WASHINGTON: City officials in Washington on Monday (Jan 4) warned supporters of President Donald Trump not to bring guns to protests this week against congressional certification of his election defeat and enlisted hundreds of National Guard troops to help keep order.
"We have received some information that there are individuals intent on bringing firearms into our city and that just will not be tolerated," Police Chief Robert Contee told a City Hall news conference, adding that anyone found doing so or provoking violence would be arrested.
More than 300 troops will be on hand to support the city government, providing crowd control and aiding fire and rescue services, the DC National Guard said in a statement on Monday. They will be joined by the US Capitol Police, US Park Police and US Secret Service, Contee said.
The district has some of the United States' strictest gun laws, and forbids open carry of weapons or possession of a handgun without a local licence.
Thousands of Trump supporters, including some far-right nationalist groups that openly carry arms at protests elsewhere, are expected to converge on the US capital starting on Tuesday to oppose Congress' certification the next day of the Republican president’s Nov 3 election loss to Democrat Joe Biden.
Contee said the protests could be bigger than November and December rallies marred by stabbings and brawls as hundreds of Proud Boys, a group of self-described "Western chauvinists", and other Trump loyalists clashed with counter-protesters, and sought fights with antifa, or anti-fascists, and Black Lives Matter activists.
On Monday, Metropolitan police arrested Proud Boys leader Henry "Enrique" Tarrio, and charged him with destruction of property related to an earlier protest. Tarrio was "in possession of two high capacity firearm magazines" at the time of arrest, a police statement said, and charged with that possession offence as well.
TRUMP PROMISES TO APPEAR
Trump summoned supporters to this week’s gatherings, saying on Twitter on Sunday that "I will be there", and on Friday that "it will be wild". Several rallies are planned for Wednesday, including one outside the US Congress.
The White House has not provided any official schedule, but one person briefed on his plans said Trump will speak to supporters on Jan 6 at the Ellipse, a park just south of the White House.
Trump falsely claims that Biden won the election through massive vote-rigging, even though dozens of state and federal court rulings, state election officials of both parties, and the US Justice Department have found no major fraud.
Congress is constitutionally mandated to certify the presidential election results on Wednesday, in what would normally be a formality overseen by Vice President Mike Pence.
But at least 12 Republican senators and some 140 Republican House of Representatives members pledged to vote against certification of Biden’s win, citing Trump’s election fraud allegations.
Their move will not change the outcome, DC Mayor Muriel Bowser, a Democrat, told the news conference. "Our Constitution will endure. Joe Biden and Kamala Harris will be the president and the vice president of the United States" when they are inaugurated on Jan 20.
Bowser urged residents to stay out of the city centre, where boards hung during racial justice rallies last summer still cover office, restaurant and hotel windows.
Before his arrest, Proud Boys' Tarrio said on social media that "record numbers" of members would attend, suggesting that they may dress in all black like antifa activists. "We will be incognito and we will spread across downtown DC in smaller teams," he said
“We will be incognito and we will spread across downtown DC in smaller teams,” wrote Enrique Tarrio.
The Hotel Harrington and the attached Harry’s Bar, popular Proud Boys gathering spots during previous protests, will close on Tuesday and Wednesday.
"While we cannot control what happens outside of the hotel, we are taking additional steps to protect the safety of our visitors, guests and employees,” the hotel said on its website.