D.C.’s police chief says his goal is to keep a weekend of pro-Trump rallies and likely counterprotesters free from conflict and clashes, and he is calling on groups planning to come to the District to leave their guns at home.
“Our goal is to ensure that we don’t have conflict: Nobody gets hurt, nothing gets broken,” D.C. Police Chief Peter Newsham told WTOP. “Everybody can leave the District of Columbia feeling like they’ve accomplished something.”
Friday afternoon, competing crowds of supporters and opponents of President Donald Trump had gathered in front of the White House waving signs and shouting into megaphones. There didn’t appear to be any serious clashes. D.C. police officers on bikes were seen fanning out into the crowds.
The protests come a day before expected larger gatherings Saturday where a number of different groups under the banner of the “Million MAGA March” are expected to rally in D.C. in support of Trump and his unfounded claims of election fraud.
On Twitter Friday, Trump called the rallies “heartwarming, and said he “may even try to stop by and say hello,” to the crowds at the D.C. demonstration.
Exact numbers of groups and participants are not known. There have also been reports of white nationalist and neo-Nazi groups showing up as well.
Newsham said his department is monitoring social media, and there are a slew of road closures already in place to handle the expected crowds. The groups are planning to gather first in Freedom Plaza on Saturday morning before marching to the area around Supreme Court, he said.
The police chief said his department will strictly enforce a ban on openly carrying firearms. District law does not allow open-carry, Newsham noted, and even people with concealed-carry permits issued by D.C. will be restricted from carrying firearms in the area of the planned demonstrations.
“We’re a little concerned with some of the communication we’re seeing about people wanting to bring guns,” he said. “And one of the things that happens from people outside of the District, they don’t understand our laws.”
“So the message really is: Carrying a firearm in the District of Columbia to these events will be prohibited, and we will strictly enforce that rule,” Newsham said.
Given the politically charged atmosphere, Newsham said he’s concerned about the potential for clashes between the rallygoers and counterprotesters, but he said the department has a lot of experience handling political demonstrations.
He urged groups to remain peaceful and avoid violence.
“It doesn’t really seem to make a lot of sense to be involved in that behavior,” he told WTOP. “It really takes away from whatever issue you’re trying to make known to the community, because … people are going to draw their attention to whatever conflict occurs. So if people want to come here and express their First Amendment views, we welcome them. But we’re not going to tolerate anybody coming here and hurting somebody else.”
By his department’s count, there have been over 1,000 political demonstrations in D.C. this year. “Many law enforcement agencies from across the country consider the Metropolitan Police Department to be the best at handling these kinds of things,” Newsham said, referring to the name of the D.C. police department. “So we’re going to do our very best to ensure that this is a peaceful event, that nobody gets hurt, and we don’t have any destruction of property.”
Newsham’s department has taken some criticism for the handling of massive demonstrations over the summer after the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
WTOP’s Nick Iannelli contributed to this report.