Proud Boys marched to Free dom Plaza during a protest on December 12.
D.C. officials are urging people in the region to stay away from the downtown area on Tuesday and Wednesday, when a coalition of Trump supporters and far-right groups will again converge on Washington to protest the results of the presidential election. Congress is scheduled to certify the Electoral College vote on Wednesday and declare Joe Biden president-elect and Kamala Harris vice-president-elect.
D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser took to Twitter Sunday night to ask Washingtonians to refrain from engaging with demonstrators "who come to our city seeking confrontation." She also encouraged residents to report suspicious activity, threats or emergencies through iwatchdc.org or by calling 911.
One prominent D.C. resident has already publicly announced his intentions to ignore her request. "I will be there. Historic day!" President Donald J. Trump tweeted about Wednesday's protest. D.C. officials are preparing for larger crowds than in past demonstrations.
"There is a general consensus that there will be significant turnout," said Ward 6 Councilmember Charles Allen, who took part in a closed-door briefing with city officials on Monday morning. "When you've got the president openly fomenting these events, and based on the intelligence as well as hotel occupancy, all indications are pointing to a higher turnout."
At a Monday press briefing, Bowser doubled down on her recommendation for locals to avoid the downtown areas where the demonstrations are scheduled, saying, "We will not allow people to incite violence, intimidate residents, or cause destruction in our city."
Acting Police Chief Robert Contee added that city officials have called on the D.C. National Guard to assist with crowd and traffic control. Anyone agitating or participating in violence "will not be tolerated," Contee said.
D.C.'s Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency has posted signage downtown to remind the protestors of D.C.'s gun restrictions — no one can carry a gun in any of the signed areas, whether or not they have a legal concealed carry permit issued by D.C. — and the agency has set up an emergency operations center to monitor the area, HSEMA director Chris Rodriguez said during the briefing.
This week will mark the third pro-Trump rally in D.C. in less than two months. On both November 14 and December 12, late-night clashes between protesters, counter-protesters and police turned violent. Officers arrested 33 people in connection with the December protest and four people were stabbed. Eight police officers were injured. Demonstrators also damaged property at four Black churches and burned a Black Lives Matter banner.
Because of those incidents, city officials are planning on additional security for churches and other possible targets — including Black Lives Matter Plaza. "BLM Plaza is a very recognizable target and they know it's an area people who want to show off their white supremacy will want to target," said Allen. "It is high on radar."
Contee also said that D.C. police would consider closing the plaza altogether, saying it would be a "game-day assessment." Bowser also said she would keep open the option of imposing a curfew. "It's certainly a tool we will evaluate during the week," she said.
A hotel and bar that previously served as a gathering place for the far-right activists has announced it will close during the rally, citing safety concerns. Hotel Harrington and Harry's Bar in downtown D.C. made the announcement last week, without citing a reason. The century-old hotel received multiple citations for violating D.C.'s coronavirus reopening restrictions during weekends featuring large pro-Trump demonstrations. The December stabbings that left four hospitalized with non-life-threatening injuries occurred near the bar.
The city has also issued a reminder about the local and federal gun laws that govern the city. Even with a concealed carry license, it's illegal to carry a firearm within 1,000 feet of any First Amendment demonstration or onto U.S. Capitol grounds and National Park Service areas. (The protesters' permit includes a number of Park Service areas, including Freedom Plaza and the Lincoln Memorial). It is illegal to open carry firearms anywhere in the District.
"MPD made gun arrests and recoveries the last time these hate groups came to the District, so we are aware there may be efforts to bring illegal guns into the District. It is every expectation that MPD will meet that threat and remove firearms and make arrests," said Allen.
The upcoming protests could prove to be something of a proving ground for Contee, who took over the role from Peter Newsham on Saturday. The Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) will begin a full activation on Tuesday, with all staff reporting for response on both Tuesday and Wednesday.
"We want to see peaceful protests in our city," Contee said in regards to the January protests at a press conference in mid-December.
MPD will also coordinate the myriad downtown street closures and parking restrictions in effect this week.
Closures will begin Tuesday at 6 a.m. and could continue through Thursday, D.C. police said.