News & Politics

Saturday’s Pro-Trump Events in DC Have a Very Real Potential to Turn Violent, According to Experts Who Track Extremism

Militia members, white nationalists, and conspiracy theorists are on their way to town.

Proud Boys in DC, September 2018. Photograph by Evy Mages

Saturday’s planned pro-Trump demonstrations in DC will be attended by far-right individuals and groups who have records of violent activity, and there’s a significant chance that there could be conflict with counterprotesters. That’s the message from researchers who study far-right extremism that Washingtonian spoke with, and it’s echoed by research by Right Wing Watch and the  ADL.

Some reports in local news media have focused on plans by members of the Proud Boys to attend the events, which go by different names including the “Million MAGA March,” “Stop the Steal,” and the “March for Trump”; they all plan to gather at Freedom Plaza at noon on Saturday, despite having no apparent permit from the National Park Service.

The stated attendance of Proud Boys members is concerning, researchers tell Washingtonian, but that hate group is just one of the potential far-right attendees whose presence could bring an already jittery Washington, DC, to a boil. Among those who may attend or have promoted the event:

• Militia groups

Members of the Oath Keepers and Three Percenters Original have stated plans to attend. Oath Keepers leader Stewart Rhodes, the ADL notes, has said his group is prepared for a “‘Benghazi’ style assault on the White House by communist terrorists, in conjunction with stand-down orders by traitor generals.” Members of these groups have expressed concern in chatrooms and other forums about the District’s restrictive gun laws.

• White nationalist movement figures

The Neo-Nazi Andrew Anglin has promoted the march on the Daily Stormer, and the hate site Stormfront had a link on the top of its page, which was later removed for one of the rallies. (There are at least three names for the events planned for Saturday.) Nicholas Fuentes, who leads the so-called “Groyper Army” and attended the original Unite the Right Rally in Charlottesville, has declared on Twitter that Saturday will be “MAGA NIGHT AT THE WHITE HOUSE” and has asked his anti-semitic and Holocaust-denying fans to join him. Brien James, who leads Indiana’s Proud Boys chapter, has shared a video promoting the march with the fascist “Mannerbund Anthem” as background music. Ethan Ralph, a Virginia resident who broadcasts a show called The Killstream that frequently shares extremist propaganda, also says he plans to attend. Patrick Casey, the former leader of the American Identity Movement (you may remember them from the time they stank up a talk at Politics and Prose), also reportedly plans to attend.

• Conspiracy theorists

Alex Jones is leading a caravan from Austin to DC for Saturday’s rally and reportedly is bringing along a “battle tank.” QAnon supporters: Yeah, they’re a lock. An Instagram post from the Million MAGA March touts attendees like Mike Cernovich, a loud proponent of the nonsense “Pizzagate” theory that led to a disturbed man shooting a rifle inside Comet Ping Pong, and Jack Posobiec, a DC-based troll who reportedly has ties to the white nationalist movement.

Also attending, according to the post: Scott Presler, a conservative activist formerly associated with the hate group Act for America; Ashley St. Clair, who managed to get jettisoned by Turning Point USA after she was photographed at a dinner with far-right figures like Fuentes, Tim “Baked Alaska” Gionet, Andrew Anglin of the Daily Stormer, Jacob Wohl, and Paul Nehlen; Michelle Malkin, who’s career was likewise affected by an association with Fuentes; Jaden McNeil, a Fuentes-adjacent troll who made headlines this summer with a remarkably shitty tweet about George Floyd; and the conservative comedians the Hodgetwins.

• Concerns about counterprotesters

All Out DC, an antifascist organizing group, has advertised that it plans to counter-rally, according to the memo. A group called Refuse Fascism plans to gather on the 14th Street side of Freedom Plaza. In addition to street-fighting groups like the Proud Boys, one researcher, Jared Holt of the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab, expressed concern about independent actors looking for conflict with counterprotesters that they can stream live.

Taken together, the stated attendees are “a very volatile mix,” says Holt. “Unlike Unite the Right 2″—the failed 2018 neo-Nazi rally in DC—”this event is likely to draw significant numbers of extremists into the city.” The presence of “normie” Trump fans brought in by their misplaced concerns over the recent election (Fox News host and informal Trump adviser Sean Hannity has promoted the rally on his Twitter feed) and a handful of pro-Trump car parades entering the area could add to the confusion and potential for trouble.

• Coronavirus worries

If previous demonstrations are any indication, do not expect to much in the way of social distancing or mask-wearing among this crowd, many of whom will be traveling from hotspots (a concept that’s increasingly useless as the virus rages across the US but still). DC authorities have been reluctant to enforce Mayor Bowser’s coronavirus guidelines in the past. Anyone who confronts these visitors may have to contend with their laissez-faire approach to the pandemic, too.

Don’t Miss Another Big Story—Get Our Weekend Newsletter

Our most popular stories of the week, sent every Saturday.

Or, see all of our newsletters. By signing up, you agree to our terms.
Senior editor

Andrew Beaujon joined Washingtonian in late 2014. He was previously with the Poynter Institute, TBD.com, and Washington City Paper. His book A Bigger Field Awaits Us: The Scottish Soccer Team That Fought the Great War was published in 2018. He lives in Del Ray.