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Officials in Washington, D.C., are bracing for clashes in the streets Wednesday as thousands of pro-Trump supporters arrive to protest the presidential election and cheer on challenges of the Electoral College in Congress.
President Trump in several tweets has called his supporters to gather in the country’s capital for “wild” protests, sparking fears of trouble between proponents and critics of the president.
Three groups have submitted permits to the National Parks Service (NPS) to hold demonstrations Tuesday and Wednesday, calling on Congress to move toward overturning the election in Trump’s favor. The NPS has approved all three as of Monday night.
Permits were approved for Women For America First’s “March for Trump” at the Ellipse on Wednesday, for the Eighty Percent Coalition’s “Rally for Revival” in Freedom Plaza on Tuesday and for The Silent Majority’s protest on the National Mall on Tuesday and Wednesday.
The Proud Boys, a far-right group, and members of other armed right-wing organizations also have committed to rallying Wednesday. Trump has tweeted he plans to attend at least one of the demonstrations.
Washington, D.C., Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) on Sunday cautioned the city’s residents to avoid protesters “who come to our city seeking confrontation.”
“I am asking Washingtonians and those who live in the region to stay out of the downtown area on Tuesday and Wednesday and not to engage with demonstrators who come to our city seeking confrontation, and we will do what we must to ensure all who attend remain peaceful,” she said in a Sunday statement.
Bowser’s office also issued reminders that the city’s laws forbid carrying guns on the U.S. Capitol and NPS grounds and that firearms are not permitted within 1,000 feet of a protest.
The mayor also requested the National Guard be activated in the city this week to help local officials respond to the demonstrations.
A Pentagon spokesperson confirmed to The Hill on Monday that National Guard troops will be activated in the city this week for “pretty straightforward assignment of duties as has been done in the past.”
D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine told CBS News’s “The Takeout” podcast on Friday that his “level of anxiety is high.”
He specifically raised concerns about the Proud Boys coming back to D.C. to “pick fights, create damage, damage property and then act in a very threatening way” toward Black institutions in the city, as he said they did during protests last month.
Four people were stabbed after clashes between Trump supporters and counterprotesters the night of a mid-December demonstration, fanning fears of violence this week.
The stabbings occurred near the Hotel Harrington and its bar Harry’s, which Proud Boys members frequented in recent months. The hotel announced last week that it planned to shut down between Monday and Wednesday to “protect the safety of our visitors, guests and employees.” The hotel bar is also set to close Tuesday and Wednesday.
Last week, the Proud Boys announced that its members plan to attend this week’s rallies “incognito” by splitting into smaller groups and wearing “all BLACK” to mimic what anti-fascist groups typically wear at protests.
The demonstration hosted by the Eighty Percent Coalition, named after the about three-quarters of Republicans who have said in polls that they do not believe election results, expects to gather about 5,000 people on Tuesday, according to its permit.
Wednesday’s “March for Trump,” which the president said he’d attend, is expecting 30,000 participants and plans to host Trump allies Roger Stone and Rudy Giulianias speakers.
The Silent Majority and its founder James Epley had their permit approved to gather hundreds of people on Tuesday and Wednesday.
Epley, who is from South Carolina, told The Hill that the estimates of 10,000 to 12,000 total people coming to D.C. for protests are “laughable.” Instead, he said hundreds of thousands will flood the city.
“There’s a lot of doubt out there, and I don’t know how the country moves forward” without an investigation into the election process, he said.
A fourth demonstration entitled “Wild Protest” is scheduled to take place on the Capitol lawn on Wednesday. The demonstration, named after Trump’s tweet last month, is designed to support Republican lawmakers’ challenge to the “fraudulent Electoral College.”
The city’s Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) is closing roads and restricting parking, mostly around the White House and the National Mall for Tuesday and Wednesday.
Newly sworn-in MPD chief Robert Contee told The Washington Post last week that “violence will not be tolerated.”
Trump has refused to concede to President-elect Joe Biden although the Electoral College has officially certified Biden as the victor in the election. Instead, the president and his legal team have promoted claims that widespread voter fraud affected the election results. His legal challenges have repeatedly failed in court, state officials in Georgia and other battleground states have rejected the president’s assertions, and his continued protests have badly divided the GOP.
In most cases, Congress’s certification of the Electoral College is a formality, but dozens of Republicans in the House and Senate have indicated they will contest the vote.
Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.) is leading the effort backed by scores of Republicans in the House, while about a dozen GOP senators, including Sens. Josh Hawley (Mo.) and Ted Cruz (Texas), have come out in support of the objection.
The challenge is doomed to failure given opposition from Democrat and other Republicans, a fact that some Republicans supporting the effort have acknowledged.
Congress’s certification of the Electoral College is the final step of confirming Biden’s win before his inauguration on Jan. 20.