With simultaneous protests by President Trump’s supporters, anti-fascist militants and the proudly outré fans of the rap-metal band Insane Clown Posse, Saturday’s lineup of rallies on and around the Mall seemed almost designed to test Americans’ capacity for peaceable disagreement.
But as the day progressed and demonstrators of wildly different ideological stripes crowded into Washington, that ideal did not seem so remote: By late afternoon, police reported no violence and said they had not made any arrests.
It was a relief for D.C. authorities, who had prepared for the possibility of violent clashes and taken extensive security precautions, deploying large numbers of police officers and National Guard members on the Mall and barricading surrounding streets.
Looming large over the day was the specter of Charlottesville, where a white nationalist rally just over a month ago turned into a deadly riot. Police in the Virginia college town were later faulted for not reacting swiftly or forcefully enough to the violence.
But the protesters in Washington, unlike those in Charlottesville, did not show up armed with shields, clubs and guns, and even implored one another at times to avoid brawling.
“Political violence happens in Russia, in Iran, in North Korea. It’s not supposed to happen here,” said Tommy Hodges, an organizer of the “Mother of All Rallies” attended by Trump supporters. “You should be able to say whatever you want without someone raising a fist against you.”
Addressing a crowd of a few hundred near the Washington Monument shortly before noon, Hodges pleaded for a peaceful gathering and asked his audience to “shake the hand of the person next to you.”
Standing in front of the White House at about the same time, Dan Ward, a Marine Corps veteran and Democrat running for Congress in Virginia’s 7th District, said he was in his hometown of Charlottesville during the riot Aug. 12.
He said the violence — which culminated with a car authorities said was driven by a man with white-supremacist ties plowing into a crowd, killing one and injuring 19 — reminded him of clashes between pro- and anti-Russian forces he had seen while serving in Ukraine.
“It was Charlottesville, not Ukraine,” he said. “And that’s not okay.”
Ward took part in a march of several dozen people from the White House to the Russian ambassador’s residence on 16th Street, an elegant Beaux-Arts building where surveillance cameras looked down on a crowd that booed and shouted “Nyet!” The march, intended to protest Russian interference in the presidential election, broke up peacefully.
Even one of the right’s more inflammatory partisans signaled the passions that fueled Charlottesville might be more muted Saturday.
Richard B. Spencer, the Alexandria resident who coined the term alt-right and has become its omnipresent spokesman, said white nationalists’ enthusiasm for Trump was at a low ebb after his recent backtracking on campaign promises to crack down on illegal immigration, including the undocumented immigrants who arrived in the United States as minors and are known as “dreamers.”
“If anything, I would be protesting Trump this weekend,” Spencer said in an interview, adding that neither he nor his allies were involved with the Mother of All Rallies event. “It’s a residue of an older conservatism. It really doesn’t have much of anything to do with the alt-right.”
The alt-right is a small, far-right movement that seeks a whites-only state.
Such distinctions were sometimes lost on demonstrators in overwhelmingly Democratic Washington. Tania Maduro, an organizer of an anti-Trump counterprotest, said she didn’t see a meaningful difference between the avowed white supremacists in Charlottesville and the less-combative Trump supporters on the Mall on Saturday.
“If you’re supporting Trump,” she said, “then you are supporting white supremacy.”
Trump was criticized after the Charlottesville rally for saying that protesters across the political spectrum were to blame for the rioting, rather than focusing on white supremacists.
The peaceful unfolding of Saturday’s protests may have owed much to D.C. law enforcement, which has long experience overseeing volatile demonstrations in the nation’s capital. When sparks flew, police quickly stamped them out. At one point officers headed off a shouting match between self-proclaimed anti-fascist demonstrator Lacy MacAuley and Trump supporters at the Mother of All Rallies. District resident MacAuley, 38, said afterward she had been “ready to get punched” if violence broke out.
D.C. police said 15 roads were closed around the Mall between 6 a.m. and 11 p.m., including the Ninth and 12th Street tunnels. Parts of C, D and E streets NW near the Mall were also closed.
Metro also closed the Smithsonian station on the Mall during the rallies.
D.C. police spokeswoman Margarita Mikhaylova and Sgt. Anna Rose of the U.S. Park Police said late Saturday afternoon that there had been no arrests related to the demonstrations.
Several hundred Juggalos, as fans of Insane Clown Posse are known, gathered at the Lincoln Memorial. They were protesting their designation as a criminal gang by the FBI, and some said they were uninterested in the left-right political divide on display at the other gatherings.
Justin Thompson, a 24-year-old factory worker from a Detroit suburb, said he drove to Washington in his pickup truck to show that Juggalos “are just like everybody else.”
“We go to work. We pull our 9-to-5s,” he said. “We take care of our kids and everything else.”