For years, West Coast cities have borne the brunt of violent confrontations between far-right extremists and counterprotesters who come to meet them, reported the Washington Post.
Brawls broke out in Berkeley, Calif. White-supremacist rallies in Sacramento ended in bloodshed. Violent clashes have become common in Portland, Ore., where gunfire broke out at demonstrations over the summer. Demonstrators in Olympia, Wash., recently fired weapons into a crowd, wounding at least one person.
Up and down the western United States, protests have devolved into violent clashes replete with thrown rocks, exploding fireworks and streams of chemical irritants.
But the nation’s capital — with its strict gun laws and history of orderly, peaceful protest — has largely avoided these violent conflicts.
Extremism experts who study the far-right warn that D.C. is on a path to become the next battleground in increasingly violent confrontations with left-leaning counterdemonstrators.
In the weeks since the 2020 presidential election, a coalition of loyalists of President Trump, conspiracy theory adherents, white nationalists, self-proclaimed militia members and other fringe figures have flocked to the nation’s capital to support the president’s baseless claims of election fraud. As Trump’s hopes of reversing the election results have faltered, those who falsely believe the election was stolen or fraudulent have grown increasingly angry and desperate.
Extremist groups intent on sowing chaos and division have capitalized on these feelings to recruit members and spread disinformation, experts say. In online chat groups and forums, political rage and disbelief metastasizes into calls for violence.
“They feel Trump won the election and that the country is being stolen from them, so this is their last chance to save America,” said Heidi Beirich, co-founder of the Global Project Against Hate and Extremism and the former director of intelligence at the Southern Poverty Law Center. “They’re a lot angrier now, and that worries me. It worries me that now they’re deciding if they’re going to bring guns to the street fight.”
During two weekends of pro-Trump demonstrations in November and December, violent melees spilled into the streets of downtown Washington.
Longtime D.C. protesters, many of whom have been demonstrating since the May police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, have called for D.C. residents and supporters to join them to stand against groups they see as an existential threat. Both times, they have been outnumbered.
“D.C. is not exactly a Proud Boy-friendly city,” said Eric Feinberg, who monitors online activity from extremist groups as vice president of content moderation at Coalition for a Safer Web. “Activists are in a more defensive position here. They see it as protecting their turf. But what happens is then you get these other groups like the Proud Boys that want to cause violence, and they know that if they come to D.C. they’ll be confronted by these left-wing activists — that’s where it gets dangerous.”
On Wednesday, Trump’s supporters and a litany of far-right groups who believe the president’s baseless claims of voter fraud will again converge in D.C. to demand that Congress overturn the results of the election. That same day, Congress is set to convene to certify electoral college votes, declaring President-elect Joe Biden the winner.
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