Bracing for possible violence, the nation's capital has mobilized the National Guard ahead of planned protests by President Donald Trump's supporters in connection with the congressional vote expected Wednesday to affirm Joe Biden's election victory.
Trump's supporters are planning to rally Tuesday and Wednesday, seeking to bolster the president's unproven claims of widespread voter fraud.
"There are people intent on coming to our city armed," D.C. Acting Police Chief Robert Contee said Monday.
A pro-Trump rally in December ended in violence as hundreds of Trump supporters, wearing the signature black and yellow of the Proud Boys faction, sought out confrontations with a collective of local activists attempting to bar them from Black Lives Matter Plaza, an area near the White House.
On Monday, Metropolitan Police Department officers arrested the leader of the Proud Boys, Henry "Enrique" Tarrio, 36, after he arrived in Washington ahead of this week's protests. Tarrio was accused of burning a Black Lives Matter banner that was torn down from a historic Black church in downtown Washington during the December protests.
A warrant had been issued for Tarrio's arrest for destruction of property, police said. He was also facing weapons charges after officers found him with two high-capacity firearm magazines when he was arrested, a police spokesman said.
Trump has encouraged this week's protests and hinted that he may get personally involved. Over the weekend, he retweeted a promotion for the rally with the message, "I will be there. Historic Day!"
At a November rally, which drew about 15,000 people, Trump staged a limousine drive-by past cheering crowds in Freedom Plaza, on the city's iconic Pennsylvania Avenue. And at the December rally, which drew smaller numbers but a larger contingent of Proud Boys, Trump's helicopter flew low over cheering crowds on the National Mall.
As downtown D.C. businesses board up their windows, Mayor Muriel Bowser has requested a limited National Guard deployment to help bolster the Metropolitan Police Department. During a press conference Monday, Bowser asked that area residents stay away from downtown D.C. and 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."
According to a U.S. defense official, Bowser put in a request on New Year's Eve to have Guard members on the streets from Tuesday to Thursday to help with the protests. The official said the additional forces will be used for traffic control and other assistance, but they will not be armed or wearing body armor.
About 340 D.C. National Guard members will be activated, with about 115 on duty in the streets at any given time, said the defense official, who provided details on condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations. The official said Guard members will be used to set up traffic control points around the city and to stand with district police officers at all the city's Metro stops. Contee said Guard troops will also be used for some crowd management.
"Some of our intelligence certainly suggests there will be increased crowd sizes," said Contee.
D.C. police have posted signs throughout downtown warning that carrying any sort of firearm is illegal, and Contee asked area residents to warn authorities of anyone who might be armed.
The National Park Service has received three separate applications for pro-Trump protests on Tuesday or Wednesday, with estimated maximum attendance around 15,000 people, said Park Service spokesman Mike Litterst. On Monday, a stage was being assembled for one of the protests on The Ellipse, just south of the White House.
Organizers plan to rally on Tuesday evening at Freedom Plaza and again all day Wednesday on the Ellipse, including a 1 p.m. Wednesday march to the Capitol.
Expected attendees include high-level Trump supporters like Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton and Republican strategist Roger Stone, a longtime Trump devotee whose three-year prison sentence was commuted by Trump. Stone was convicted of repeatedly lying to Congress during the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.
During the December 12 pro-Trump protests, at least two local Black churches reported that Black Lives Matter banners were torn down and set ablaze. Contee said the hate-crimes investigation into those incidents was still ongoing and that his officers would be out in force around area churches to prevent similar incidents.
On Monday the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under the Law filed a lawsuit in D.C. Superior Court against the Proud Boys and Tarrio on behalf on one of the vandalized churches, Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal Church.