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Inauguration Day 2017: Celebration and chaos collide as Trump becomes president

  • Author: John Woodrow Cox, Arelis R. Hernández, Fenit Nirappil, Peter Hermann, The Washington Post
  • Updated: December 2
  • Published January 20

Supporters of Donald Trump gather in the National Mall during his inauguration in Washington, January 20, 2017. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

WASHINGTON – The nation's stark divide was on full display in Washington Friday as Donald Trump became America's 45th president amid joyous roars of support and eruptions of chaos throughout the city, including the removal of a half-dozen protesters who tried to disrupt the swearing-in ceremony.

Less than two miles from where Trump and former president Barack Obama joined hundreds of other elected officials at the west front of the U.S. Capitol, anarchists armed with crowbars and hammers marched through the city's streets, toppling over news boxes, smashing bus-stop glass, vandalizing businesses, spray-painting buildings and, in one case, bashing in the windows of a black limousine.

The acts of violence prompted helmeted police to chase the protesters with batons, hose them with pepper spray and apparently toss flash bangs into their ranks. Three District of Columbia police officers were injured as the sound of explosions and sirens filled the air – marking the first intense confrontations in a day that began with protesters shutting down at least a few security checkpoints.

The clashes intensified during the afternoon as protesters hurled objects — including concrete bricks — at police in black riot gear, who fired back with more flash bangs and pepper spray. As helicopters swirled overhead and about two dozen booms echoed through downtown buildings, dozens of demonstrators fled, coughing uncontrollably and pouring milk in their eyes to wash out the stinging liquid. Traffic throughout the area was left gridlocked. An hour later, the abused limousine was set ablaze, spreading dark smoke throughout the area before firefighters extinguished the flames. The sound of more booms and sirens soon followed.

In total, more than 200 people were arrested throughout the day, and the confrontations continued as darkness fell. Richard Spencer, a self-described white nationalist and leader of the "alt-right" movement, was punched in the face by one of the demonstrators after denying that he was a Nazi.

A man is pepper sprayed at the corner of 12th and I St. N.W. in Washington on Jan. 20. Police responded to a vandalizing group of protesters with pepper spray to disperse the protesters. (Washington Post photo by Michael Robinson Chavez)

At 7 p.m., hundreds of protesters were still gathered on the intersection of 14th and K streets.

Someone hurled a bottle at the police line. Someone else set another garbage can on fire, while another burned a Trump flag on the flames as the crowd shouted, "Trump is a garbage fire."

A half-dozen Trump supporters in "Make America Great Again" hats charged at protesters shouting "USA, USA," then left after a brief verbal confrontation.

District of Columbia douncil member Anita Bonds worried that the violent demonstrations would unfairly reinforce the image of the nation's capital as a liberal bastion hostile to Trump and his supporters.

"Protesting is, in my opinion, your civil right. But I don't want you coming in to my town and destroying my property," Bonds said, suggesting that out-of-towners were at fault. "Go home and do it."

Trump's inauguration capped a campaign that galvanized millions of Americans who were eager to embrace a Washington outsider willing to say, or tweet, whatever is on his mind. The 70-year-old real estate mogul — who has never before held elected office — was jubilant Friday morning.

And legions of his supporters were on hand to embrace their new president.

As his parade began around 3:45, thousands of people standing along the route — some who had woken up before dawn to get there — endured an intermittent chilly rain to cheer for and wave banners at the New York real estate mogul.

"The president's coming," parade-goers near the start said to each other as they peered down Pennsylvania Avenue. They readied their cell phone cameras, fidgeting and arching their necks as the bass of brass instruments and drums came closer and closer.

President Donald Trump arrives at Lafayette Square across from the White House on Friday afternoon. (Washington Post photo by John McDonnell)

Just before reaching his newly opened $212 million Trump International Hotel, the president and First Lady Melania Trump exited their armored limousine to wave toward the crowd.

But by the time Trump reached the front of his hotel — where protesters had gathered across the street — he'd returned to the limo.

Beneath the gloomy lighting of a winter afternoon, few could tell which vehicle the president was in.

"Was that him?" asked a man from Tennessee at the western edge of the hotel, near 12th Street. Hardly anyone applauded as Trump passed, and an announcement came minutes later that the president had reached Freedom Plaza.

