Washington, D.C.’s Fourth of July week will go from a sweaty fete of fireworks, security checkpoints, tanks, and sunscreen to what is shaping up to be a protest-fest, featuring some of the pro-Trump right’s most extreme groups two days after the Donald Trump-centric festivities.
Members of the far-right Proud Boys men’s group and their allies will rally in D.C. on July 6, just a week after violence at rival Portland rallies ratcheted up tensions between groups on both the right and left. The Proud Boys event and a rival counterprotest threaten to add even more tension for what’s already shaping up to be a hot, strange week in Washington.
The Proud Boys—self-described “Western chauvinists” who adhere to a dizzying array of rules, including restrictions on how much they can masturbate—will be joined by a number of right-wing internet personalities at the “Rally for Free Speech” at D.C.’s Freedom Plaza.
The event’s website lists a number of right-wing internet provocateurs, including conservative smear-pusher Jacob Wohl, anti-Muslim activist Laura Loomer, British far-right activist Milo Yiannopoulos, and former Pizzagate promoter Jack Posobiec. The bill also names a host of lesser-known social-media figures, including YouTube prankster-turned-congressional candidate Joey Salads and “Copper Cab,” the YouTuber who became famous in 2010 for the viral “gingers have souls” video.
The rally, which will be held just blocks from the White House, is ostensibly about social-media companies banning right-wing figures like Loomer and Wohl. According to Proud Boy leader and event organizer Luke Rohfling, though, the event is also aimed at left-wing antifascist activists after Quillette writer Andy Ngo was attacked last weekend in Portland.
An earlier free-speech protest from the same group in San Francisco drew only a modest crowd in May, but the crowd numbers in D.C. could be swelled by Trump supporters traveling to Washington for Donald Trump’s Fourth of July celebrations.
“A lot of people will be in town for the Trumpstravaganza,” Rohfling said, referencing Trump’s “Salute to America” event on July 4th that will feature a speech from the president at the Lincoln Memorial, military plane flyovers, and tanks.
While the Proud Boy event’s organizer says the event isn’t officially a Proud Boys rally, Proud Boys Chairman Enrique Tarrio is listed on the event’s permit as a supervisor. Proud Boys founder Gavin McInnes is on the speakers’ list, as is Proud Boy and former Trump adviser Roger Stone. The rally organizers’ application for the Freedom Plaza space has been approved, according to a Park Police spokesperson.
Just across the street from Freedom Plaza, antifascists and other counterprotesters organized in a coalition calling itself “All Out D.C.” plan to rally against the Proud Boys.
“We are expecting a lot of Trump supporters, and especially battle-ready Trump supporters,” All Out D.C. organizer Jesse Sparks said.
After the main rally, Sparks says some counterprotesters will head to disrupt the “Demand Free Speech” event, the location of which hasn’t been made public.
“Folks might want to do some resistance,” Sparks said.
Rohfling insists the Proud Boys don’t intend to be violent, quipping that the only risk from having them in Washington is the local bars run out of beer. But Proud Boys have repeatedly been arrested for alleged aggressive behavior, including a brawl outside a McInnes speech in New York City last year. On his website, Tarrio sells shirts promoting “free helicopter rides”—a celebration of Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet’s regime executing leftists by throwing them out of helicopters.
Ahead of the rally, Rohfling, other organizers, and right-wing websites have promoted the claim that antifascists are planning to attack the rally with acid. This claim is based on anonymous messages on the encrypted messaging app Telegram posted by an account called “Pound on Your Boy,” but there’s no evidence that anyone involved in the Washington counterdemonstration was behind those messages. Commenters on right-wing Facebook pages have responded to the thinly sourced threats by urging attendees at the “Demand Free Speech” event to carry guns.
So far, the Proud Boys and the other event organizers have faced more mundane challenges. Organizers had initially tried to sell tickets to a private after-rally pool party for $200. But the pool club that organizers claimed would serve as their venue backed out in May, claiming they had never agreed to host the rally-goers. Event organizing website Eventbrite later deleted the rally’s page and refunded tickets for the VIP event, saying the organizers had failed to prove they had “an authorized location” for the party.
On Monday, some announced speakers started to pull out, with Posobiec tweeting that the anonymous acid threat had made his own participation “TBD.” Meanwhile, Rohfling insisted that there wouldn’t be any threat coming from the Proud Boys.
“We’re going to go there and have a fun time,” he said.