On Wednesday, January 6, Congress will meet to certify Joe Biden’s victory over Donald Trump in the 2020 Presidential election. With President Trump’s encouragement, an unknown number of his fans plan to travel to DC that day to protest his loss. There will be at least four separate events on Wednesday in DC, and like in November and December people on the far right are promoting the events alongside “normie” Trump supporters.
DC Mayor Muriel Bowser on Sunday discouraged locals from counterprotesting: “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 statement.
That’s very good advice. Here are some reasons why.
1) The Proud Boys will be back
The street-fighting arm of the MAGA movement was responsible for a lot of chaos during the November and December events. They roamed downtown looking for people to fight and ripped a “Black Lives Matter” banner from a local church, an act that the DC police are investigating as a hate crime. Though their usual hangouts Harry’s Bar and the Hotel Harrington have opted to close rather than host the group’s members, they plan to attend anyway. (Some counterprotesters plan to gather at the Holiday Inn on Eisenhower Avenue in Alexandria at 3 PM Monday to protest what they say is the hotel accommodating “violent fascists”; the hotel has not yet responded to Washingtonian‘s phone calls requesting comment.) The group won’t wear its trademark yellow-and-black clothing this time: They say they plan to “be incognito and…will spread across downtown DC in smaller teams.”
2) The events reflect an apocalyptic mindset among Trump fans
On niche social media sites like Parler, January 6 is meshing with the QAnon conspiracy pseudo-religion about President Trump occasioning a “storm” that will wash away his enemies. It’s seen as a “final stand” for many of Trump’s supporters (though more protests are due around the time of Biden’s inauguration). What this means in practice is that the events could draw people who view the date as an epochal moment in their worldview and may not be in the mood to discuss the finer points of reality. As the extremism researcher Jared Holt wrote on Twitter, the gatherings are coming together “at a scale…that we haven’t seen yet” and that “my gut tells me it could get ugly if control is lost.”
I’ve spent the past few months embedded in these online communities doing forensic digital research. January 6 is being treated in these groups as a “show up or shut up” moment. It is impossible to predict the future, but my gut tells me it could get ugly if control is lost.
— Jared Holt (@jaredlholt) January 3, 2021
3) Downtown will be very difficult to navigate
Right now there are plans for events at the Ellipse, the Mall, the Capitol grounds, and the Sylvan Theater. DC police have announced parking restrictions and multiple street closures. It will be hard to get around except on foot or on bike.
TRAFFIC ADVISORY: First Amendment Activity
From Jan 5th to Jan 7th, 2021, First Amendment demonstrations are scheduled to occur in DC. There will be parking restrictions & potential street closures that motorists should take into consideration.
— DC Police Department (@DCPoliceDept) January 3, 2021
4) Many would-be protesters hope to defy DC’s gun laws
People who say they’ll attend have reportedly traded strategies for smuggling weapons into the District. While these plans may be so much keyboard bluster, militia groups are among those who plan to attend the events. During November’s rally, some militia groups planned to station themselves outside town so they could swing into action if someone fired up a dipshit bat signal or something. There’s no reason to think this time will be different.
In her statement, Bowser reminded attendees about DC’s gun laws:
Members of the public and anyone attending the events are reminded that District law prohibits anyone from carrying a firearm within 1,000 feet of any First Amendment activity. Under federal law, it is illegal to possess firearms on the US Capitol grounds and on National Park Service areas, such as Freedom Plaza, the Ellipse, and the National Mall. Additionally, members of the public are reminded that the District of Columbia does not have reciprocity with other states’ concealed pistol licenses; unless a person has been issued a concealed pistol license by the District of Columbia, they cannot conceal carry a firearm in the city. Finally, it is illegal to open carry firearms in the District.
5) The public-health dimension
Many of these attendees have adopted Trump’s cavalier attitude toward the coronavirus pandemic. If previous marches are any indication, you won’t see a lot of masks being worn or social distancing taking place. Unfortunately, people who occupy an alternate reality can still spread Covid-19, particularly if they’re shouting or otherwise spreading droplets. Anyone downtown at the same time will be vacuumed, willingly or not, into the daffy worldview that coronavirus isn’t a big deal.