalism. Some have roamed the streets taunting people, looking for confrontations over Trump's presidency.
On Dec. 12, Trump supporters marched through downtown Washington D.C. Police lines formed to separate marchers from large groups of Trump opponents, the two sides yelling at and threatening each other.
Some of the police lines were designed to prevent Trump groups from entering Black Lives Matter Plaza, an area two blocks north of the White House that is a popular gathering spot for the president's opponents.
Skirmishes involving far-right groups have resulted in dozens of police injuries and hospitalizations of counter-protestors.
Some Republicans have denounced Trump's calls to overturn the election, saying he is playing with fire that could flare into violence by his most fervid supporters, especially during the Electoral College count on Jan. 6.
The Wall Street Journal editorial page, which has often supported the Trump administration, said Republicans need to think about what would happen if Congress somehow denied Biden sufficient electoral votes and instead declared Trump the winner.
"Riots in the streets would be the least of it," the editorial said.