The anti-democratic strategy concocted and nurtured by the radical right over the past four years—organize busfuls of out-of-town far-right thugs to invade liberal urban centers in order to engage in faux “protests” primarily designed to spark violence—came to the nation’s capital this weekend. The results were as ugly as they were predictable.
Following Saturday’s “Million MAGA March” featuring thousands of far-right extremists commingling with ordinary Donald Trump supporters as they marched to proclaim (with only conspiracy theories for evidence) that Trump and not Joe Biden had won the presidential election, the large contingent of hate-group street-brawlers—Proud Boys, American Guard, Oath Keepers, and Groypers—took to the streets of Washington, D.C., provoking fights and aggressively assaulting counter-protesters.
This is a well-established pattern, one we have seen evolving and being perfected by the radical right since early 2017—primarily in liberal urban centers such as Portland, Oregon; Seattle; and the Bay Area. The politics of violent confrontation this strategy manifests may have reached a kind of dark fruition on Saturday, with a large helping hand from Trump himself, who tweeted out encouragement to the same thugs he had told on national television to “stand down and stand by.”
The violence was not pronounced during the daytime at the event, despite some fighting that broke out between anti-Trump protesters and rally participants. However, after most of the rally—estimated to have numbered in the tens of thousands—had cleared away by evening, large clusters of Proud Boys and other violent pro-Trump brawlers took to the streets of downtown Washington and began engaging in a variety of forms of violence: punching, shoving, kicking, and stabbing protesters, even as Metro Police devoted most of their energy to restraining the anti-Trump bloc.
According to the Washington Post, some 20 people were arrested, including four people on gun charges. At least one person who was stabbed was hospitalized in serious condition.
Trump himself made clear on Twitter his view of the violence:
ANTIFA SCUM ran for the hills today when they tried attacking the people at the Trump Rally, because those people aggressively fought back. 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!!!
Trump’s narrative—and that of Trump supporters both online and at the rally—reflected the right’s long-running attempt to deflect and excuse its own violence by claiming that “the violent left” is responsible for inciting it all. It’s a profoundly eliminationist narrative, and that tendency was omnipresent throughout the “Million MAGA March,” with threats to kill or deport all their political opponents a common refrain, as well as the reflexive dehumanization of their foes as verminous threats—with Trump’s description of antifascists as “scum” leading the parade.
Trump bolstered this narrative by retweeting a video posted by right-wing pseudo-journalist Andy Ngo, showing a Trump supporter being knocked out from behind by an antifascist protester. “Human Radical Left garbage did this,” Trump wrote. “Being arrested now!”
In reality, Ngo’s video was simply another of his selectively edited hit jobs designed to demonize antifascists. A full video of the incident clearly shows that the man initiated the violence by punching and shoving a protester who had been using a bullhorn, then brawling with a number of other protesters, before he was finally given a knockout sucker punch.
The reality on the streets bore little resemblance to Trump’s narrative. Throughout the evening, Proud Boys and other pro-Trump brawlers could be seen deliberately attacking anyone who dared protest them. Eventually police would intervene, but they invariably directed their attention to the protesters, turning their backs on the Proud Boys, and seeming to protect them.
Some of the assaults broke out in the middle of intersections where protesters sometimes gathered. At other times, gangs of pro-Trump rallygoers could be seen chasing individual protesters, such as this woman, down and beating them. Proud Boys also knocked out a Black woman and left her laid out in the street.
One of the people stabbed amid the melees was journalist Talia Jane, who said someone came up behind her and stabbed her in the ear. Jane was also punched by a man who simply came up to her and knocked her down. She had her wound bandaged, and continued working throughout the night.
Other journalists experienced constant harassment from the rallygoers. MSNBC reporter Ellison Barber, at one point, was chased and followed by shouting MAGA fans: “The crowd here is chanting ‘fake news, fake news,’” Barber told her audience. “Not fans of ours, as you can tell. Which that’s fine as long as they give us a little space.”
“It’s hostile here, at least for us,” she continued. “They’re following us and chasing us as we walk further back.”
And while the right loves to portray antifascists as vandals who damaged property during protests, there was no shortage of that behavior from the pro-Trump crowd on Saturday. During the day, umasked MAGA fans could be seen tearing down signs on a Black Lives Matter memorial project affixed to the White House border wall—and appeared to have the protection of Metro Police in doing so.
During the evening, a crowd of pro-Trump rallygoers were filmed tearing down six large Black Lives Matter signs on the front of the Laborers International Union of North America building, near McPherson Square, as police stood by and watched. They also stomped on and destroyed other BLM signs that they found.
The eliminationist rhetoric reached a fever pitch on the Proud Boys’ social-media channels that mirrored their words and actions on the street. Proud Boys national chairman Enrique Tarrio posted an overt threat on Parler: “DC antifa ends tonight,” he wrote.
At the @ProudBoysUncensored account, the mask came off altogether, as they extolled a violent neo-Nazi fantasy:
This is just the beginning. Anti fascist Marxists will no longer hold this nation hostage.
Anti fascists will no longer be safe while they’re terrorizing cities.
The pendulum is swinging back and the day of the rope is coming for every single violent marxist in this nation.
The “day of the rope” is a reference to white supremacists’ long-hoped-for racial war, the blueprint for which remains The Turner Diaries, a neo-Nazi “novel” that depicts, among other things, a day in which an angry society rises up and lynches all American “race traitors” from lampposts in a single day. Similar sentiments could be heard from the mouths of MAGA fans throughout the day Saturday.
“It was not a Million MAGA on the streets of DC today, but it would be catastrophic to not take what happened today seriously,” commented researcher Devin Burghart of the Institute for Research and Education on Human Rights, who was present for the events. “This is a beginning, not the end. We’re witnessing the initial coalescing of a wide range of far-right forces into mass opposition.”