Hordes of Donald Trump's supporters rallied across Washington on Wednesday in a doomed effort to somehow negate President-elect Joe Biden’s victory, hours before Congress was set to certify the results and make Biden’s win even more fully irreversible.
By around 1 p.m., the scene has descended into total chaos, with thousands of Trump supporters breaching barricades and crossing the Capitol lawn. Protesters began throwing things at the building and urging one another to press forward, and multiple buildings were reportedly ordered evacuated.
“Get up there, let’s go!” yelled one man, as some kind of police ordnance boomed over the crowd.
The rally marked the most desperate effort yet from disappointed and enraged Trump supporters, who have been leading a months-long campaign of disinformation and violence in tandem with a president who refuses to concede to reality.
Earlier Wednesday, throngs of Trump supporters headed to the Ellipse, a park near the White House, in the early morning for a chance to see the president himself speak, with hundreds lining up as early as 5:30 a.m.
Long Island Trump supporter Carmelo Prochilo said he came to Washington because he was “fed up with the bullshit,” explaining he had become convinced that the election was stolen by reading the far-right Epoch Times and other websites.
“They better start worrying about the 80 million people who voted for Trump and are armed,” Prochilo, who was draped in a flag promoting the Second Amendment, told The Daily Beast. “This will be a second American revolution.”
Trump was scheduled to speak to his supporters around 11 a.m. The crowd roared and chanted “USA” as the president finally prepared to speak, and true to form, he began by talking about crowd size. Trump then repeated his bogus claim that the election was stolen by the fake news media and vowed to “stop the steal.”
“We won the election by a landslide,” Trump said, falsely. “Does anyone believe Joe got 80 million votes? 80 million computer votes.”
The crowd began to chant thunderously, “Fight for Trump.”
Across the street, protesters wrapped themselves in Trump 2020 flags. Some groups lit cigarettes as they listened attentively, trying to catch the president’s speech through the echo and distortion. Families with children, toddlers, and dogs chatted and smiled, creating an almost picnic-like atmosphere in spite of the frigid January weather.
Closer to the Ellipse, protesters climbed trees and stood on top of portable toilets to get a better look at the president. One person dressed in an elaborate Batman costume climbed a portable toilet and struck poses while Trump complimented his allies in the Senate, starting with Ted Cruz and Ron Johnson.
The prospect of violence hung over Wednesday’s rally, especially after four people were stabbed following a pro-Trump rally in Washington in December. Posters on pro-Trump forums like “The Donald” have frequently discussed violating Washington’s gun laws and even attacking police officers, while early-arriving protesters on Tuesday walked around the city in body armor.
“I would not be surprised if shots are fired,” said Maryland Trump supporter Larry Shinaberry, who predicted violence within 48 hours of Congress counting Biden’s electoral votes. Shinaberry said he was convinced Biden was a tool of right-wing boogeyman billionaire George Soros, claiming falsely that Soros was somehow using the president-elect to impose socialism.
At least one relevant character has already been ordered by a court to stay out of Washington. On Monday, District of Columbia police arrested Proud Boys leader Enrique Tarrio on a destruction of property charge related to the burning of a Black Lives Matter banner during a December pro-Trump protest. Tarrio was carrying two gun magazines with Proud Boys branding and now faces felony charges over the gun accessories. Tarrio was released Tuesday but banned from returning to Washington under nearly all circumstances—including Wednesday’s rallies.
Members of Congress have been urged to use the Capitol complex’s tunnel system to avoid protesters, some of whom have discussed a quixotic attempt to blockade the House and Senate to prevent the electoral vote count. Trump has appeared to nod at the potential for violence and even welcomed the possibility that his supporters would intimidate Republican lawmakers into supporting his attempt to steal the election from Biden.
“I hope the Democrats, and even more importantly, the weak and ineffective RINO section of the Republican Party, are looking at the thousands of people pouring into D.C.” Trump tweeted on Tuesday. “They won’t stand for a landslide election victory to be stolen.”
Prominent Trump allies and grassroots supporters alike have claimed that millions of his voters would gather in Washington to oppose Biden’s win. But pro-Trump events on Tuesday drew relatively small crowds, suggesting that the Wednesday turnout may not significantly exceed the crowd sizes of earlier post-election MAGA descents on Washington.
While previous rallies and post-election tantrums featured many Trump supporters who were still convinced he could pull off an election win under the auspices of legality, the mood ahead of Wednesday’s rally was one of a desperate last stand to save the United States.
Or at least Trumpism.
Throughout the day Tuesday, speakers compared the Trump supporters in Washington to George Washington’s Revolutionary War soldiers when they launched a surprise attack on British forces camped across the Delaware River in Trenton, New Jersey, in 1776.
In a rally near the White House at Washington’s Freedom Plaza, former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn—recently pardoned by the president for lying to the FBI—vowed rally-goers would oppose congressional efforts to count Biden’s electoral votes.
“Tomorrow we the people we are going to be here, and we want you to know we will not stand for a lie,” Flynn said.
Jeff, a military veteran who drove in from Islip, Long Island, and refused to give a last name, stood near the line to the Ellipse next to a yellow “Don’t Tread on Me” flag. He said he expected the protest to continue peacefully on Wednesday.
“The people here are great,” Jeff said. “The protests I went to in Jersey, there were a couple of antifa guys that showed up, but the police were really good and held them back.”
Still, he was far from confident that protesters would be satisfied with what came out of Congress.
“It seems like the Deep State is so deep,” Jeff said. “I think [Trump] is exposing a lot... People are waking up and seeing the government is not really for you.”
Moments after he finished speaking, the crowd in the Ellipse erupted in cheers of “four more years!”
Robert Allen Glenn, a D.C.-area local and a political independent, said he came out to support Trump with a speaker and a microphone—in part because he thinks Trump’s greatness is written in the cosmos.
“I believe he resurrected the nation,” Glenn said of the president, before alluding to his coronavirus illness. “On October 1, Trump is in Walter Reed... When he got resurrected, what happened? He was on fire with Mercury and Mars... Mercury and Mars were retrograding at the same time.”
Like many on Wednesday, Glenn argued that if anyone was likely to make trouble at the protest, it was anti-fascists—despite those activists being effectively absent, at least in the early going.
No matter what happens in the streets of Washington, Trump stands no chance of actually overturning the election results. But even as they veer from failed legal maneuvers to more fully embracing street warfare, the president and his hardcore supporters remain convinced that he’ll be in the White House for another term.
Outside the Capitol, hundreds of Trump supporters separated from the building by metal fencing chanted “stop the steal” and “do your job” as the electoral count approached.
Trump supporter Therese Bogerding, who was holding a giant Q sign to represent the pro-Trump conspiracy theory QAnon, had driven from Ohio to see what she was convinced would be a key moment in Trump’s fight against what she called “Satanic” Democrats.
“The storm is upon us,” Bogerding, who also wore a QAnon face buff, said, referencing the moment QAnon fanatics believe Trump will arrest his allegedly pedophilic foes in the Democratic Party.
Bogerding sparred verbally with sisters Courtney and Haley Stone, two Biden supporters who had driven all night with Biden signs from Plattsburgh, New York, to see the protest.
“You hear about it on TV, but this is something,” Courtney Stone said. “People are so willing to believe what they want to believe.”