Donald Trump saluted and encouraged several thousand supporters who marched in the streets of Washington to back the president’s refusal to accept his defeat to Joe Biden in this month’s election.
The protesters, which included members of far-right white supremacist groups, filled sections of the US capital on a sun-drenched day with chants of “four more years” and “stop the steal”.
Echoing Mr Trump, many falsely claimed that widespread fraud in key swing states had prevented the president from winning re-election, and cheered on the president’s legal challenges, which have struggled to gain any traction in their goal to overturn Mr Biden’ s victory.
On his way to play golf on Saturday morning, Mr Trump was driven through the crowd assembled at Freedom Plaza next to the White House, waving at his fans. In a series of tweets later in the day, he hailed the demonstrators, saying they would not “stand for a rigged and corrupt election” and criticising press coverage of the protests, even by the Fox News channel.
While Mr Trump claimed that hundreds of thousands of Americans attended the rallies, US media organisations including CNN said the figure was much smaller, in the thousands. Washington’s Metropolitan Police Department said it did not provide crowd size estimates.
Mr Trump’s refusal to concede the election and launch a transition to Mr Biden’s presidency in January came after the November election delivered a 306 to 232 win for the Democratic challenger in the electoral college tally that decides the White House. In the popular vote, Mr Biden was prevailing by 51 per cent to 47 per cent, or 5.7m votes, according to the latest count.
On Friday Mr Trump had come close to acknowledging that a different administration might be in power next year, as he spoke about the prospects for new lockdowns to curb the new surge in coronavirus cases in the US.
“This administration will not be going to a lockdown. Hopefully the . . . whatever happens in the future, who knows which administration it will be, I guess time will tell,” he said. But as his most ardent supporters took to the streets on Saturday, Mr Trump showed no sign of acceptance.
Even without a concession from Mr Trump, Mr Biden has proceeded to name his new White House chief of staff in Ron Klain, the Obama administration’s Ebola tsar, and on Saturday, as he took a bicycle ride along a Delaware beach, the president-elect said he was moving closer to announcing cabinet appointments.
Yet there are fears that without an orderly transitions, Mr Biden could face critical delays in mounting his response to the coronavirus crisis, responding to any national security problems, and setting his administration up to address the economic woes still afflicting the world’s largest economy.
In Washington, police said they arrested 10 people in connection with the demonstrations backing Mr Trump, including four for firearm violations, four for assault and one for assault on a police officer.
Some of the protesters were members of the Proud Boys, a self-described “western chauvinist” group, that Mr Trump had told to “stand back and stand by” during the first presidential debate against Mr Biden in September. In the evening, the police had to intervene to separate some of Mr Trump’s supporters from counter demonstrators in downtown Washington, which led to some tension.
Earlier in the day, Daniel Bostic, one of the leading participants of the rally, had celebrated the gathering. “We had to bypass the mainstream media, we can’t rely on technology and social media any more. We need bodies in the streets to demand fair, free and open elections. They can’t ignore us any more,” he said in a brief speech.
Additional reporting by Katrina Manson in Washington