On Wednesday, as visitors began trickling into Washington, D.C. and merch stalls starting hawking their wares, queer activists held a dance party in front of Mike Pence’s house. They churned out last-minute press releases and publicly sparred with conservative activist James O’Keefe, whose secret recordings seek to discredit progressive organizations. Some met in churches across the city, planning a series of actions intended to disrupt Friday’s inauguration. And, last night, a number of them appeared outside the Deploraball, where guests like Peter Thiel and notorious “pharma-bro” Martin Shkreli mingled with white nationalist Internet trolls.
Early in the evening, couples in tuxedos and sequined dresses required police escorts to enter the National Press Club, where the event was held. And there were a number of riot-gear-clad escorts to choose from: the protest, which drew a few hundred people at its peak, was met by more than 50 officers lined up to protect the event. Later they deployed pepper spray in the service of the Deploraball’s guests, who despite having to overtly ban Nazi salutes at their event continue to maintain a reputation of bigotry.
Disrupt J20, one of the coalition groups behind the counter-Deploraball protests and the organization responsible for a number of actions on Inauguration Day, has been organizing for months to deploy and house out-of-towners interested in throwing Donald Trump’s inaugural celebration into various states of disarray. As one organizer told me, while large numbers of protesters have been expected to come support the effort, some of J20’s primary points of contact are local activists with ties to the metro D.C. area in particular. See, for instance, groups like the Movement for Black Lives D.C. that this morning attempted—at times with great success, for hours on end—to shut down access points to the inaugural events.
The group’s structure of consensus meetings and small, autonomous organizing blocs recalls the anti-globalization movement of the ‘90s, and it has been promising for the last months to shut down January 20 celebrations—or at least make them extremely unpleasant for those attending. Early Friday morning, it succeeded in the latter.
Disrupt J20’s many far-right detractors have referred to the group as a bunch of domestic terrorists and “anarcho-fascists.” By way of counterpoint, a middle-aged woman named Anne held a sign at last night’s Deploraball reading “alt-right is all fascist.” It was her first protest since the Vietnam war, she told me. She and her friends, also in attendance, heard about it online. “Who would have thought that in the 21st century we’d be talking about white nationalism and Nazis?” she said.
Outside the columned Press Club, protesters shouted “Nazi scum get off our streets” and “no Trump, no KKK, no fascist USA,” clashing with Trump supporters, one of whom stomped through the crowd yelling “fake news.” (Inside the event, guests reportedly watched a live feed of the protesters, styled as if it were a news broadcast.) “Impeach the predatory president” was projected onto the walls of the press club, and a few protesters inflated a one-story-tall elephant with the word “racists” scrawled on it.
Edwin Busko, a 31-year-old Trump fan out with his buddies for the night, told me the whole protest that night seemed fun. Someone had brought a sound system. “But I’m staying away from the cops,” he told me. “It seems like it could be dangerous.”
Later, I was approached by a slight boy with a rainbow mask pulled over his face, asking if I was “okay”—”Trump supporters can be dangerous,” he told me. “I know from experience.”
The same boy would be seen locking himself with a U-lock to other protesters during actions intended to blockade a security checkpoint at the Trump inauguration the next day. Early this morning, splinter groups of #NoDAPL, Climate Justice, Black Lives Matter, and queer activists arrived at designated security checkpoints, blocking sidewalks and forcing early-arrival inauguration guests to wander in another direction.
“This is about disrupting the celebration,” said Diane Bui, one organizer a Muslim-American and immigrant group called Communities Under Attack. “We want to send a message to people who support hateful rhetoric and policies against our community.”
But it’s also about the media: “The mainstream media, particularly, portrays protesting as a privileged tactic,” she says. “But that’s not true.”
At least two groups, some chaining themselves to each other and to crowd-control barriers, shut down security points completely. One family, dressed for a black-tie event, filmed the crowd chanting “Black Lives Matter” and “Shut it down.” “Free speech is great,” the father, in town from South Carolina, told me sardonically. “They oughta get jobs like I have my whole life, but, no, free speech.” He declined to give his name.
He went on to express frustration at being called racist. “I didn’t even know I was white when I was growing up,” he said. Nearby, a Biker For Trump yelled at his leather-clad club members through the gate separating them, unable to break through the line of protesters. Throughout the morning, marches broke off and converged; a permitted demonstration began around noon. As of press time there are multiple reports of llamas at the march. More actions are reportedly planned for the day.