"Worst parade ever," said another man in a "Make America Great Again" cap. "I waited three hours for that?"

Up the street, 37-year-old Kelly Dolin had come from Waynesboro, Virginia, with his family to watch his 17-year-old son, who attends Fishburne Military School, march in the parade.

Dolin was surprised at the subdued mood of the crowds he had seen. "It wasn't what I expected," said Dolin, who voted for Hillary Clinton. "It seems like you'd hear more cheering."

Protesters and onlookers gather during the inaugural parade for U.S. President Donald Trump in Washington, U.S., January 20, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

Earlier in the day, at least, Trump's many supporters didn't lack in enthusiasm.

Kathy Davis and a friend sat in yellow ponchos in a light rain west of the Capitol, awaiting a moment they'd long anticipated. Both evangelical Christians, they'd driven down together from upstate New York on Thursday.

"We have just known that Donald Trump was supposed to be president, " said the 59-year-old. "When we saw the miracle happen on Election Day, I can't tell you the feelings that rose up."

One 68-year-old grandmother so adored Trump that she and her family drove 19 hours from Missouri to Washington to watch him become commander in chief. Security had confiscated Marian Curry's pepper spray and taser but let her keep a small folding chair because of her arthritic knees.

Curry insisted she's neither a Republican nor a Democrat, but something about Trump drew her in.

"He woke me up," she said.

Donna Lutz, a 71-year-old teacher from Florida, said she'd lost friends over her support for him.

"For the first time in my life, I have not been able to have an opinion," said Lutz, dressed in a bright red coat, fuzzy red earmuffs and a button with Trump's face. "I was very passionate, so now I get to see that my passions were shared."

Her feelings certainly weren't shared by everyone.

Trump's inflammatory rhetoric has angered and offended millions of Americans, making him the most unpopular incoming president in at least four decades. Friday, Trump supporters and detractors came face to face on the National Mall, around the White House and throughout downtown Washington.

Police officers move protesters away from a car that was set on fire during protests near the inauguration of President Donald Trump, January 20, 2017. REUTERS/Bryan Woolston

In one case, 10-year-old Josh Wheeler's anti-abortion sign was thrown to the ground, driving him to tears.

Wheeler's father, Todd, said a protester had pushed the boy and called him names, though another anti-Trump activist helped comfort Josh afterward.

"We're disappointed in the police for letting them do that," said Wheeler, whose family came to Washington for the inauguration from Indianapolis.

At John Marshall Park's checkpoint, Black Lives Matter protesters — chanting "Shut it down" — did just that. Five men chained themselves together, preventing anyone from passing and forcing police officers to redirect attendees to other entrances.

"It feels great that we closed the checkpoint," said 28-year-old Aaron Goggans, one of the organizers. "But we know this is just the beginning."

At the corner of Massachusetts Avenue and 20th Street, a very different sort of demonstration was being held as the earthy scent of burning pot wafted, and reggae pumped from a sound system. A cry went up from the crowd of marijuana enthusiasts waiting for their free joints.

They were reacting to a herd of motorcycles roaring past, one bike flying a Trump campaign flag.

"What's up Bikers for Trump?" said the DJ. "Come for some free weed?"

Across the street stood five Washington police officers, hands in their pockets.

The presidential inaugural parade leaves the Capitol in Washington after Donald Trump was sworn in as the 45th president of the United States. (Washington Post photo by Bonnie Jo Mount)

As the newly inaugurated Trump signed paperwork on Capitol Hill, hundreds of protesters meandered up Massachusetts Avenue from Union Station, occasionally blocking both sides of the thoroughfare.

The march had taken on a carnival feel, with stilt walkers, large puppets, a brass band and a giant inflatable elephant adorned with the word "racism."

"Immigrants are welcome here!" people chanted. "No hate! No fear!"

Trump supporters leaving the inauguration taunted the peaceful protesters, waving their ubiquitous red hats.

Earlier, at 10th and E streets, protesters had blocked the entrance to a checkpoint.

A group of women tied themselves together with purple yarn and sat on the ground to prevent people from passing through.

