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Hundreds of President Trump’s supporters flock to Washington DC ahead of vote

PA Media logoPA Media 06/01/2021 By Ashraf Khalil and Michael Balsamo, Associated Press
a group of people in front of a large crowd at night: People attend a rally at Freedom Plaza in support of President Donald Trump (Julio Cortez/AP) © Julio Cortez People attend a rally at Freedom Plaza in support of President Donald Trump (Julio Cortez/AP)

Hundreds of supporters of President Donald Trump descended on Washington DC on Tuesday to cheer his baseless claims of election fraud a day before a congressional vote to affirm Joe Biden’s victory.

Just blocks from the White House, protesters — many without masks — gathered in Freedom Plaza to decry the vote in the Electoral College.

As temperatures dropped and a steady rain swept onto the streets, hundreds remained in the plaza into nightfall.

“I’m just here to support the president,” said David Wideman, a 45-year-old firefighter who travelled from Memphis, Tennessee.

Mr Wideman acknowledged he was “confused” by a string of losses from the president’s legal team in their attempt to overturn the results of the election and did not know what options Mr Trump had left.

“I’m not sure what he can do at this point, but I want to hear what he has to say,” Mr Wideman said.

The president tweeted his support for the protesters: “Washington is being inundated with people who don’t want to see an election victory stolen by emboldened Radical Left Democrats. Our Country has had enough, they won’t take it anymore! We hear you (and love you) from the Oval Office. MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN!”

The speakers included Mr Trump’s former national security adviser Michael Flynn, whom the president pardoned after he was twice convicted of lying to the FBI in special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation.

“We stand at a crucible moment in United States history,” Mr Flynn told the mostly maskless crowd. “This country is awake now.”

The president was expected to personally address his supporters in Washington on Wednesday during a rally on the Ellipse, just south of the White House.

The protests coincide with Wednesday’s congressional vote expected to certify the Electoral College results, which Mr Trump continues to dispute.

In a Tuesday evening tweet, Mr Trump called on Democrats and fellow Republicans to look at the “thousands of people pouring into DC”.

In another tweet, he warned that antifa, the umbrella term for leftist militant groups that Mr Trump has said he wants to declare a terrorist organisation, should stay out of Washington.

The rallies had local officials and law enforcement bracing for potential violent street clashes.

Many businesses in downtown Washington boarded up their windows, fearful that the protest could devolve into the unrest seen in May and June when dozens of businesses were vandalised.

Officials said there were six arrests by Tuesday night for a variety of offences including weapons and ammunition possession, assaulting a police officer, simple assault and possessing a stun gun.

a group of people holding a sign: People hold signs at the rally at Freedom Plaza (Jacquelyn Martin/AP) © Provided by PA Media People hold signs at the rally at Freedom Plaza (Jacquelyn Martin/AP)

District of Columbia mayor Muriel Bowser called in National Guard troops to help bolster the city’s police force.

She urged residents to stay away from downtown Washington and to avoid confrontations with anyone who is “looking for a fight”.

But, she warned, “we will not allow people to incite violence, intimidate our residents or cause destruction in our city”.

Election officials from both political parties, governors in key battleground states and Mr Trump’s former attorney general, William Barr, have said there was no widespread fraud in the election.

Nearly all the legal challenges from Mr Trump and his allies have been dismissed by judges, including two challenges rejected by the Supreme Court.

A pro-Trump rally on December 12 ended in violence as hundreds of the president’s supporters, wearing the signature black and yellow of the Proud Boys, a far-right extremist group, sought out confrontations with a collective of local activists attempting to bar them from Black Lives Matter Plaza, an area near the White House.

At least two local black churches had Black Lives Matter banners torn down and set ablaze.

a man wearing a uniform: Proud Boys leader Henry ‘Enrique’ Tarrio (Allison Dinner/AP) © Provided by PA Media Proud Boys leader Henry ‘Enrique’ Tarrio (Allison Dinner/AP)

On Monday, police arrested the leader of the Proud Boys, Henry ‘Enrique’ Tarrio, 36, after he arrived in Washington ahead of this week’s protests.

Mr Tarrio was accused of burning one of the Black Lives Matter banners in December and was found with two high-capacity firearm magazines, police said.

A judge signed an order on Tuesday banning Mr Tarrio from entering the District of Columbia, with very limited exceptions related to his criminal case.

Organisers planned to rally into the night on Tuesday and again all day on Wednesday on the Ellipse.

An afternoon march was also planned to the US Capitol, where Congress will be voting to affirm the election results.

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