- By Emily TamkinEmily Tamkin is a staff writer at Foreign Policy. She writes for FP’s The Cable, a real-time take on the news in Washington and the wider world. She has been at FP since the fall of 2016, before which she was an associate editor at New America, a nonpartisan think tank in Washington. She has a B.A. in Russian literature from Columbia University, an M.Phil. in Russian and East European studies from the University of Oxford, and studied Soviet dissidence in archival centers in Moscow, Tbilisi, and, on a Fulbright, in Bremen — all of which means that at FP, she writes when she can on Russia and Central and Eastern Europe.
For some, the inauguration of U.S. President Donald Trump was literal anarchy.
Not for most who came to protest the 45th U.S. president’s swearing in. The vast majority of the thousands who took to the streets to protest Trump did so peacefully.
Some did so en masse. The group Refuse Fascism, for example, led dozens of people down streets near the White House. According to one 30-something who spoke to Foreign Policy but declined to give his name, they were marching “to welcome all of the people who came to protest in Washington, D.C., and to remind them protest can’t just be for one day.”
Many others protested in smaller groups. At Union Station, a group of about 20 stood holding flags symbolizing the industrial workers of the world. One of them, who asked to be identified under the pseudonym Finn Connolly, said he was there to “spark an ongoing to resistance towards Donald Trump’s presidential regime and the normalization of the far-right in mainstream politics.”
Some protested by carrying signs. Others, by wearing pink, cat shaped knitted caps — likely also to be seen at the Women’s March on Washington, scheduled to take place on Saturday.
Still others vented their frustration by yelling at Trump supporters. “You’re a shame on the country!,” one woman yelled at a family of three — two parents and a son, all wearing bright red Make America Great Again hats. “No we’re not! We love our country! Shame on you!,” the father shot back.
And still others protested alone. An elderly African-American woman who declined to give her name walked down K St. NW by herself, crying out for equal housing and voting rights. She told FP that she and her people wanted equal, not civil rights. Civil rights were sewage, she said, a way to sell her people a “multiplicity of illusions.” She wanted equal rights, and for her children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren to be able to walk on the streets without fear.
But not far from McPherson Square, another protest was anything but peaceful.
Anarchist rioters in a pack ran around the area, throwing off flare guns and tossing glass bottles. Storefronts and bus bays were shattered. A staff member at Hamilton, a nearby restaurant, said rioters had sledgehammers; others saw bricks. Police responded at the first signs of property damage with tear gas, pepper spray, and mace, throwing one Washington Post reporter to the ground in the process.
“We’d thought they were peaceful protesters,” two teenagers, aged 16 and 18, told FP. “But they’re smashing cars.” (Indeed, a limo driver told FP that they had smashed his windows and tried to light his car aflame.) They’d come into town from Virginia for a peaceful protest, but ended up running from the sound of tear gas canisters and the chants of anarchists, yelling at a friend (in Spanish) to get out of the crowd.
They weren’t the only ones screaming. “These people had nothing to do with this!” a young blonde holding a coffee cup yelled to no one in particular. “Why would you take it out on people who had nothing to do with it?” Washington, D.C. voted overwhelmingly for Hillary Clinton.
Some of the anarchists were true to their doctrinal roots. One held a sign reading, “Fuck Trump, Obama sucked, too.” A woman asked, “Don’t you want nobody to run the country?”
The site of the broken windows was also the spot at which a skirmish broke out between protesters and rioters and the police — and police vehicles — a few hours later. Tear gas was deployed. A police SUV hit four rioter; they, in turn, broke the SUV’s windows. A limo was put on fire, this time successfully. However, as D.C. Interim Police Chief Peter Newsham told CNN, “In the grand scheme of things, this is a small disturbance in a small part of the city.”
Nevertheless, it was big to those who took part in it. “This is history,” one young protester told FP. “We don’t want to miss this.
Robbie Gramer, Elias Groll, and Ruby Mellen contributed to this piece.
Update, Jan. 20 2017, 4:02 pm ET: This piece was updated to include the later protest at 13 and K St NW.
Update, Jan. 20 2017, 4:27 pm ET: This piece was update to include the limo on fire.
Photo credit: Mario Tama/Getty Images