At least four people were stabbed Saturday as supporters of President Donald Trump, including maskless Proud Boys in helmets and bulletproof vests, descended on the nation's capital and clashed with counterprotesters—violence that some critics tied to the president's pre-election directive to the self-described "western chauvinists."
During a debate ahead of his loss in November, Trump had told the Proud Boys to "stand back and stand by," which swiftly elicited criticism that he was inciting violence. Designated a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, the Proud Boys are known for their white nationalist, anti-Muslim, and misogynistic rhetoric as well as their presence at the infamous 2017 "Unite the Right" rally in Charlottesville.
The Washington Post reported late Saturday that "in smaller numbers than their gathering last month, they roamed from the Capitol to the Mall and back again, seeking inspiration from speakers who railed against the Supreme Court, Fox News, and President-elect Joe Biden. The crowds cheered for recently pardoned former national security adviser Michael Flynn, marched with conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, and stood in awe of a flyover from what appeared to be Marine One."
Singing "Jingle Bells" and chanting vulgar slogans, "a group of about 50 men in the Proud Boys' black and yellow circled the perimeter of Black Lives Matter Plaza, where about 200 anti-Trump demonstrators were rallying," according to the Associated Press. Following the daytime rallying, "downtown Washington quickly devolved into crowds of hundreds of Proud Boys and combined forces of antifa and local Black activists—both sides seeking a confrontation in an area flooded with police officers."
After nightfall, at least four people were stabbed near Harry's Bar, a Proud Boys "gathering point," the Post reported. While the affiliations of those wounded were not clear, D.C. fire spokesperson Doug Buchanan said the victims were hospitalized and suffered possibly life-threatening injuries. The Metropolitan Police Department said 23 people were arrested.
Reporters and critics of the president, meanwhile, cited his comment from the debate. As former Democratic presidential candidate Marianne Williamson put it: "The message seems to have shifted from 'stand back and stand by' to 'the fight is on.'"
"Trump told the Proud Boys to 'stand back and stand by' and they listened to their Chosen One," said New York Times contributing opinion writer Wajahat Ali. "This is all on you, Republicans. You have enabled all of this."
The violence came just two days before the Electoral College vote and followed the U.S. Supreme Court's Friday night denial of a lawsuit filed by GOP Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton that aimed to block the battleground states of Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin from casting their electoral votes for Biden.
After more than 100 Republican lawmakers declared their support for the suit, Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-N.J.) and others accused them of trying to to "demolish democracy" and argued they should not be seated for the next congressional session. Citing the 14th Amendment, Pascrell said that "men and women who would act to tear the United States government apart cannot serve as members of the Congress."