Last week, demonstrations in the United States increased by over a quarter relative to the week prior. Demonstrations related to the coronavirus pandemic increased by more than 50%. Violent demonstrations, as well as demonstrations with police intervention, account for 10% of all demonstration events — double what was recorded during the previous week. Demonstrations in support of President Donald Trump and his allegations of widespread voter fraud continued, and multiple pro-Trump events resulted in violence against bystanders and/or violent confrontations with counter-demonstrators. Peaceful protests against recent police killings of Black men continued, though the total number of demonstrations associated with the Black Lives Matter movement decreased. Demonstrations associated with the BLM movement were met with increased force relative to recent weeks.
President Trump’s supporters continued to hold ‘Stop the Steal’ rallies across the country last week. The rallies came amid a Trump-backed bid from the Texas attorney general to invalidate election results in Pennsylvania, Michigan, Georgia, and Wisconsin — all states won by President-elect Joe Biden (CNN, 12 December 2020). On 11 December, the Supreme Court rejected the lawsuit (Associated Press, 12 December 2020). Following the decision, thousands of Trump supporters — including members of the Proud Boys, a right-wing street movement, and the III%ers, a militia group — gathered in Washington, DC. The event took place almost a month after the initial ‘Million MAGA March’ on 14 November. Demonstrators called for the election to be reversed and hundreds of thousands of votes to be nullified, repeating President Trump’s unfounded allegations of mass voter fraud (Atlantic, 10 December 2020).
The pro-Trump protesters were met by Antifa supporters and other counter-protesters associated with the BLM movement. After a largely peaceful daytime protest and counter-protest on Saturday, the ‘Million MAGA March’ descended into violence as night fell. Trump supporters, including Proud Boys and III%ers, assaulted bystanders, destroyed property, burned BLM flags, and vandalized several Black churches (Vox, 13 December 2020). Counter-demonstrators associated with the BLM movement and Antifa threw fireworks at Trump supporters. A brawl later broke out in front of a bar where dozens of Trump supporters, including Proud Boys, punched and kicked a Black man. During the assault, the man reportedly produced a knife and stabbed the assailants in self defense, leaving four people with non-life-threatening injuries (Washington Post, 14 December 2020). At least 33 people were arrested, the majority of whom were from areas outside of Washington, DC and its neighboring states of Virginia and Maryland. Eight police officers were injured during the unrest (WUSA9, 12 December 2020).
‘Million MAGA March,’ ‘Stop the Steal,’ and other pro-Trump demonstrations account for over 10% of all demonstrations last week, marking a slight decrease in the total number of pro-Trump demonstrations compared to the previous week. In addition to the rally in Washington, DC, events turned violent in Georgia, Washington, California, and New Mexico on Saturday. In Atlanta, Georgia, members of the III% Security Force, including the group’s leader, claimed to have assaulted four Antifa supporters in a parking garage. In Sacramento, California, members of the Proud Boys clashed with Antifa supporters using pepper and bear spray. In Santa Fe, New Mexico, a video shows several Trump supporters attacking two bystanders, including an elderly man. In Olympia, Washington, a Trump supporter was arrested for shooting and injuring a counter-protester associated with the BLM movement during a dueling protest. Clashes between Trump supporters, including Proud Boys, and counter-demonstrators associated with the BLM movement and Antifa were also reported in Olympia on the same day (Olympian, 12 December 2020). (For more on trends in right-wing mobilization and the risk of post-election violence, see this recent ACLED report.)
Despite the prominence of violent events related to the election, most demonstrations in the US continue to focus on the coronavirus pandemic and government restrictions. As cases and deaths remain high — with an average of over 210,000 new cases and over 2,400 deaths reported daily (Washington Post, 12 December 2020) — nearly half of all demonstrations were related to the pandemic last week. These demonstrations were driven by various concerns, including: the closing of schools or the re-opening of schools; a rent freeze and a moratorium on evictions; demands by workers and small-business owners for a lifting of restrictions and/or offsetting of lost wages; and the release of non-violent and elderly inmates and Immigration and Customs Enforcement detainees.
