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Protests Grow Violent After Trump Supporters Gather Again In D.C.

LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

There were clashes with police, arrests and at least four stabbings yesterday as supporters of President Trump held a MAGA march here in Washington, D.C. The crowds were smaller, but the message stayed the same - a defiant rejection of Joe Biden as the next president based on debunked accounts of election fraud. NPR's Hannah Allam was at the rally, and she is here with us now. Good morning.

HANNAH ALLAM, BYLINE: Hi. Good morning.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: By now, states have certified their election results. Courts have weighed in, and there's simply no evidence of significant voter fraud. What's left for Trump supporters to say with these rallies?

ALLAM: Well, they definitely want to keep up the pressure and keep alive the stop-the-steal narrative, this baseless idea that the election was rigged. But it's also about much more than that. It's a networking and recruiting opportunity for the right-wing groups that always show up to events like this. And while some say they'll never accept Biden as president, the reality is setting in for others now that, you know, their guy will indeed have to leave the White House. So several speakers were talking about looking ahead, organizing around some of their other pet issues, the Second Amendment, rejecting a coronavirus vaccine, keeping, quote-unquote, "the socialists at bay." So it's just a rich soup of conspiracy and disinformation that doesn't go away when Trump leaves.

And then for a smaller fringe, there was a much more overtly violent tone than the last March, not only in the chanting and the slogans but in actual violence and beatings. I witnessed late last night after the rally some really chilling scenes. And so, yeah, the most militant right-wing activists have said quite clearly now that they won't be settling for marching in the streets and that they're ready to fight.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Even before the rally began, one extremist group made headlines. The leader of the Proud Boys, Enrique Tarrio, visited the White House early Saturday. The Proud Boys, of course, are known as a violent gang. Some extremism trackers call them a hate group. Trump famously told them during a debate to stand back and stand by. So what, may I ask, was the leader of the Proud Boys doing at the White House?

ALLAM: Yeah, that's still a bit of a mystery. The White House has said Tarrio was not specifically invited, that he was part of a public tour. But that's just not exactly how it works for the general public. I saw Enrique Tarrio at the rally and asked him directly about the visit. He told me he was there, quote, "as just a guest." He said he didn't see or meet with the president. He didn't get into specifics, though. I also asked what it meant for the Proud Boys to have that kind of access. And he said it shows they've come a long way, as he put it. And he says they're using their platform to push for election reforms, for example, a federal voting card. Here's Tarrio.

ENRIQUE TARRIO: If not, for the next four years, this is all you're going to see. When Biden preaches a message of unity, he has listen to us, too.

ALLAM: So the problem with Tarrio talking like he's moderate, who's interested in Biden's message of unity, is that you can't say that by day and then unleash your members at night to roam the streets harassing and beating up anyone you perceive as a leftist. And that's exactly what I and many others recorded the Proud Boys doing last night.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: What are the national security implications of the ideologies we saw swirling around yesterday at this big public rally?

ALLAM: Well, for many years now, according to the FBI, the violent far-right has been the deadliest and most active domestic terrorism threat. But these ideologies and groups were mainly confined to the fringe. Now we see the leader of the Proud Boys getting a tour of the White House. Later the same day, I saw his members corner and beat two young Black men. The member - Proud Boys were filmed ripping a Black Lives Matter banner off a historic Black church in D.C. As you noted, there were stabbings and arrests. So, yeah, the mainstreaming of extremist groups is a hallmark of the Trump era. And analysts say it's going to be a heavy lift for the Biden administration to reverse that and to prevent political violence from snowballing.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's NPR's Hannah Allam. Thank you very much.

ALLAM: Thank you, Lulu. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.