The scene before tomorrow’s Electoral College vote certification protests
I was caught off guard this evening by the extent of anti-democracy protesters across downtown and in other parts of central Washington, DC. It quickly became clear to me that this was no isolated bunch of potential ne’er-do-wells.
Instead, at virtually every hotel we walked past and drove by, a dozen to a couple dozen people were tightly packed outside. Some wore regalia that clearly marked them as part of this particular group. Hunting gear, although so far mostly just things like camouflage and caps and such. Often, they wore sweatshirts, instead of coats. And of course none of them had masks. Many of them were also smoking.
I found it notable that these pockets of protesters were spread out geographically. I had expected that they would mainly be clustered in a tight area downtown, especially the area near the White House and the Mall.
On further reflection, however, it makes sense. It seems to me like aspects of the city government as well as the hotel that had hosted the “proud boys” on previous occasions made a conscious decision. The hotel, the Harrington, might have had enough of this cohort. More specifically, its bar, Harry’s, probably tired of the negative publicity. Not to mention the citations from city officials, some carrying fines, for violating COVID-19 health rules.
This dispersal meant that on our walk in the West End, there was an abundance of these groups gathering. Of course nothing is scary per se about such groups, taken in the abstract. But knowing what has happened on past occasions of these denizens of danger descending upon our city, it did send a literal chill through my spine.
One caveat I should add is that I did no reporting. I took no photos. I interviewed no one. So although I have not observed such gatherings on previous nights, it is a possibility that these folks are regular protesters who plan no violence. I hope that’s the case. (Please note that the three photographs below are from the summer.)
One perhaps relevant point of comparison is to the scene in the very same areas just a few months ago. Compared to the city during the protests around racial and police injustice, things overall did seem more calm tonight. I base this comparison on what was missing now: no tanks. No National Guard. Fewer streets were closed. And no buildings, at least that we could see, were boarded up on the first floor.
One other accoutrement we noticed was that some of these groups were near oversize pickup trucks. Whether this is at all linked or just a coincidence, I do not know. I also noticed that there was a good number of Navy T-shirts and hats. Also no idea if that is linked.
The only thing that stood out in terms of being disruptive is we did hear some of these groups kind of letting off a group chant or roar. Again, I wouldn’t say it was intimidating in and of itself. It’s just that knowing the history of such protesters, it does make a passerby become concerned.
There were certainly plenty of police. And that was no surprise, as the city had widely announced such a presence as well as street closures that will start either tonight or tomorrow. As tomorrow is when the electoral results are formally approved by Congress. That is after all what these folks are here to apparently try to derail. I don’t plan on coming into the central part of the city at that time.
I do not find myself particularly comforted by the thought of police being near where these groups were gathered. It’s not because I don’t trust the police to behave fairly and take care of business, so to speak, without being discriminatory. It’s because I’m worried that if something were to happen to an innocent passerby, it might not be readily apparent to any responding officers that a particular victim was neither a guilty party nor someone who had not brought this upon themselves. So if for some reason I’m being beaten up, I would not be 100% certain that it would be cops immediately to the rescue.
The other things I get concerned about are manpower and deployment decisions. There have certainly been times in the last four or so years, among other times in history, when even if a victim requests help, police may not immediately come to the rescue. They may be busy with other priorities. Or they may fear that the very act of them responding could further inflame the situation.
In times like these, on days like today, it almost feels like it’s each person for himself. Definitely not how democracy should be and certainly not what it is on its best days.