Demonstrations across the United States continued at slightly lower levels last week compared to the week prior as the Office of the President transitioned from Donald Trump to Joe Biden. Although the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) warned of potential violence during the transition of power, all demonstrations across state capitals and Washington, DC remained peaceful amid heightened security measures (CNN, 21 January 2021). Demonstrations held by Trump supporters, including ‘Stop the Steal’ rallies, slightly increased last week relative to the week prior, whereas demonstrations calling for the reopening of states amid the pandemic significantly decreased. In observance of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, demonstrations associated with the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement gained momentum. In addition, demonstrations over abortion rights were reported across the country on and before 22 January, the 48th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, a landmark Supreme Court case that ensures access to abortions without excessive government restrictions (TIME, 22 January 2021).
In anticipation of possible unrest in Washington, DC, around 25,000 National Guard troops from all 50 states were deployed in the vicinity of the Capitol to assist in protecting the area ahead of the presidential inauguration on 20 January (National Guard, 15 January 2021). The FBI and the US military removed 12 National Guard soldiers from inaugural protection duties due to their ties with white supremacy and right-wing extremist movements (New York Times, 17 January 2021). Additionally, one visitor at the inauguration event on 20 January was arrested at a security checkpoint near the Capitol for attempting to bring an unreported ‘restricted item.’ Previously, between 15-16 January, police arrested one man and one woman for attempting to gain access to secure areas in Washington, DC with false identification (New York Times, 16 January 2021; Fox 5 DC, 16 January 2021). Demonstrations were muted across the country as well, with only small numbers of protesters appearing at state capital rallies. Events remained calm on Inauguration Day (NBC News, 20 January 2021).
Supporters of former President Trump held several ‘Stop the Steal’ demonstrations last week over his unfounded claims of widespread electoral fraud. ‘Stop the Steal’ rallies increased in the US relative to the week prior, though they remained at a lower level than the weeks immediately following the election. Despite the relative increase, there was a significant drop in ‘Stop the Steal’ rallies following President Biden’s inauguration on 20 January. All but one ‘Stop the Steal’ rally occurred on or before Inauguration Day. In Michigan, Utah, and Kentucky, members of the Boogaloo Bois, an accelerationist right-libertarian group, joined ‘Stop the Steal’ rallies alongside Trump supporters, claiming that the 2020 presidential election was rigged.
Far-left movements also held several demonstrations against President Biden on Inauguration Day. Antifa supporters demonstrated against Biden in Ohio, Colorado, and Washington. Members of the Denver Communists also participated in the anti-Biden demonstration in Denver, Colorado. Demonstrations in Portland, Oregon and Seattle, Washington became violent when demonstrators damaged property — including the Democratic Party Headquarters in Oregon — and clashed with police (Reuters, 21 January 2021).
Last week, demonstrations associated with the BLM movement increased by about 40% compared to the week prior, though the number of participants in Martin Luther King Jr. Day rallies was reduced compared to past years, likely due to the coronavirus pandemic (USA Today, 17 January 2021). Several Martin Luther King Jr. Day marches were held in solidarity with the BLM movement. Demonstrations on Martin Luther King Jr. Day represented over two-fifths of all demonstrations associated with the BLM movement during the past week. In Brooklyn, New York, a crowd of nearly 500 people demonstrated in support of the BLM movement and clashed with police during the holiday (Brooklyn Paper, 19 January 2021). Demonstrators reportedly threw bottles, one of which hit a police officer’s helmet, vandalized property, and blocked traffic. In response, police kettled, pushed, and tackled demonstrators (Brooklyn Paper, 19 January 2021).
As the number of new COVID-19 cases continued to trend downward last week (Washington Post, 26 January 2021), demonstrations related to the coronavirus pandemic decreased by nearly 60%. About a quarter of all pandemic-related demonstrations were against government regulations to control the spread of the coronavirus. On 25 January, President Biden announced that he will prioritize reopening schools and distributing COVID-19 vaccines to students (ABC News, 26 January 2021). Although students, parents, and coaches continued to call for schools and high school sports to resume in-person operations immediately, there was a sharp decline in demonstrations demanding in-person learning compared to the week prior. Conversely, teachers in Rio Rancho, New Mexico held a demonstration against the cancellation of the coronavirus vaccine rollout for teachers amid reports of vaccine distribution issues (CNN, 26 January 2021).
Last week, demonstrations over abortion restrictions by both pro-life and reproductive rights activists were reported across the country on 22 January, which marked the 48th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court ruling. On 18 January, then-President Trump announced that 22 January would become ‘National Sanctity of Human Life Day’ (CBS17, 19 January 2021). However, President Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris released a statement that recognized the anniversary of Roe v. Wade and made no mention of Trump’s declaration four days prior (White House, 22 January 2021). On 19 and 22 January, respectively, demonstrators advocating for women’s reproductive rights held demonstrations in Chicago, Illinois and Columbus, Ohio. Anti-abortion demonstrations were reported in eight states and in Washington, DC between 16 and 22 January.
In other developments, a small number of militia activity events were reported last week in Florida and Pennsylvania. In Miami, Florida, the American Contingency group held a firearm training event between 16 and 17 January. The Carlisle Light Infantry, meanwhile, held a meeting in Carlisle, Pennsylvania on 16 January. Similar to previous weeks, militia activity is likely underreported as groups may fear that publicizing their activity would invite investigation by federal and local law enforcement amid the crackdown on far-right organizations following the Capitol riot on 6 January.
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.
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