Trump briefly appeared close to acknowledging the likelihood he will be leaving the White House.
Supporters of US President Donald Trump fought on the streets of Washington, DC with counter-demonstrators early on Sunday with several fistfights, at least one stabbing and 20 people arrested.
Several other cities on Saturday also saw gatherings of Trump supporters unwilling to accept Democrat Joe Biden’s Electoral College and popular vote victory as legitimate. Cries of “Stop the Steal” and “Count Every Vote” continued despite a lack of evidence of voter fraud or other problems that could reverse the result.
After night fell, the relatively peaceful demonstrations in Washington turned from tense to violent. Videos posted on social media showed fistfights, projectiles thrown and club-swinging as Trump supporters clashed with those demanding they leave.
A variety of charges, including assault and weapons possession, were filed against those arrested, officials said. Two police officers were injured and several firearms were recovered by police.
One person was stabbed and rushed to a trauma centre, a spokeswoman for the city fire and emergency medical services department said. The Washington Post newspaper reported the stabbing occurred amid a melee between Trump supporters – some carrying batons – and counter-protesters that broke out about 8pm (01:00 GMT).
‘Keep up his spirits’
Trump himself had given an approving nod to the gathering on Saturday morning by dispatching his motorcade through streets lined with supporters before rolling on to his Virginia golf club. People chanted “USA, USA” and “four more years” and many carried American flags and signs to show their displeasure with the vote tally and insistence that, as Trump has baselessly asserted, fraud was the reason.
A week after Biden was declared the winner of the election, demonstrations in support of Trump also took place in other cities. Fury at the prospect of a transfer of executive power showed no signs of abating, taking a cue from the president’s unrelenting assertion of victory in a race he actually lost.
“I just want to keep up his spirits and let him know we support him,” one loyalist, Anthony Whittaker of Winchester, Virginia, said.
At least 10,000 people – few wearing masks amid the surging coronavirus pandemic – massed on the city’s Freedom Plaza before marching to the Supreme Court in a raucous atmosphere reminiscent of a Trump campaign rally.
Among the speakers at the rally was Marjorie Taylor Greene – a Georgia Republican newly elected to the US House who has expressed racist views and support for QAnon conspiracy theories. She urged people to march peacefully towards the Supreme Court.
Mostly clad in black with some wearing helmets and ballistic vests, the marchers included members of the Proud Boys, a neo-fascist group known for street brawling with ideological opponents at political rallies.
‘Make America Great Again’
The march was largely peaceful during the day before turning tense at night with multiple confrontations as small groups of Trump supporters attempted to enter the area around the Black Lives Matter Plaza, about a block from the White House, where several hundred anti-Trump demonstrators had gathered.
In a pattern that kept repeating itself, those Trump supporters who approached the area were harassed, doused with water, and saw their Make America Great Again hats and pro-Trump flags snatched and burned, amid cheers. As night fell, multiple police lines kept the two sides apart.
Videos posted on social media showed some demonstrators and counter-demonstrators trading shoves, punches and slaps.
A man with a bullhorn yelling “Get out of here!” was shoved and pushed to the street by a man who was then surrounded by several people and shoved and punched until he fell face first into the street. Bloody and dazed, he was picked up and walked to a police officer.
Near the Supreme Court, some counter-protesters carried black umbrellas and makeshift shields, while others formed a line of bicycles to prevent pro-Trump protesters from approaching their group from the rear. They called Trump supporters “Nazis”. The protesters shouted profanities back.
Later Saturday, Trump took to Twitter with a series of tweets and retweets that included claims of voting machines potentially being hacked and complaints about news networks’ coverage of the rally.
Twitter slapped labels on at least eight of the posts as containing “disputed” information.
‘A long shot’
As night fell, police formed lines on either side of a street leading to the White House, separating hundreds of rival protesters. “We’re just holding back people who want to fight,” one officer told the AFP news agency.
Trump tweeted “hundreds of thousands” had turned out to the rally – while his spokeswoman Kayleigh McEnany made the greatly exaggerated claim that more than one million people were present.
But the turnout was undoubtedly high for a strongly Democratic city, boosted by protesters from around the country – from Florida to Pennsylvania to Colorado.
Darion Schaublin, who drove from Columbus, Ohio, said: “The whole system’s rigged … in the way that the information is getting to the people”.
“The truth never actually gets out,” said the 26-year-old, who said he lost his job in a restaurant after refusing to wear a mask to help stop the spread of COVID-19.
Kathlin Erickson said she flew from Colorado on a plane “filled with Trump supporters” to keep alive hopes of a second Trump administration.
“A Trump victory? That’s a long shot but anything is possible with God,” she said.
Biden has won 306 votes in the state-by-state Electoral College system that determines the presidential winner, according to Edison Research, far more than the 270 needed to secure a majority.
Trump earned the same number of electoral votes in 2016 over Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton, a victory he has called a “landslide” despite the fact she won the national popular vote.
Biden has also won the popular vote. With a few states still counting ballots, he leads Trump by more than 5.5 million votes, or 3.6 percent.
With his chances of reversing the outcome virtually extinguished, Trump has discussed with advisers potential media ventures that would keep him in the spotlight ahead of a possible 2024 White House bid, aides said.