US president Donald Trump’s “Salute to America” Fourth of July celebration will feature tanks, military plane flyovers—and potential clashes between white supremacists and counter-protesters.
Members of the Proud Boys, Identity Evropa (now known as the American Identity Movement) and the anti-fascist protesters who oppose them are planning to spend July 4th and the following weekend in Washington, DC, according to both the groups themselves and local law enforcement monitoring them.
“The FBI respects the rights of individuals to peacefully exercise their First Amendment rights,” an FBI spokesperson told Quartz. “We will continue to work closely with our federal, state, and local and federal law enforcement partners to ensure public safety surrounding Fourth of July events.”
Trump will be the first US president in decades to speak at Washington, DC’s Independence Day celebration, turning what is usually a family-centered affair featuring fireworks and live music into a highly-politicized event. The celebration on the grassy National Mall between the US Capitol building and the Lincoln Memorial normally draws hundreds of thousands of spectators.
This time, it is also attracting draw protesters, counter-protesters, and a Trump baby blimp. It may also draw fewer families than usual from the city and surrounding areas. Washington, DC and adjacent Prince George’s county, Maryland, overwhelmingly voted against Trump in 2016. City residents have organized boycotts of the entire show, especially after learning that $2.5 million will be diverted from the country’s national parks budget to pay for it.
“Far-right groups follow the president around the country to rallies and it’s not particularly surprising that they’d descend into Washington for the July 4 weekend, where many sympathetic Trump supporters will be,” investigative reporter Jared Holt of Right Wing Watch told Quartz. “Communities visited by these groups should remain vigilant and aware of their presence, and be cautious of their inclinations toward hateful and violent conflict.”
The Proud Boys, a collective of self-described “Western chauvinists” that the Southern Poverty Law Center calls a “hate group,” has organized a July 6 “Free Speech” rally in downtown DC. Many of their members are also expected to attend Trump’s Fourth of July event. Rank-and-file Proud Boys and their leaders “regularly spout white nationalist memes and maintain affiliations with known extremists,” SPLC says on its website.
The group has a permit for a July 6 rally at the city’s Freedom Plaza, located between the White House and the Trump International Hotel. An organizer told the Daily Beast the group is expecting thousands of members and supporters to attend. “A lot of people will be in town for the Trumpstravaganza,” he said, referring to the president’s Fourth of July party.
The Proud Boys are also selling tickets to a $200 “VIP event” at “one of Washington D.C.’s hottest spots.” A source told Quartz that at least two venues the group had previously reserved—a rooftop pool club and the International Spy Museum— both cancelled the bookings after public outcry. The new location, if there is one, remains unknown.
When Manhattan’s Republican Club hosted Proud Boys founder Gavin McInnes for a speech last fall, members beat up a protestor. Police have since banned the group from attending Trump campaign events.
The white supremacy group is planning to travel to DC for the Fourth of July, says Unicorn Riot, a non-profit journalist collective that tracks hate groups:
Members of the group have rebranded themselves the “American Identity Movement.”
Several members of the pro-Trump subreddit r/The_Donald say they are planning to attend the Fourth of July festivities in DC too. In discussions about the event on the Reddit, they debated whether or not their concealed carry pistol permits would be honored in country’s capital, or if they should be bringing bats and sticks disguised as flagpoles instead.
Those messages were quickly deleted by moderators. Reddit recently ”quarantined” the channel behind a special notice for inciting violence.
Counter-protesters known collectively as Antifa, for anti-fascists, are organizing in response to the Proud Boys rally, and are planning a demonstration July 6 across the street from the Freedom Plaza. “Whether in bulletproof vests, police badges, MAGA hats, or in khakis, fascists thrive when we look the other way,” the All Out DC website proclaimed. Black Lives Matter and other national movements are promoting the counter-protests on their social media channels.
The US Park Police, one of the federal law enforcement agencies responsible for security the Independence Day event, said it is aware of the various rallies and protests, and have plenty of officers on the ground to keep things from getting out of hand.
It doesn’t mean more officers on duty, however. As a spokesman told Quartz: “Every Park Police officer always works on July 4th.”
This article has been updated with comment from Right Ring Watch.