Enraged bands of black-clad protesters smashed windows and clashed with riot police Friday in a rolling series of demonstrations that disrupted Donald Trump’s inaugural festivities.
The number of arrests mounted during the day, and hit 217 by early evening. Six police officers were reported injured.
Some of the protesters came prepared for violence, carrying hammers and crowbars and wearing gas masks. Some carried flags with the circle-A symbol for the anarchist movement, which has carried out sporadic violent protests in Western countries in recent decades.
They smashed huge glass windows at branches of Starbucks, McDonald’s, Au Bon Pain and at a Crowne Plaza Hotel in an area along Northwest 12th and 13th streets in downtown Washington.
Interim D.C. Police Chief Peter Newsham said police believed the violence was planned in advance and not spontaneous.
“We have significant damage in a number of blocks in our city,” Newsham said, adding that 400 to 500 protesters took part in the violence.
Police responded with tear gas and flash grenades, whose thunder reverberated just five blocks north of the inaugural parade route. Police temporarily restored calm before the parade, only to see it flare again afterward, forcing police to guide contingents of Trump supporters to inaugural balls amid lingering tear gas in the air.
White nationalist Richard Spencer, who made headlines when he gave a Nazi salute to Trump at a gathering after the Nov. 8 election, was struck in the face by a protester as he was giving a video interview at roughly 2:30 p.m.
“You hate black people!” another protester yelled.
“I don’t hate black people,” Spencer said, in pain, holding his hand to his face.
A few minutes later, another protester ran up and spat in Spencer’s face. Spencer was then whisked into a car, which drove off.
Newsham said three of the six injured police suffered head injuries from flying objects, which he said included stones and bricks. None of the injuries were life-threatening, he added.
“We will not allow the destruction and vandalism of our neighborhoods,” Mayor Muriel Bowser said in an early evening news conference.
At one point in the afternoon, as the inaugural parade was well underway, clouds of inky smoke and bright flames poured from the vandalized stretch limo near the intersection of 13th and K Streets, close to the offices of The Washington Post.
Among those present at the protests was Jill Stein, the losing Green Party presidential candidate, who said some Americans were angry over Trump’s policies and his nominations of super wealthy people to his Cabinet.
“This swamp that he was supposed to drain is overflowing now. It’s like the corporations no longer need lobbyists because they’ve been directly empowered to raid the cookie jar,” Stein said.
Another protester, Patrick McGuire, a 37-year-old from Baltimore, appeared overwhelmed by teargas.
“You just want to crawl up into a ball and wait for it to be over,” McGuire said. “You just need someone to come behind you and put their hand on your back and tell you it’s all going to be okay.”
Earlier in the day, the scenes were all peaceful. After some initial shoving, riot police separated protesters from visitors making their way through the blue-ticket gates close to the Capitol, at First and D streets Northwest. The clump of protesters, though, squeezed the flow of visitors to a trickle, and police worked to divert some ticket holders to a nearby entrance.
About 200 protesters banged drums and chanted, “Si, se puede,” “Shut it down” and “We reject the president-elect!” One sign, in Arabic, read, “Freedom.”
Occasionally, chants of “U-S-A!” were returned by inauguration celebrants.
“I’ve heard multiple things like, people in Iraq aren’t human beings,” said Erica Ewing, who said she was protesting on behalf of Witness Against Torture, an advocacy group. “We’re here to witness that they are human beings, too.”
Ewing, 20, who said she worked for a nonprofit group in Cleveland, said she’d come to the capital with a message: “We are telling Trump now that he must shut down Guantanamo and say that the U.S. will not partake in torture.”
The Obama administration on Thursday transferred four prisoners to the custody of the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, leaving 41 war-on-terror captives still in the naval facility in Cuba. Trump has promised to keep the Guantanamo prison open and “load it up” with more suspected terrorists. Nearly 800 men have passed through its cells.
Ewing said her group also had protested the Obama administration in past years, “telling him to keep his promise to close Guantanamo.”
Barbara Lyons, 79, and her son, Jeff Lyons, 55, came from Illinois to join the protests. Neither was an Obama voter – they don’t believe change can come through voting without more street activism first – but their opposition to Trump runs deep and covers all the big issues: race relations, immigration, jobs, the environment.
“He brought me into it,” Barbara Lyons said of her son. “I am one of the privileged, and I have to fight for everyone else.”
Jeff Lyons hesitated to call the protests “a start;” he said protesters should be ready to play the long game in reversing the forces that had brought Trump to power:
“It’s going to take years and a growing movement to turn around.”
Greg Byrne, 69, a pig farmer from West Virginia, said he’d come to protest because he was concerned about the future of his children and grandchildren.
Byrne liked Sen. Bernie Sanders, a Vermont independent who ran for the Democratic presidential nomination, but he said he wasn’t sure any president could do all that needed to be done.
Trump, though, he said, is particularly ill equipped.
“I think Trump’s constituency is going to be sorely disappointed. I think that there are so many issues with regard to foreign policy, with regard to health care, where Trump specifically has completely turned around so many times in terms of what in fact he intends to do,” Byrne said. “We have foreign diplomats and foreign governments that are at their wits’ end trying to figure out just who and what they’re dealing with.”
Trump is an expert at spin, Byrne said.
“I think it almost doesn’t matter” if the Russians helped Trump get elected, he said. “I think the magnitude of the problems facing not only this country but the world are so much larger than an issue of did the Russians pay, did he really do that in Russia.”
Stuart Leavenworth, Joshua Magness and Kevin G. Hall contributed to this report.