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Trump supporters flock to DC ahead of vote

WASHINGTON (AP) — Hundreds of supporters of President Donald Trump descended on the nation’s capital Tuesday to cheer his claims of election fraud a day before a congressional vote to affirm Joe Biden’s victory.

Just blocks from the White House, protesters — many without masks — gathered in Freedom Plaza to decry the vote in the Electoral College. As temperatures dropped to the low 40s and a steady rain swept onto the streets, hundreds remained in the plaza into nightfall.

“I’m just here to support the president,” said David Wideman, a 45-year-old firefighter who traveled from Memphis, Tennessee.

Wideman acknowledged he was “confused” by a string of losses from the president’s legal team in their attempt to overturn the results of the election and didn’t know what options Trump had left.

“I not sure what he can do at this point, but I want to hear what he has to say,” Wideman said.

Trump tweeted his support for the protesters: “Washington is being inundated with people who don’t want to see an election victory stolen by emboldened Radical Left Democrats. Our Country has had enough, they won’t take it anymore! We hear you (and love you) from the Oval Office. MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN!”

The speakers included former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn, whom the president pardoned after he was twice convicted of lying to the FBI in special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation.

“We stand at a crucible moment in United States history,” Flynn told the mostly maskless crowd. “This country is awake now.”

The president was expected to personally address his supporters in Washington today during a rally on the Ellipse, just south of the White House. The protests coincide with today’s congressional vote expected to certify the Electoral College results, which Trump continues to dispute.

In a Tuesday evening tweet, Trump called on Democrats and fellow Republicans to look at the “thousands of people pouring into D.C.” In another tweet, he warned that antifa, the umbrella term for leftist militant groups that Trump has said he wants to declare a terrorist organization, should stay out of Washington.

The rallies had local officials and law enforcement bracing for potential violent street clashes. Many businesses in downtown Washington boarded up their windows, fearful that the protest could devolve into the unrest seen in May and June when dozens of businesses were vandalized.

District of Columbia Mayor Muriel Bowser called in National Guard troops to help bolster the city’s police force. She urged residents to stay away from downtown Washington and to avoid confrontations with anyone who is “looking for a fight.” But, she warned, “we will not allow people to incite violence, intimidate our residents or cause destruction in our city.”

Election officials from both political parties, governors in key battleground states and Trump’s former attorney general, William Barr, have said there was no widespread fraud in the election. Nearly all the legal challenges from Trump and his allies have been dismissed by judges, including two challenges rejected by the Supreme Court.

A pro-Trump rally Dec. 12 ended in violence as hundreds of Trump supporters, wearing the signature black and yellow of the Proud Boys, a far-right extremist group, sought out confrontations with a collective of local activists attempting to bar them from Black Lives Matter Plaza, an area near the White House. At least two local Black churches had Black Lives Matter banners torn down and set ablaze.

Monday, police arrested the leader of the Proud Boys, Henry “Enrique” Tarrio, 36, after he arrived in Washington ahead of this week’s protests. Tarrio was accused of burning one of the Black Lives Matter banners in December and was found with two high-capacity firearm magazines, police said. A judge signed an order Tuesday banning Tarrio from entering the District of Columbia, with very limited exceptions related to his criminal case.

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