Conservative groups protesting against US president-elect Joe Biden’s election victory gathered for protests across the country on Saturday, including in Washington where far-right groups clashed with counter-protesters despite a heavy police presence.
Organizers of Stop The Steal, who allege without evidence that the 3 November election win was tainted by fraud, and church groups urged supporters to participate in “Jericho Marches” and prayer rallies.
But groups of pro-Trump Proud Boys protesters and Antifa counterprotesters brawled in downtown Washington on Saturday night. Police moved in quickly to separate them, using pepper spray on members of both sides.
Around 200 members of the Proud Boys, a violent far-right group, had joined the marches earlier on Saturday near the Trump hotel in the capital. Many wore combat fatigues and ballistic vests, carried helmets and flashed hand signals used by white nationalists.
The two groups shouted insults at each other across a street near McPherson Square and some set off fireworks, but police kept them apart.
Police pepper-sprayed at least two counter-protesters before the Proud Boys left the area and regrouped several blocks away.
Protests were also planned in Georgia, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, Nevada and Arizona, where Trump’s campaign has sought to overturn vote counts.
More than 50 federal and state court rulings have upheld Biden’s victory. The US supreme court on Friday rejected a long-shot lawsuit filed by Texas and backed by Trump seeking to throw out voting results in four states.
“Whatever the ruling was yesterday … everybody take a deep, deep breath,” retired army general Mike Flynn, Trump’s former national security adviser, told protesters in front of the supreme court, referring to the court’s refusal to hear the Texas case.
Flynn who twice pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about contacts with the former Russian ambassador, spoke in his first public address since Trump pardoned him in November.
“My charge to you is to go back to where you are from” and make demands, Flynn told the crowd, without being more specific. The US constitution is “not about collective liberty it is about individual liberties, and they designed it that way”, he said.
Trump has refused to concede defeat, alleging without evidence that he was denied victory by massive fraud. On his way to Andrews air force base and then to the annual Army-Navy football game in New York, Trump made three passes in the Marine One helicopter over the cheering protesters.
Trump’s supporters carrying flags and signs made their way in small knots toward Congress and the supreme court through downtown Washington, which was closed to traffic by police vehicles and dump trucks.
Few of the marchers wore masks, despite soaring Covid-19 deaths and cases, defying a mayoral directive for them to be worn outside. Several thousand people rallied in Washington, fewer than during a similar protest last month.
As some in the crowd echoed far right conspiracy theories about the election, a truck-pulled trailer flew Trump 2020 flags and a sign reading “Trump Unity” while blaring the country song “God Bless the USA”.
“It’s clear the election has been stolen,” said Mark Paul Jones of Delaware Water Gap, Pennsylvania, who sported a tricorner revolutionary war-era hat as he walked toward the supreme court with his wife.
Some protesters referenced the Biblical miracle of the battle of Jericho, in which the walls of the city crumbled after soldiers and priests blowing horns marched around it.
In his speech, Flynn told the protesters they were all standing inside Jericho after breaching its walls.
Ron Hazard of Morristown, New Jersey, was one of five people who stopped at the justice department to blow shofars – a ram’s horn used in Jewish religious ceremonies – to bring down “the spiritual walls of corruption”.
“We believe what is going on in this county is an important thing. It’s a balance between biblical values and anti-biblical values,” Hazard said.