"Hey, hey, ho, ho! Donald Trump has to go!" shouted the group of about 100 mostly young protesters. "End white supremacy!"

Armed with signs, brass instruments and life-size wooden crosses, the assembly danced, blew whistles and sang along with a small marching band.

The protest continued until a large group of inauguration goers — many dressed in suits and dress clothes — tried to push through the human barricade. People fell to the ground and swore until police officers helped create a lane for the attendees to pass through.

Sean Bowling, 29, Westland, Mich. in Washington for the inauguration of Donald J. Trump. Washington Post photo by Michael E. Ruane.

Throughout the city, other anti-Trump protests popped up.

At 14th and I streets NW, about 100 anti Trump marchers chanted, 'Whose streets? Our streets!"

One man carried a bundle of American flags over his shoulder.

"It's not enough to continue shouting into the echo chamber of social media," said Clara Mystif, 31, a writer from Florida. "We're here to actually put our bodies on the line in support of our friends who are going to be targeted by this regime."

Law enforcement was prepared to contend with more than 60 demonstration groups that planned to gather in the District, including DisruptJ20, which drew thousands of participants. The activists' website promised "a series of massive direct actions that will shut down the Inauguration ceremonies and any related celebrations."

They set out to challenge a security plan that took months of planning and millions of dollars to execute. Among the obstacles facing agitators: Checkpoints, roadblocks, truck-barricaded streets, hundreds of Jersey barriers, miles of fencing and 28,000 security officials deployed across 100 square blocks in the heart of Washington.

On Friday, counter-demonstrators also arrived to support their new president — most notably, Bikers for Trump, a group that served as a vigilante security force at the Republican National Convention and expected 5,000 members in Washington.

The region's normally packed Washington-bound Metro trains were mostly empty early Friday. In a yellow line car headed south, two groups of four wearing Trump gear — beanies saying "Trump America's 45th president" and American flag scarves — sat ebulliently at the end.

One bearded man in a North Face vest and sweatpants, clearly new to Metro, propped his feet on a divider and later asked if he could smoke his cigarette. He hopped off his seat to record a selfie video with his friends.

"It's the best day in America," he beamed.

The man swiveled the camera to show the rest of the crowd.

"Washington sucks," he bellowed, before turning the recording off.

"I said 'Grab them by the p–y,' 17 times yesterday," he joked later, referring to Trump's vulgar comments on the set of Access Hollywood in 2005. He casually repeated the phrase several times, until his female companion shushed him.

"Today's a huge day," he said as the train approached their stop.

"Yuuuuge!" his friend responded.

Meanwhile, just before 9:30 a.m., the outgoing president left the Oval Office for the final time.

As Obama did, reporters asked, "Feeling nostalgic?"

Obama responded, "Of course."

Another reporter shouted, "Any words for the American people?"

The 44th president of the United States answered, "Thank you."

Despite Trump's reputation as a showman, the celebration in honor of the former "Apprentice" star was smaller than the one in 2009 for the nation's first African American leader.

Trump's 3 p.m. parade is expected to last just 90 minutes. Obama's took more than four hours. Trump is expected to appear at three official balls. Obama attended 10. Just 450 bus permits had been sought for Friday. About seven times that many – more than 3,000 – registered eight years ago.

Though Trump suggested "record numbers" of people would attend Friday's festivities, at least one longstanding ball had to cancel due to a lack of interest, and others have struggled to sell tickets. Compared to past celebrations, far fewer notable celebrities and musicians are attending or performing, and a number of the city's great halls haven't been rented.

Trump's hotel has frequently been targeted by protesters in recent months. An extra layer of high metal fencing appeared outside its front doors this week, and staff have carefully monitored everyone coming and going.

Washington's lack of enthusiasm for Trump's arrival may be due in part to the adversarial relationship he's long had with the fiercely liberal capital, a place he described as a "swamp" that needs draining.

Just 4 percent of Washington's residents voted for the new occupant of the city's most hallowed quarters: 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.

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The Washington Post's Taylor Hartz, Peter Jamison, Shaun Courtney, Alejandra Matos, Nick Anderson, Dana Hedgpeth, John Kelly, Justin Jouvenal and Tanya Sichynsky contributed to this report.

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