Someone had determined that the man wearing all black with a red bandana around his mouth was “antifa.” Pro-Trump supporters swarmed the man, who put his hands in the air and refused to budge, even as a large man wearing a camo hat but no mask began yelling for him to leave, his finger pointing in the bandana-wearer’s face. A man in the crowd shouted repeatedly, “You’re destroying America!” while a Trump supporter chased off a member of the press who tried to tape the incident.
The confrontation outside of the Supreme Court Saturday erupted out of thin air; just minutes before, the crowd seemed slightly tired, ready for lunch and a nap. This scene ended with the alleged anti-fascist demonstrator leaving the scene with the help of police, followed down the street by Trump supporters carrying flags emblazoned with the name of their hero, chanting “U-S-A!” But later that evening, real brawls would break out between counterprotesters and the Proud Boys hate group—whose members President Donald Trump famously told to “stand by” during his Sept. 30 debate with now President-elect Joe Biden. Police reported 21 people were arrested, and one man who was stabbed in the back was taken to the hospital.
Going by “Million MAGA March,” “Stop the Steal,” and “March for Trump,” the Nov. 14 rally-march event was portrayed by GOP political operative Ali Alexander as an organic uprising of Americans who believe the presidential election was “stolen” from President Donald Trump. In reality, it was an astroturfed campaign pulled together by Alexander, who has ties to Roger Stone and Steve Bannon, to push a false narrative of voter fraud and cast doubt on integrity of the election. On display Saturday was how much the right—and Republican Party under Trump—has embraced what in the past would have been considered its most fringe elements. In addition to the far-right street fighting Proud Boys, gathered in the nation’s capital were members of the QAnon conspiracy-theory movement, white nationalists, and militia groups, brought together by their common reverence of Trump.
Trump repaid them in the morning by driving past the rally in his motorcade on his way to play golf, waving from his limousine window at the throngs of MAGA-hat wearing supporters. By noon, the official start time of the rally, Freedom Plaza, which sits just east of the White House, was packed with thousands of supporters, their flags waving high in the sky. The banners featured such slogans as “All aboard the Trump train,” “Trump 2020,” “Blue Lives Matter;” and images of Trump as an action hero, his head superimposed on the body of the then-buff Sylvester Stallone in Rambo mode.
As he walked into the plaza, a man wearing an InfoWars T-shirt unfurled his Trump-Pence flag. (Alex Jones, the leader of the conspiracy-theory outlet, had led a caravan from Austin, Texas, to the nation’s capital, picking up followers along the way.) Another man attached his “I See Dead People Voting,” sign to his backpack; the sign was in reference to a conspiracy theory pushed by Alexander’s “Stop the Steal” campaign positing that the identities of dead people were used to vote in the election. Epoch News, a leading purveyor of right-wing disinformation that has peddled the QAnon conspiracy theory, handed out free newspapers that explained why they wouldn’t call the race for Biden even though every major news outlet has.
With one visible loudspeaker and a stage that wasn’t high enough off the ground, most speakers couldn’t be heard or seen, unless one wanted to shove their way past maskless rallygoers to make it close to the stage. As a result, the main event took a backseat at times to the general commotion, of which there was plenty.
Competing for attention was Nick Fuentes’ America First group, a youth-focused white-nationalist outfit whose members refer to themselves as “groypers.” Fuentes stood on an elevated area of the plaza with his followers, waving America First flags leading rally-goers in a chant of “Fox News sucks!” Contempt for Fox News has become a primary fixture of the Stop the Steal campaign, having fallen out of favor among right-wing audiences for being the first major news outlet to call Arizona for Joe Biden.
When they tired of the Fox News chant, the group then began chanting, “Nick, Nick, Nick,” prompting Fuentes to take the bullhorn. But by the time Fuentes stepped up to address his acolytes, the next speaker on the main stage drowned him out. His speech still garnered cheers from the crowd before his followers launched into an “America First” chant. Fuentes took part in the 2017 Unite the Right white supremacist gathering, where a counterdemonstrator was murdered, and he has said that he had similar political complaints as those of the El Paso shooter, who published a white nationalist manifesto before he killed 22 people in a massacre at a Walmart.
Nick Fuentes’ white nationalist “groypers” commanded the crowds attention at Freedom Plaza with chants of “America First.” pic.twitter.com/KPXjENFHz3
— Kristen Doerer (@k2doe) November 14, 2020
Fuentes and his America First group were welcomed with open arms by Alexander, who tends to point out whenever someone is Jewish and has joined Fuentes on his podcast. Alexander eventually took the main stage and offered rally-goers a way Trump could stay in power.
