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Trump Supporters Will Converge On D.C. To Protest Election Results

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Here in Washington, Congress is expected to certify Joe Biden's victory in the presidential election tomorrow. Starting today, far-right groups and supporters of the departing President Trump are converging in Washington, D.C., to protest the results of the free and fair election. Mikaela Lefrak of member station WAMU reports.

MIKAELA LEFRAK, BYLINE: This is the third time in less than two months that Proud Boys and other far-right activists rally in D.C. The protesters have a permit from the National Park Service to gather at the Lincoln Memorial and a plaza near the White House. City officials are prepared for the crowds to spread throughout downtown D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser recognized their right to protest but urged Washingtonians who might disagree to stay away.

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MURIEL BOWSER: We're asking D.C. residents and people who live in the region to avoid confrontations with anybody who's looking for a fight. And the best way to do that is to avoid the area.

LEFRAK: D.C.'s most prominent resident, President Trump, tweeted that he will be at tomorrow's rally. Trump's support of the protesters and unfounded claims of voter fraud have D.C. leaders concerned that this week's crowds will be large. Bowser has called in the National Guard to assist with crowd control this week.

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BOWSER: We will not allow people to incite violence, intimidate our residents or cause destruction in our city.

LEFRAK: Violence broke out during both of the previous Proud Boys protests. In December, more than 30 people were arrested, and eight police officers were injured. Demonstrators also damaged property at four Black churches and burned a Black Lives Matter banner. Yesterday, D.C. police arrested Proud Boys leader Enrique Tarrio on charges of destruction of property as he returned to Washington, D.C., for this week's rallies. Counterprotesters were involved in the clashes last month, but Bowser says the out-of-town demonstrators at the past pro-Trump rallies came here looking for a fight.

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BOWSER: This is serious business. The will of American people through a fair and just election is being questioned and violence is being incited.

LEFRAK: The city has shut down a number of downtown streets for the next two days. Some businesses are also temporarily shuttering, including a hotel and bar that was a gathering place for Proud Boys during the last rallies. During the December protests, four people were stabbed nearby. Police Chief Robert Contee is trying to drive home one message to people coming into the city to protest.

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ROBERT CONTEE: Firearms are not permitted. I repeat, firearms are not permitted.

LEFRAK: Contee says he's been made aware of some protesters' plans to bring guns into the city. Even with a concealed carry license, it's illegal to bring a firearm within a thousand feet of any permitted demonstration or areas under the jurisdiction of the National Park Service, like the National Mall. Contee is also concerned about the coronavirus pandemic. Unlike this summer's racial justice protesters, many of the far-right activists have not worn masks while demonstrating in D.C.

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CONTEE: There are going to be a lot of people here. We certainly anticipate that. And when we have a lot of people that are in our city, the chances for people to get sick, namely my officers and other residents, we just want to be very careful with that.

LEFRAK: Despite the health concerns, Bowser says police won't be focused on arresting people who violate the city's mask ordinance. She says officers' main priority over the next two days is to curb violence and property destruction and keep people out of immediate danger. For NPR News, I'm Mikaela Lefrak in Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.