In response to the increase in overall cases and hospitalizations due to the coronavirus, National Guard units were mobilized in Idaho and Ohio on 11 December by Republican Governors Brad Little and Mike DeWine, respectively. In Idaho, Governor Little mobilized an additional 150 Guardsmen to aid in mobile testing support, facility decontamination, and coronavirus testing, more than doubling the number of participating Guardsmen to 250 (Army Times, 13 December 2020). In Ohio, Guardsmen were mobilized to provide security to state jails due to high levels of coronavirus infections among correctional officers (Hamilton Journal-News, 11 December 2020). These mobilizations come as the National Guard is expected to play a vital role in the distribution of coronavirus vaccines in 26 states (Military Times, 14 December 2020). In the meantime, a Pfizer plant in Portage, Michigan, began distributing the first round of COVID-19 vaccines to 636 locations across the country on 13 December (NBC News, 13 December 2020).
Demonstrations associated with the BLM movement decreased both in number and as a proportion of total events relative to the week prior. Yet demonstrators were met with increased force compared to preceding weeks, both by law enforcement as well as counter-demonstrators. On 6 December, police charged protesters in Los Angeles, California during their 13th consecutive day of demonstrations. The protesters are calling for President-elect Biden to refrain from appointing Mayor Eric Garcetti to a cabinet position citing his poor record on addressing issues such as transportation and homelessness in Los Angeles. Video of the incident shows a policewoman repeatedly swinging her baton at nearby demonstrators, striking multiple people as they attempted to withdraw. Police claim the demonstrators attacked officers, but video of the incident contradicts this claim (Fox News, 7 December 2020). Meanwhile, in Washington, DC, a combination of Trump supporters, Proud Boys, and III%ers counter-demonstrated and assaulted demonstrators affiliated with the BLM movement on 11 December, the day before the ‘Million MAGA March.’
Despite these incidents, 92% of demonstrations associated with the BLM movement were peaceful. These protests were held across the country, often focused on local police killings of Black men within the past month. In Jacksonville, Florida, people demanded transparency in the investigation of the shooting of Devon Gregory, an 18-year-old Black man killed by police under unclear circumstances on 11 December. In Columbus, Ohio, people gathered for multiple days to demand justice for Casey Goodson, Jr., a Black man killed at his doorstep after a local sheriff’s deputy shot him following an alleged “verbal exchange” (New York Times, 14 December 2020). Likewise, on 10 and 12 December, people protested the death of Joshua Feast, a Black man killed by police in La Marque, Texas. Feast was reportedly shot in the back, while fleeing from an officer attempting to arrest him on a felony warrant (Star Tribune, 15 December 2020). Bodycam footage has been withheld by the local police department due to an ongoing investigation. The protesters called for transparency and for police to release the bodycam footage (ABC 13, 12 December 2020). In Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, people protested the killing of Bennie Edwards, a homeless Black man with a history of mental health issues who was killed by police after they were called to remove him from the sidewalk in front of a business on 11 December.
In Portland, Oregon, activists established a protest encampment at the ‘Red House,’ with armed sentries providing security against police and right-wing activists. The ‘Red House’ has been owned by a Black and indigenous family for six decades. They recently lost the house to foreclosure and were evicted amid the coronavirus pandemic. Hundreds of people came to the house to prevent the seizure of the property, protesting against evictions during the pandemic and against ongoing gentrification in the area. On 8 December, police attempted to remove the demonstrators, but were thwarted by around 150-200 people who threw rocks. The demonstrators established barricades to prevent another raid. On 9 December, right-wing activists in a vehicle bypassed the makeshift barricades and threw explosives toward the demonstrators (Oregon Live, 10 December 2020). No one was injured in the incident. Demonstrators remained at the site until a deal was struck with city officials to allow the family to remain in the house on 13 December (Oregon Live, 13 December 2020).
While highly visible militia groups such as the III%ers and right-wing street movements such as the Proud Boys were present at several demonstrations last week, lesser-known militia groups were also active. The American Contingency publicized four training events around the country, including two pistol training courses in Florida and Colorado, and two carbine training courses in Arizona and Texas. While these trainings were publicized, many militia groups have refrained from openly discussing their activity, likely resulting in significant underreporting of their activities.
Data on political violence and demonstrations in America are made available through the US Crisis Monitor, a special project launched by ACLED and the Bridging Divides Initiative at Princeton University. For more information about the project, click here.
© 2020 Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED). All rights reserved.