As Donald John Trump prepared to take the oath of office and become the 45th commander in chief of the United States on Friday and thousands of his supporters celebrated the moment, downtown Washington erupted in chaos.
Less than two miles from where President Obama and his predecessors, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton, joined hundreds of elected officials gathered at the west front of the U.S. Capitol, anarchists marched through the city’s streets, toppling over news boxes, smashing bus stop windows, 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 fire flash bangs into their ranks.
Dozens of police officers encircled the black-clad protesters at 12th and L streets shortly before 11 a.m. Some protesters had their hands up.
The sound of explosions and sirens filled the cool air – marking the most intense confrontations in a morning during which protesters had successfully shut down at least a few checkpoints.
At noon, the Republican real estate mogul will become the president, capping 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. Trump — who has never before held elected office — was jubilant Friday morning before attending a service at St. John’s Episcopal Church and sharing tea with President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama at the White House.
And legions of his supporters were on hand to embrace their new president.
Admiring the Capitol building on their way to inauguration, two teachers from Gainesville, Fla., were decked out in bright red coats, fuzzy red earmuffs and buttons with Trump’s face.
One of them, 71-year-old Donna Lutz, said she’d lost friends over her support for Trump.
“For the first time in my life, I have not been able to have an opinion,” she said. “I was very passionate, so now I get to see that my passions were shared.”
But her feelings certainly weren’t shared by everyone.
Trump’s inflammatory rhetoric, though, has angered and offended millions of Americans others, making the 70-year-old New Yorker the most unpopular incoming president in at least four decades. Friday, the stark national divide was already on full display as Trump supporters and detractors began coming face to face on the National Mall, around the White House and throughout downtown D.C.
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 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 D.C. police officers, hands in their pockets.
At the 10th and E streets in downtown Washington, protesters blocked the entrance to another 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!” 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 peacefully 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 starting falling to the ground and swearing until police officers helped create a lane for the attendees to pass through.
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.”
D.C. police reported several skirmishes at various checkpoints — including one that prompted officers to use pepper spray — but said just before 9 a.m. that no one had been arrested throughout the morning.
“So far, so good,” said interim D.C. Police Chief Peter Newsham, adding visitors “will see people with views that are different than yours. We are used to that. When it comes to breaking the law, that’s something we do not tolerate.”
Law enforcement is prepared to contend with more than 60 demonstration groups that plan to gather in the District, including DisruptJ20, which expects at least 30,000 participants. The activists’ website promised “a series of massive direct actions that will shut down the Inauguration ceremonies and any related celebrations.”
To do that, however, they’ll have to overcome a security plan that’s taken months of planning and millions of dollars to execute. Among the obstacles facing any would-be 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 Thursday night, hundreds of protesters clashed with law enforcement outside the National Press Club, where a thousand Trump supporters — including a number of infamous online trolls who campaigned for the new president — had gathered for the “DeploraBall.” In the street, demonstrators waved signs, chanted, shouted obscenities and set fires. One man who appeared to be a Trump supporter was struck in the head and left bleeding before police escorted him to safety. Several times, officers directed a chemical spray into the crowd and one person was arrested and charged with conspiring to commit violence.
On Friday, protesters may be confronted by counter-demonstrators who have come 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 expects 5,000 members in Washington Friday.
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 camera 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., President Obama left the Oval Office for the final time.
As he 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 will likely be 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.
D.C.’s Trump International Hotel, which the new president will pass during his parade, 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 D.C.’s residents voted for the man who’s about to move into the city’s most hallowed quarters: 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
Taylor Hartz, Alejandra Matos, Nick Anderson, Dana Hedgpeth, John Kelly and Tanya Sichynsky contributed to this report.
John Woodrow Cox is a reporter on the local enterprise team. Prior to joining the Post, he worked at the Tampa Bay Times in Florida and at the Valley News in New Hampshire. He attended the University of Florida, earning degrees in journalism and business.
Arelis Hernández covers Prince George’s County as part of The Washington Post’s local staff.
Fenit Nirappil covers politics and government in Maryland, Virginia and D.C. He previously covered the California statehouse and suburban government outside Portland, Ore.
Peter Hermann covers crime for The Washington Post.