America’s political divisions turned violent on Washington’s streets during U.S. President Donald Trump’s inauguration on Friday, as black clad anti-establishment activists set fires and clashed with police while Trump supporters cheered the new chief executive.
Hundreds of protesters with varying agendas marched through downtown streets, and some groups clashed with police, throwing rocks and bottles which police responded to with tear gas and concussion grenades. A helicopter hovered low overhead.
At one flash point, a protester hurled an object through the passenger window of a police van, which quickly sped away in reverse as demonstrators cheered. Earlier, activists wearing masks used chunks of pavement and baseball bats to shatter the windows of a Bank of America branch and a McDonald’s outlet, all symbols of American capitalism.
Multiple vehicles were set on fire, including a black limousine and a television truck. A knot of people dragged garbage cans into a street a few blocks from the White House and set them ablaze, later throwing a red cap bearing Trump’s “Make America Great Again” campaign slogan into the flames.
Police said that at least 95 people were arrested and two officers injured in scuffles with activists.
The protests played out just blocks from Pennsylvania Avenue, where New York businessman-turned-Republican politician Trump proceeded in the traditional parade a newly sworn in president takes from the U.S. Capitol to the White House.
The various protest groups scattered around the city chanted anti-Trump slogans and carried signs with slogans including “Trump is not president” and “Make Racists Afraid Again.”
“Trump is not going to be stopped at the top, he’s going to be stopped from the bottom, from people rising up,” said Ben Allen, a 69-year-old retired teacher from San Francisco. “We support the right of everybody in this country, no matter what nationality, what religion, the color of their skin, to be respected as a human being, and this guy doesn’t respect anybody.”
‘DIDN’T EXPECT VIOLENCE’
Trump supporter Ryan Shiring, 21, stood nervously with a group of friends near a pile of smoldering trash cans.
“We thought there would be protests but we didn’t expect violence,” said Shiring, a college student from Hartford, Connecticut. “We were hoping for a completely peaceful transfer of power.”
Democratic officials, including Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser, condemned the violence.
The U.S. Secret Service, Washington police and other law enforcement agencies had about 28,000 officers in place to secure a roughly three-square-mile (7.8 square km) of the city.
During the election campaign and former reality TV star Trump’s surprising rise to power, some of his rhetoric was interpreted as racist and anti-immigration. His inauguration speech was a populist and nationalist rallying cry.
Protesters and police said the black-clad violent activists were acting independently of organized opposition to Trump.
The Disrupt J20 group on Twitter said its anger was not directed only at Trump, that it would also have demonstrated had Democrat Hillary Clinton won the election last November.
Not far from the White House, Bob Hrifko, a member of the Bikers for Trump group, was struck in the face with an aluminum chair when he tried to intervene in a scuffle involving police and protesters.
“I know, law and order and all that. We need more order. This ain’t right,” said Hrifko, who was bleeding from a cut under his eye.
The number of people who turned out for the midday swearing-in ceremony in the rain appeared to be significantly smaller than the estimated 2 million who attended Democrat Barack Obama’s first inauguration in 2009. Overhead video of the National Mall showed sections of the white matting laid down to protect the grass were largely empty.
Trump supporters Chris and Karen Korthaus, who carried a life-size cardboard cutout of the former reality TV star, crossed paths with an anti-Trump crowd.
“A protester came over and ripped off the Don’s head,” Karen Korthaus said as she showed a reporter a video of the incident. “We ran to a pizza shop and taped his head back on.”
There were also protests around the world.
In Tokyo, several hundred people, most of them expatriate Americans, protested against Trump. In London, activists draped a banner across the British capital’s iconic Tower Bridge reading “Build bridges not walls,” a reference to Trump’s promise to wall off the U.S.-Mexico border. But in Moscow, Russians hoping Trump will usher in a new era of detente with their country celebrated his inauguration.
Along the stretch of Washington where the rioters smashed windows, workers cleaned up the debris.
“We’re just working, and the next thing you know, violence is coming our way,” said Edwin Garcia, 26, a cook at an Au Bon Pain where three windows were shattered. “What was the point if they never got to where Trump is?”