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The culture wars of Donald Trump’s America materialized into a battlefront near the Supreme Court in Washington, D.C., on Saturday, for the so-called “#StoptheSteal” protest or “Million MAGA March.”
Galvanized by misinformation and fake news, more than 10,000 Trump supporters—including QAnon conspiracy theorists, far-right Proud Boys, militia members, online trolls, and religious zealots—traveled to D.C. from around the country to claim that the election was “stolen” or “rigged” on behalf of Joe Biden. (Biden was declared the winner last weekend and currently holds a 5 million-vote lead in the popular vote over Trump, who has yet to concede.)
Elsewhere at the rally, an all-star lineup of MAGA-world celebrities took the stage to give speeches. Freshman congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene, who has promoted QAnon, spoke. And Trump, as promised via Twitter a day earlier, made a brief appearance when he drove by the crowds with his motorcade.
Several times during the day, the president’s most ardent—and largely unmasked—supporters angrily faced off with a smaller contingent of black-clad antifascists and racial justice protesters, often separated only by a thin line of riot police, or not at all. One person was even stabbed, according to the Metropolitan Police Department.
Near the Supreme Court—where Trump’s third Supreme Court nominee took up the bench only weeks ago— the president’s supporters cheered and chanted “Back the Blue.”
“These guys are here to protect you,” yelled one Trump supporter at a counterprotester while gesturing to the police.
“From who?” the protester shouted back.
“From us,” replied the Trump supporter, who was wearing a T-shirt that said #SaveTheChildren, a nod to a QAnon conspiracy that believes in a global child sex trafficking ring operated by Democrats.
Throughout the day, the atmosphere in D.C. shifted between rage and celebration. The event started in Freedom Plaza at noon and then made its way to a second rally at the Supreme Court. At times, the event felt like a “last hurrah” for MAGA-world, as attendees marveled at the crowd size and danced to covers of popular songs: They replaced the lyrics to “YMCA” with “M-A-G-A” and The Pointer Sisters’ “Jump (for my Love)” with “Trump.” People joined together in prayer. One speaker lauded Trump as the “bodyguard of Western civilization.”
Even before the event had even officially started, the fringes of the rally had already revealed a darker tone and intent. Verbal disputes with clusters of counterprotesters who taunted rally-goers about their hero’s election loss quickly escalated into violent scuffles that police on bicycles had to break up by forcing the sides apart.
When the crowd marched two miles from Freedom Plaza to the Supreme Court, around 100 black-clad protesters were there, too. They’d shown up for a “F*CK MAGA RALLY,” organized by the They/Them Collective with fliers on social media.
For many in the MAGA crowd, especially those who had traveled from rural areas, it was the first time coming face to face with the “ANTIFA enemy,” a favorite Trump bogeyman and something they’d only seen before on Fox News.
“I’ve never seen them. It shocks me to death that we have domestic terrorists like that,” said Michelle Rosson, 54, who had driven to D.C. from North Carolina. “It absolutely scares me, and it scares me for our children.”
Near the Supreme Court, the crowd waved Trump 2020 flags, Blue Lives Matter flags, and the big yellow Gadsen flag with the words “Don’t Tread On Me” and broke out into chants like “Fuck antifa,” “Four more years,” or “Biden loves minors.”
In response, counterprotesters chanted “No more years,” “Fuck Donald Trump” or “You lost.” They unfurled a giant pink banner that read, “Punch MAGA in the face,” held out shields emblazoned with “BLM,” and carried a giant cardboard “L”—for loser.
Some had shields with BLM written on them, while others used black umbrellas to create a wall of black as they unfurled.
“This feels like a hate crime waiting to happen,” said a young Black woman taking notes. She said she was briefly on the other side of the divider, among the Trump supporters, but started to fear for her safety when people around her began noticing that she wasn’t cheering with them.
Every now and then, a group of Trump supporters would make their way into the counterprotest and immediately be swarmed by antifascists, and press—who were on close watch for political violence—and then police.
The simmering anger and violence during the day set the tone for what would transpire in the nation’s capital when night fell, raising the potential for fist-fights between warring sides down dark streets. Small outbreaks of violence cropped up outside hotels, and counterprotesters heckled Trump supporters attempting to turn in for the night, leading to police stand-offs.
Later on, some women in Trump hats were seen tearing down Black Lives Matter signs from buildings.
Local activists later reported multiple stabbings, though the circumstances aren’t totally clear. D.C. police confirmed at least one stabbing that took place around 8 pm and that the victim was transported to hospital for non-life threatening injuries. Separately, an independent journalist, Talia Jane, said a Proud Boy stabbed her in the ear during a separate clash.
D.C. police kept in close proximity to the 100 or so Proud Boys, a far-right street-fighting gang who marauded around the city as a small army clad in black-and-gold Fred Perry polo shirts that they’ve co-opted as their uniform. The organizers of Million MAGA March released a statement ahead of the event denying any affiliation with the Proud Boys, after the group’s leader urged members to attend.
But the Proud Boys, known for violent clashes with antifascists, were received favorably on the ground. Trump supporters of all ages cheered them as they walked down the street. Some shouted “Proud Boys: Stand Back and Stand By,” repeating a line that Trump said at a presidential debate, when challenged to condemn his far-right supporters like the Proud Boys. Members of the group spent most of their evening drinking at Harrys’ Bar, a popular watering hole for police officers, before making their way towards the counterprotest at Black Lives Matter Plaza, near the White House.
Toward the end of the night, the president chimed in on some of the goings-on near the White House.
“ANTIFA SCUM ran for the hills today when they tried attacking the people at the Trump Rally, because those people aggressively fought back,” Trump tweeted. “Antifa waited until tonight, when 99% were gone, to attack innocent #MAGA People. DC Police, get going — do your job and don’t hold back!!”
According to the D.C. police, 21 people were arrested on Saturday. Four of those arrests were for gun violations, according to the Washington Post.