On Friday morning, throngs of ticketholders to the inauguration of Donald Trump encountered a surprising interruption: blockades of protesters with the ad-hoc activist group DisruptJ20 standing in the way of the entrances to the good seats. When my colleague Aymann Ismail and I arrived at the “Red Gate” entrance near D.C.’s Judiciary Square around 9:30 a.m., protesters were reciting chants that covered a wide breadth of interests and concerns: Black Lives Matter, the North Dakota Access Pipeline, immigration, and of course Trump. Meanwhile, the line for the Red Gate was rerouted to the Blue Gate, about a block away. Within the vicinity, others could be heard advocating for their own causes—pro-life, pro-God, pro-Rapture.
What happens when a Trump reveler encounters the rowdy opposition? The facial expressions of the inauguration attendees waiting in line while passing the DisruptJ20 protesters ranged from blank to bemused to disdainful—and finally, filled with heated anger. At least one person, wearing an abundance of Trump gear, ran past the activists chanting “Make America great again.” While the scene was peaceful for the most part, spikes in tension would occasionally arise as ticketholders tried to make their way past the blockade. Some of them seemed genuinely confused and unaware at first of what was going on; when protesters calmly directed them away from the blockade, they went on their way. But during the approximately 90 minutes I spent at the site, a handful of ticketholders deliberately tried to push through the crowd in order to antagonize the protesters, and some face-to-face shouting matches ensued. Roman, one such blockade bumper, told us he was annoyed to have to walk around to a different gate and felt they were “infringing” upon his rights: “They’re disturbing my right to attend the inauguration, which they have no right to do.” One tall man, who appeared to be in his 50s or 60s, became so enraged that he stormed off and smacked a journalist’s camera to the ground. In a cheeky move, the protesters mocked the antagonists by chanting, “YOU wanted a wall!”
After hearing word that protests were getting heated near downtown D.C., we headed up to 12th and L streets around 11:30 a.m., where rows of police in riot gear cut off all the streets around the four-way intersection. On one corner, a group of what appeared to be about 50 or 60 protesters were kenneled in by police, while the protesters in our immediate vicinity yelled and chanted, demanding that officials let the others go. A couple of protesters we spoke with had friends who were on the other side. After about 20 minutes of taunting—“I smell bacon! Oink oink!” one woman offered—and as the police began to arrest, one by one, the protesters across the street, the crowd began to thin.
Around noon, the general public entryway to the inaugural parade on 12th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue was a relatively more subdued scene. Passing through security was a swift endeavor, and once inside, the size of the crowd was surprisingly underwhelming—it was easy to walk around, and the VIP bleachers with a direct sightline were hardly full. Protesters chanted; someone was dressed as Trump in a wedding dress (with “Putin” walking behind him); Trump supporters gloated. (“Na na na na, he hey hey, goodbye!” one couple adorned in Trump apparel sang, presumably to Obama and liberal democracy.)
Tensions spiked again near 12th Street and L—this time a block away at K Street—and we headed back up there. This time, things escalated much more quickly. I spotted one man who had been pepper-sprayed, apparently after a confrontation with the police in which they took his bike away. Soon, the police began to move upon the protesters and release stun grenades as protesters yelled angrily. A block over, at Franklin Square, more protests had erupted, with stun grenades being deployed more frequently. Protesters took over that street in front of the park, some starting a bonfire with trash cans and newspaper stands. At one point, someone wearing a face mask and dressed in all black—there were many people dressed in traditional anarchist garb—swiped a “MAGA” hat off a man wandering through the crowds. The man ran after them and was quickly accosted by several protesters. He emerged after a few seconds with his hat, his face covered in what looked like pepper spray. Moments after we left the scene, a limo there was set on fire. In Washington, at least, the first day of the Trump resistance was effective: an exercise in dissent, and solidarity in dissent, and in being a nuisance to Trumpism in all its manifestations.