“Next week, start lobbying the state legislatures of Pennsylvania, of Wisconsin, of Michigan, of Arizona, and of Georgia. We’re going to tell them to ignore the rigged elections and send Republican electors to the electoral college, or we’re going to deprive both candidates of 270,” Fuentes said, referring to the number of electoral votes a candidate needs to accumulate in order to win the presidency. ”Then we’ll send it to the House of Representatives where Donald J. Trump will win,” he continued, adding, “Let’s terrify this town.”
Marjorie Taylor Greene, the QAnon-supporting Republican from Georgia who will be walking the halls of Congress come January, closed out the rally at Freedom Plaza with a torrent of falsehoods, offering a sense of what kind of colleague she’ll be on Capitol Hill.
“This is only the beginning,” she said. “The Democrat Party is the party of socialism, the party of riots, the party that wants to murder babies up until birth and make taxpayers pay for it, they’re the party that wants to take away your guns.”
With that, the rally blasted the song “YMCA” unironically, and the march to the Supreme Court began.
Running down Pennsylvania Avenue in an apparent effort to get to the front of the procession, Jack Posobiec, the far-right activist and One America News Network figure, slipped and fell in front of the Justice Department before getting up and continuing his quest. The night before, Posobiec had called for rally-goers to “Police the crowd,” claiming that “Anarchists wait to strike” and “know how to blend in.” Passing him by was a man wearing a Hawaiian-style shirt; its bright print featured both flowers and machine guns. The Hawaiian shirt has become the uniform of the Boogaloo movement, a militia-style movement whose members believe that a race war or civil war is inevitable, and see it as their charge to accelerate its commencement.
Near the Dirksen Senate office building on Constitution Ave, dozens of Proud Boys in their signature black-and-yellow polos walked in the opposite direction of the crowd, making the “OK” hand gesture, which has become a symbol of white power, high in the air.
The Proud Boys are known to instigate fights and then claim self-defense, as they did in the melee that took place after a talk by the group’s founder Gavin McInnes at the Metropolitan Republican Club in New York City in 2018. That incident led to two Proud Boys members being sentenced to four years in prison for kicking and punching protesters.
The Oath Keepers militia group, whose leader Stewart Rhodes promised to place his armed men outside of the District borders should Trump call on them, were also in attendance, as were members of the Three Percenters militia group. (Across the border between D.C. and Virginia, the law allows for the open carrying of firearms, which is prohibited in the nation’s capital.)
By the Capitol building, Trump supporters closed in around a counterprotester shouting at the Trump fans from his bike. A man employing a bullhorn tried to keep the peace: “Let him leave. Stop! We are not those types of people.”
A woman looked on. “Shit’s getting real. It’s about time!” she yelled.
In this strange gathering were also families and strollers, which may be one reason why—despite the confrontations and handful of scuffles—things did not turn more violent until the evening. The other may be that counterprotesters appeared to mostly give up any plans to gather at the rally site for a demonstration, so those looking for a fight had no one to turn on.
The far-right QAnon conspiracy theory also made a showing, with the QAnon slogan, “Where we go one, we go all,” abbreviated to “WWG1WGA,” on T-shirts, “Q” pins on hats, and posters about child-sex-trafficking. One man wore a sweatshirt that read, “Investigate Pizzagate,” referring to the debunked Pizzagate conspiracy theory that preceded QAnon and ended with a gunman showing up to a Washington, D.C., pizzeria. Meanwhile, Alex Jones, who pushed that theory, was given the microphone on the same stage at which recent electeds Lauren Boebert and Madison Cawthorn, who both have dabbled in QAnon, would later speak.
After claiming that “globalists are making their move against us,” Jones led the crowd in a prayer. “We absolutely commit to you on your holy altar to never submit to Satan and these globalist pedophiles, and we will defeat their new world order. Amen!” he yelled before starting the crowd on a “U-S-A!” chant.
Matt Schlapp, president of the American Conservative Union, took the stage outside the Supreme Court. His organization hosts the annual Conservative Political Action Conference, the largest gathering of conservatives in the world. “I want you to know your president loves you,” he said, flaunting his access to the commander-in-chief. He then led the crowd in a chant of “We love Trump.” And by all appearances, indeed they do.