The rallies are intended as a show of force just two days before the Electoral College meets to formally elect Biden as the 46th president. Trump, whose term will end Jan. 20, refuses to concede, while clinging to baseless claims of fraud that have been rejected by state and federal courts, and Friday by the Supreme Court.
Trump tweeted his apparent surprise Saturday morning at the rallies, publicly known for weeks: “Wow! Thousands of people forming in Washington (D.C.) for Stop the Steal. Didn’t know about this, but I’ll be seeing them! #MAGA”
Trump left the White House around midday for the trip to the U.S. Military Academy, and as Marine One passed over the rally on the National Mall, cheers went up.
Michael Flynn, the former national security adviser recently pardoned by Trump, was speaking from the stage at the time.
“That’s pretty cool. Imagine just being able to jump in a helicopter and just go for a joy ride around Washington,” said Flynn, whose pardon wiped away his conviction for lying to the FBI during the Russia investigation.
At a pro-Trump demonstration in Washington a month ago, Trump thrilled supporters when he passed by in his motorcade en route to his Virginia golf club.
That demonstration, which drew at least 10,000 people to the capital, ended with scattered clashes between Trump’s loyalists and local activists near Black Lives Matter Plaza near the White House.
On Saturday, police closed a wide swath of downtown to traffic and completely restricted Black Lives Matter Plaza near the White House. One block away, about 150 anti-Trump protesters rallied, determined to protect the space. Small groups of Trump supporters who entered the area were verbally abused.
A group of about 50 men wearing the black and yellow of the far-right fascist group the Proud Boys circled the perimeter. Police kept them two blocks away from the anti-Trump rally.
The Proud Boys chanted vulgar slogans and at one point started singing “Jingle Bells.” They were apparently under orders not to engage with hecklers. One man who was talking back to people was yelled at and told “Don’t interact!”
The gathering on the National Mall, called the “Jericho March,” was described on its website as a “prayer rally” with speakers “praying for the walls of corruption and election fraud to fall down.”
A separate, smaller rally was taking place on Freedom Plaza downtown. The organizers seemed intent on avoiding confrontations, telling demonstrators to avoid certain hotels and marking off large chunks of downtown Washington as a “no-go zone.”
Among the speakers was Sebastian Gorka, a former Trump adviser, who urged demonstrators not to give up even after Friday’s Supreme Court decision. He said he wanted to send Trump a video and held up his phone, cueing the flag-waving crowd to chant “Stop the Steal.”