In 2016, President Donald Trump’s supporters — hardly known as MAGA nation at that point — jeered at the backlash to his election, mocking the pink-hatted anti-Trumpers who’d dubbed themselves “The Resistance” and marched on Washington.
On Saturday, it’s their turn to resist.
The disparate tribes of MAGA Nation — Oath Keepers, Three Percenters, Infowars fanatics, Groypers, Proud Boys, white nationalists, neo-Nazis and the people who would simply call themselves die-hard MAGA — have declared that they are simply going to show up in Washington en masse over the weekend to rally together, with the marquee event on Saturday.
The groups have assigned the gathering different names: the Million MAGA March, the March for Trump, Stop the Steal DC. But they’re all set to take place Saturday in the nation’s capital, around noon, with most set to congregate near Freedom Plaza, just east of the White House, though some groups have also suggested the Supreme Court building down the National Mall. It’s unclear how many people may show up, and past promises of massive rallies have sometimes fizzled out. Notably, organizers have not filed for permits, according to a spokesperson for the D.C. Metropolitan Police. But disinformation and extremist researchers have estimated anywhere from several hundred to several thousand may show up.
The events — or “rally initiatives,” as Oath Keeper leader Stewart Rhodes termed them — show how Trump’s more dedicated followers plan to spend the coming weeks. Activists throughout the far-right universe, from MAGA celebrities to policy wonks to conspiracy theorists, are exploring how to use the final two-plus months of Trump’s presidency to undermine President-elect Joe Biden, vocally support Trump’s court challenges to the election, confront antifa, and maybe, just maybe, help keep the current president in office.
“It is solely designed to create disruption, and possibly chaos. It’s basically a giant online comment troll come into life,” said Angelo Carusone, president of Media Matters, a progressive group that monitors conservative media.
Saturday’s events have ricocheted around the MAGA echo chamber in various forms.
Women for America First promoted the March for Trump, Right Side Broadcasting Network called it the “Million #MAGA March.” Infowars’s Owen Schroyer has organized an elaborate cross-country caravan from Texas, designed to pick up more followers before arriving in D.C. on Friday for the march. Nick Fuentes, a prominent white nationalist who leads the group Groyper Army, has organized a series of rallies across swing states, culminating in a D.C. gathering on Saturday.
Truckers for Trump plan to drive Trump flag-bearing vehicles through the city, and the MAGA caravan organization Drag the Interstate has planned a “Nice Saturday Drive” to an address near Freedom Plaza on Saturday. And members of the Proud Boys, the far-right group known for street brawling, are planning to come to D.C. as well.
Trump allies have also promoted the various events on their Twitter feeds.
Online, these Trump followers have used social media to hype up specific conspiracy theories, including Sharpiegate, a swiftly debunked claim that Arizona ballots weren’t registering for voters who had used sharpies to indicate their choices.
A similar phenomenon among the MAGA crowd with the seemingly overnight growth of #StopTheSteal, a hashtag that became the unofficial hub for Trump supporters to dump spurious allegations of voter fraud within hours of the polls opening in swing states. The hashtag’s growth was hardly organic — a loose confederacy of Trump allies helped give it life.
The online advocacy has now started to spill over into in-person protesting. The #StopTheSteal movement generated enough energy that MAGA influencers were able to unofficially organize small but vocal protests at statehouses and voting tabulation centers across the country.
Saturday’s conglomerate of pro-Trump events appears to be the next step in that progression. A disparate universe of pro-Trump groups is hyping up the various events on Eventbrite, Twitter and Parler, a social-media site popular with conservatives. Fringe groups are sharing details of the march on Telegram, an encrypted messaging app. Officially, there is no joint planning between these groups. But every event is conveniently set to occur in D.C. at around the same time.
“Lots of people are going to come up with different graphics and hashtags and names because they are excited,” said Ali Alexander, a former tea party political operative, MAGA influencer and one of the organizers of the March for Trump.
Most of the Saturday rallies are promoted as simple demonstrations of support for Trump — Truckers for Trump rolling their big rigs through the city, for instance.
Others, like March for Trump, are affiliated with Amy Kremer’s Women for America First — one of the key interest groups behind #StopTheSteal, and the protests that popped up last weekend in response to the election results.
Some groups have run afoul of the digital platforms being used to organize. Eventbrite, for instance, shuttered the March for Trump’s event page for promoting “potentially harmful disinformation.” According to Kremer, Facebook and Mailchimp deplatformed them, as well.
“Big Tech is out to take down this President,” tweeted Ryan Fournier, co-founder of Students for Trump, which organizes on college campuses.
The rallies are also being heavily promoted on white supremacist sites like The Daily Stormer and Stormfront.
Fuentes, of the white nationalist group Groypers, promised on Parler: “[W]e will rally in DC this weekend. GROYPERS ARE GOING TO STOP THIS COUP!” And on Twitter, he called the event “MAGA NIGHT AT THE WHITE HOUSE.” Ethan Ralph, a white supremacist-sympathetic livestreamer, announced he would be hosting an episode of “The Killstream” live at the event. QAnon groups were lit up as well at the prospect of a MAGApalooza near the president’s house.
“Everybody who comes to this will certainly not be an extremist,” said Jared Holt, a visiting fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensics Research Lab, which monitors online extremism and disinformation. “But this event is generating a fair amount of chatter in extremist communities online that we’re monitoring.”
A spokesperson for the D.C. Metropolitan Police said it was monitoring the situation.
The declared MAGA goal, of course, is to show support for the president. But the ulterior motive, argued Carusone, is to prove the left is just as violent — a longtime talking point in far-right media.
“I don’t really know if this is going to have any sort of impact, unless they can, like, pick a fight with antifa and get on Tucker Carlson,” he said, referencing one of Trump’s favorite Fox News personalities.
It’s not out of the question. A “FUCK MAGA” counterprotest has already been scheduled by All Out DC, a local antifascist group, to take place nearby. Washington is also a heavily liberal city — Biden earned over 93 percent of the capital’s vote. And several members of attending groups — the Proud Boys in particular — are known primarily for getting into brawls with left-wing counterprotesters.
The most incendiary presence could be the militias, although it’s unclear whether they will actually show up.
Rhodes, the Oath Keeper leader, has vowed to station armed “special warfare veterans” outside the city on Saturday, placing them outside the jurisdiction of Washington’s gun control laws. But he has made similar pledges before that have not materialized.
Regardless of what they do, Rhodes’ sentiment — and those of his fellow MAGA pilgrims — is clear: “We must refuse to EVER recognize this as a legitimate election, and refuse to recognize Biden as a legitimate winner, and refuse to ever recognize him as the president of the United States.”