Several regional officials are asking people to avoid going to downtown D.C. to counterprotest demonstrations held in support of President Donald Trump this week.
D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser said the District was working to maintain safety during the protests, but requested that those not attending the protests avoid the area.
“I am asking Washingtonians and those who live in the region to stay out of the downtown area on Tuesday and Wednesday and not to engage with demonstrators who come to our city seeking confrontation, and we will do what we must to ensure all who attend remain peaceful,” Bowser said in a statement.
In Virginia, Loudoun County Board of Supervisors Chair-At-Large Phyllis Randall was the first local leader to ask other local elected officials to discourage constituents from going to D.C. to counterprotest during Wednesday rallies in support of President Donald Trump.
She called the situation “a tinderbox.”
“I’ve been thinking, and frankly praying, about what I might be able to do,” to head off what she called “fairly dangerous” protests, Randall told WTOP.
Trump has claimed his defeat was due to fraudulent election practices — courts have rejected that argument.
“In one clear voice, I join other regional leaders in strongly discouraging any persons or groups from traveling to Washington, D.C., for the purpose of staging a counterprotest,” Randall said Sunday afternoon.
Trump’s die-hard supporters vowed to come to D.C. to rally and protest on the day Congress votes to affirm President-elect Joe Biden’s victory. Trump has encouraged these demonstrations, promising it will be “wild.”
“In the face of organizations that are more than willing — and in fact eager — to engage in violent acts, counterprotesters can only serve to inflame an already dangerous situation,” Randall said. “In addition, the presence of counterprotesters will put unneeded strain on law enforcement in the District of Columbia.”
In November and December, election protests drew members of extremist group Proud Boys, and some confrontations turned violent in the neighborhood close to Black Lives Matter Plaza, just north of Lafayette Square.
“Counterprotesting will unnecessarily embolden these fringe groups,” Randall said.
The Arlington County Board put out a statement later Monday also warning residents against joining counterprotesters in D.C.
“We understand the desire to show support for our election processes, for democracy and the Constitution. But my colleagues and I have a responsibility to our constituents to keep them safe,” Arlington County Board Chair Libby Garvey said in a statement. “With far-right extremist groups broadcasting their desire to engage in violent acts to upend the results of the presidential election, we ask everyone to stay home on January 6 so the District of Columbia can better manage the situation.”
Asbury United Methodist Church told WTOP that they have asked D.C. police to increase presence and surveillance. The church was one of two historically Black churches that had Black Lives Matter banners burned by members of the Proud Boys during protests last month.
Street closures and restrictions are in place for Tuesday and Wednesday.
On Monday morning, the U.S. Department of the Interior approved a permit request from pro-Trump group Women for America First for a rally on the White House Ellipse. Organizers expect about 5,000 people to turn out for that event Wednesday — among them, the president himself.
The Ellipse rally — previously slated for Freedom Plaza, and before then, the National Mall — is expected to be one of several pro-Trump gatherings in downtown D.C. with other groups meeting around monuments and on Capitol Hill as Congress moves to count the electoral vote.
D.C. police and the D.C. Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency will work with the city’s Emergency Operations Center beginning Monday in preparation for the protests.
Bowser said that D.C. police will be fully activated with all staff reporting for response on Tuesday and Wednesday.
“I understand and join you in your desire to show support for our elections process, democracy and the constitution,” but “for now, be smart and remain safe,” Randall added. “Please stay home on Jan. 6.”
WTOP’s Teta Alim, Alejandro Alvarez, Scott Gelman, Valerie Bonk and Zeke Hartner contributed to this report.