Roaming the streets of Washington, D.C., Saturday night, the Proud Boys, a self-declared “Western chauvinist” group with ties to white nationalists, looked for fights. They found them; in most cases, they seem to have started them.
In one instance, members of the hate group, dressed in their signature black-and-yellow polos, shoved a counterprotester to the ground and began kicking him. When a woman tried to escort him away from danger, Proud Boys members sucker-punched him while another yanked her hair, throwing her to the ground.
By the end of the weekend, nearly three dozen people were arrested, four members of the Proud Boys were stabbed after a cornered man defended himself from attacks, and four Black churches were vandalized, one of which saw its Black Lives Matter sign burned—acts that are being investigated as possible hate crimes.
The groundwork for the chaotic violence was laid earlier that day at a series of pro-Trump events convened to call for President Donald Trump to remain in the White House—where talk of violence and rebellion was loud and clear, extremists were welcomed and given a platform before thousands, and conspiracy theories were touted as fact. All were given the thumb of approval from Trump, who basked in the display of loyalty to him on Twitter.
Prior to their violence-fueled night, the Proud Boys joined pro-Trump activists gathered for two competing events: “Let the Church Roar” on the National Mall, organized by the Stop the Steal campaign and Jericho March, and “March for Trump” at Freedom Plaza, organized by Women for America First. Both rallies staked a claim to the Stop the Steal campaign, which was the driving force behind a similar Nov. 14 rally and march in the nation’s capital that attracted extremists, including the Proud Boys, conspiracy theorists, and militia groups. And both Dec.12 rallies featured extreme rhetoric and shared some of the same speakers, including disgraced former three-star general Mike Flynn and right-wing pastor Mark Burns.
Standing behind a podium bearing the Women for America First logo at Freedom Plaza, Burns launched the “March for Trump” rally, getting the crowd going with a “U-S-A” chant before introducing himself and setting the tone for the day: “I’m pastor Mark Burns, and I’ve come to let every race-baiting Democrat and liberal that we are not backing down, and we are never, never shutting up!”
“We’ve come, we’re ready for a fight, America. And I believe we have patriots who are ready for a fight. We’ve come to serve notice on every race-baiting, dividing, God-hating liberal in America that you will not take away the beautiful country that we call the United States of America—never, never, never!” he shouted, a massive Trump 2020 sign serving as his backdrop.
“I want you to declare to antifa, and anyone who tries to fight us, if you mess with one of us,” he shouted, gesturing at the crowd, prompting their response: “You mess with all of us!”
With a rendition of the “Star Spangled Banner” underway, Marine One flew overhead with Trump on board, en route to the Army-Navy football game, prompting the commentators at the right-wing Right Side Broadcasting Network—a new favorite since Fox News fell out of favor for reporting on election night that Arizona had voted for Joe Biden—to say that Trump was gracing the rally with his presence.
After Kylie Jane Kremer and her mother Amy Kremer took the stage to discuss how the Tea Party laid the groundwork for a Trump presidency, Katrina Pierson, a Tea Party activist and adviser to Trump campaign, discussed rebellion, couched in the narrative of the Founding Fathers.
“Thomas Jefferson said that a little rebellion is the best medicine for government. Benjamin Franklin said we have given you a republic if you can keep it. Resistance to tyranny is obedience to God. So we’re going to fight. We’re not going to fight like liberals screaming in the streets, crying like adult children,” she said. “We’re going to fight like patriots.”
She added later on: “The Second Amendment, that’s No. 2 because it’s meant to protect the first!”
She wasn’t the only one to discuss revolution. Matt Couch, a Seth Rich conspiracy theorist who is currently being sued by Rich’s family, was eager to overturn the votes of 81 million people, particularly those in cities with a large Black population. “Patriots and tyrants, this is our 1776 right now, right here, in Washington, D.C.,” he said. “Literally eight cities in six states have caused this chaos. Eight Democrat-run cities. Milwaukee, Philadelphia, Atlanta, and I could go on and on. You get the point.”
But the crowd favorite by far was disgraced former national security adviser Mike Flynn, who was welcomed to the stage with cheers and chants of “Fight like Flynn.” Flynn is a hero among followers of the far-right QAnon conspiracy theory-movement, who see him as an example of someone who fought the “deep state” and won. Earlier this summer, Flynn threw his support behind the movement, reciting the QAnon pledge in a video shared to Twitter, and on Dec. 1, Trump granted Flynn a pardon.
As Right Wing Watch has reported, Flynn endorsed pro-Trump attorney Lin Wood’s call for Trump to declare martial law and use the military to oversee a new election. At the “March for Trump,” Flynn alluded to a globalist deep state and, like the speakers before him, used the American Revolution as a steppingstone to talk about the battle he sees worth waging.
“I mean it was so patriotic, I get emotional just thinking about them,” he said speaking about the battles of Lexington and Concord. “These were farmers, these were people from their churches and their communities, and they stood up at the time against the greatest power at that time in the world. We’re facing that power right now. That power is in the media, the global crowd, who wants to put their thumb down at who we are. We are not going to allow that. We are not going to allow it. Have faith, have courage, and fight like a Flynn!”
His speech was followed by Georgia state Rep. Vernon Jones who seemed keen on raising the rhetorical stakes. “We’re just locked and loaded, we’re just looking for the white of their eyes—not in a violent sense, ’cause they’re going to twist my words,” he added, before talking about William Sherman’s march to the sea, in which the Union general conducted a scorched-earth policy through Georgia leading to the Confederacy’s surrender. “You remember the last march on Georgia with General Sherman? I’m giving you the green light to come to Georgia. I want you to join me in holding the line,” he said. Two high-stakes run-off elections for U.S. Senate will take place in Georgia on Jan. 5; the outcomes will determine which party will control the Senate.
Meanwhile, on the National Mall, some speakers at Stop the Steal and Jericho March’s “Let the Church ROAR,” were more extreme and blunt in their thirst for war.
Radical conspiracy theorist Alex Jones—apparently tired of attacking the parents who lost their children in the Sandy Hook massacre—took to scream-ranting about a “Satanic pedophile, globalist New World Order” he claims is “publicly stealing this election from the biggest landslide and the biggest political realignment since 1776,” while Orthodox Christian George Michalopulos, who recently praised a call for Trump to “crush his enemies” and “use his authority under the Insurrection Act to arrest and/or kill everyone who participated in this plot,” told the audience: “I would rather die on my feet than live on my knees.”
The leader of the Oath Keepers, Stewart Rhodes, called on the president to invoke the Insurrection Act and declare martial law, adding that if Trump doesn’t, “we’re going to have to do it ourselves later in a much more desperate, much more bloody war.”
That’s the environment in which the Proud Boys took the streets of Washington Saturday. By night’s end, the founder of Stop the Steal, Ali Alexander, was applauding the hate group, claiming, “Brave patriots defended the helpless last night. Thank you. Dinner’s on me. Proud of my dudes.”
This post has been updated to reflect that Michael Flynn received three stars from the Army, not four.