As protests over racism roil the country, Trump supporters have found a new thing to be terrified of: a “siege” of the White House, straight from the organizers of Occupy Wall Street.
Set to start on Sept. 17 and run through the election, the “White House Siege” isn’t meant to be an actual blockade of the White House. But that hasn’t stopped pro-Trump personalities from portraying the protest as an existential threat to the Trump administration and even America’s system of government itself.
Far-right blog The Gateway Pundit has described the protest with the headline “Democrat Supported Marxist Group Plans Siege on White House,” while right-wing blog Big League Politics called for its organizers to be tried “under federal RICO laws or under the federal War on Terror.”
“I’m wondering if this is going to be a distraction from an even more diabolical plot to overthrow the government,” nationally syndicated talk radio host Clyde Lewis warned his listeners in August.
Defamation lawyer Lin Wood, who has represented former Covington Catholic student Nick Sandmann in lawsuits against media outlets, may have gone furthest of all. To defend the White House against the “siege,” Wood called for a siege of sorts himself: a government blockade of Washington, D.C., and citywide identification checks to ensure that protesters can’t show up.
“Shut down all movement into & out of DC,” Wood tweeted. “Require strict ID for critical officials & tell rest to stay home.”
Vancouver, Canada-based radical magazine Adbusters, which helped spark Occupy Wall Street in 2011, created the “siege” as an Occupy-style semi-permanent encampment until Trump leaves office. Since August, the Adbusters website has featured three “tactical briefings” urging protesters to demonstrate outside the White House on Sept. 17—the ninth anniversary of Occupy Wall Street’s occupation of New York City’s Zuccotti Park.
“We will lay siege to the White House,” organizers wrote in the first post about the siege, illustrated with a picture of a sea of raised fists outside the White House. “And we will sustain it for exactly fifty days.”
It’s not clear whether the “siege” concept will catch on with Trump opponents. But the tactical briefings were quickly circulated on the right-wing internet, with The Gateway Pundit seizing on the first press release about the siege on Aug. 11.
Now the coverage from the right has resulted in a wave of death threats towards Adbusters; it left Adbusters editor Kalle Lasn considering whether the “siege” language and related promotional materials—including a photo illustration of the White House engulfed in smoke—were too intense.
“We’ve sort of changed our mind a little bit, and now we are going for a more benign, sort of a ‘play jazz’ type of strategy,” Lasn said. “My dream actually is to have thousands of jazz musicians all over America turning up and playing jazz all over the country for the next 50 days.”
Lasn and Adbusters conceived of the siege to create “some real, heavy-duty pushback” over concerns that Trump will refuse to leave the White House if former Vice President Joe Biden wins in November.
“A few months before the eviction, he’s sort of dicking around with the American mind,” Lasn, a Canadian-Estonian filmmaker and writer, said. “The American people are still somehow not rising up to the occasion, so we figured we’d try to catalyze something along the lines of Occupy Wall Street.”
It’s not clear how many people, if any, will answer Adbusters’ call and show up on Sept. 17—or whether the siege idea will be totally ignored by Washington-area activists, many of whom have already been protesting for the Movement for Black Lives outside the White House since late May.
And while the White House Siege has been set for the White House-adjacent Lafayette Park, that area has been blocked off for months after Black Lives Matter protests. A spokesperson for the National Park Service told The Daily Beast that the group does not have a protest permit.
But while the protest may never actually materialize to much, it has already been portrayed as a powerful, ominous movement in right-wing media. No one has seized on the “siege” more than Jack Posobiec, the Pizzagate conspiracy theorist who now works for the fervently pro-Trump cable network One America News. OAN devoted an hour each on Saturday and Sunday nights to a Posobiec special on the White House siege, the ominously named September Siege: Antifa’s Plan to Occupy the White House.
“There is a deeper plan at play here, a plan to lay siege to the White House, starting this September,” Posobiec said in a teaser for his special.
The “siege” part of the White House siege appears to be mostly a metaphor—and not just because it’s difficult to imagine Washington’s local and federal law enforcement officials allowing protesters to threaten the White House. Still, Lasn wouldn’t rule out the possibility that the hypothetical siege would become an actual siege of the White House if Trump doesn’t leave office after an election loss.
“Maybe we’ll all try to surround the White House,” Lasn said.
Amid fatal political clashes in Portland and Kenosha, the idea of a semi-permanent encampment of Trump foes in Washington, D.C., could also attract Trump supporters. But the prospect of Lafayette Park brawls has been raised in the past, and fizzled. After anti-Trump protests in late May outside the White House, Trump called on Twitter for a “MAGA Night”—effectively inviting his supporters to fight Black Lives Matter activists in the shadow of the White House. Few, if any, Trump supporters actually showed up.
While the siege has been promoted as non-violent, Lasn also wouldn’t rule out the possibility of at least property destruction—raising the possibility of Fox News-ready images of smashed windows and burning buildings outside the White House right before the election.
“There is going to be a violent fringe, and my own feeling has always been that I don’t like any violence against human beings, and I’m 100 percent against any of that stuff, and I condemn it with all of the guts that I have,” Lasn said. “But when it comes to violence against property, I’m not so sure that i’m 100 percent against that.”