After a week in which more than 750,000 Americans were diagnosed with the novel coronavirus, almost none of the protesters was wearing masks. Among their ranks were white nationalists, conspiracy theorists and far-right activists from across the country.
Trump had thrilled them when his motorcade appeared on Pennsylvania Avenue shortly after 10 a.m., The president smiled and waved from a car window as his cheering fans scrambled to the side of Freedom Plaza to catch a glimpse.
“He drove right past me. I saw him. He waved right past me,” one man said, squatting to collect himself.
A group of women huddled around their phone, looking at a video of Trump’s appearance near a Walt Whitman quote inscribed in the stone beneath them: "The President is there in the White House for you, it is not you who are here for him.”
Then the appearance of counter-protesters sparked bursts of conflict. When a small group holding bright orange “Refuse Fascism” posters arrived at the corner of Freedom Plaza, they were almost immediately surrounded by Trump fans shouting “USA! USA!” into their faces.
The women leading the tiny march fought their way up 14th Street, repeatedly breaking out of the crowd only to be engulfed again. They yelled into their megaphone, “Trump pack your s---. You’re illegitimate.”
One pro-Trump man attempted to gouge the opposition with a flag bearing the president’s name. Another grabbed a woman’s neon orange poster and hit her with it.
When the women made it to the barrier set up by police across the street, Trump supporters filled the entire intersection, blocking them in. Police arrived on bikes and, after several minutes, moved the crowd back.
Shortly after, the pro-Trump crowd began singing the national anthem.
Soon after, on the street beside inscriptions from Abraham Lincoln recognizing the District as a place of freedom, people piled atop a U-Haul truck with a flag of a gun and the words, “Come and take it.”
The president’s backers, who include white nationalists, conspiracy theorists and far-right activists from across the country, carried Trump flags and signs demanding action that was already being taken: "Count the legal votes.” One man, dressed in camouflage and a red “MAGA” hat, waved an American flag attached to a baseball bat.
A family of four on Capital Bikeshare bikes — the father with an American flag tied around his neck like a cape — were cut off by a line of counterprotesters as they tried to leave a tense scene outside the Supreme Court around 1 p.m.
“Get out of our city!” a young woman in black yelled.
“You lost, losers!” shouted a man.
The father and his teenage son began to chant “USA," raising their fists as police officers surrounded the family and pushed them out of the crowd.
Among the protesters were members of the Proud Boys, an extremist group known for their black and yellow colors and endorsements of violence. Some wore flak jackets and helmets. “Stand Back, Stand By,” read some of their shirts, referencing the president’s directive to them at a September debate.
By early Saturday afternoon, as conservative speakers at Freedom Plaza derided the news media, including Fox News, the Proud Boys marched down Pennsylvania Avenue, leading hundreds in chants of “f--- antifa” and shouting down stray opponents who yelled “Black lives matter.”