On this last episode, we look back on 23 years of joyous, difficult and always informative conversation.
Guest Host: Dan Reed
It was a rainy Fourth of July in the Washington region, but that didn’t stop the day’s festivities from carrying on. We hear an update on the District’s Independence Day parade, President Trump’s “Salute to America,” the Capitol Fourth Concert and more. Plus, we get a preview of a right-wing protest happening Saturday called the “Demand Free Speech Freedom Rally,” and hear about the antifascist protest planned to counter it.
Produced by Mark Gunnery
DAN REEDYou're tuned into "The Kojo Nnamdi Show." I'm Dan Reed, sitting in for Kojo. Welcome. Later in the hour, we'll talk about this year's Capital Fringe Festival, which highlights new and progressive theatrical works in the District. But first, yesterday was an Independence Day like no other in Washington, between President Trump's "Salute to America" event, military vehicles on the streets of the Capital and fighter jets flying overhead. We'll get an update on the rainy holiday and hear about another event happening this weekend, a rally demanding free speech for right-wing activists and an antifascist counter-protest. Joining me today Elly Yu, a reporter with WAMU. Thanks for being here.
REEDAnd Rachel Kurzius, a Senior Editor for DCist. Thanks for being here.
RACHEL KURZIUSPleasure to be here.
REEDHow did you celebrate the Fourth of July yesterday? Join us by calling 1-802-433-8850. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org, or you can get in touch with us through our Facebook page, or by sending a tweet to @kojoshow. Now, Elly, you were out at the Fourth of July celebrations throughout the day, and you spoke to attendees of the different events happening on the Mall. What was your impression of the mood yesterday?
YUSo, it depended, throughout the day. I mean, earlier in the day, it was really hot and muggy. People were coming out with their family. People had, you know, were carrying flags. A lot of people were carrying little baby Trump balloons. There were protestors who had inflated a large, 20-foot baby Trump balloon near the reflecting pool. And outside of the barricades, I ran into a group of D.C. residents who had bought a bunch of these balloons themselves, as volunteers, and were filling them up by hand and passing it out to people who were to go the event. There were a lot of the president's supporters, as well, who were really excited about the president speaking later that night. And then you also had a bunch of, like, tourists, as well, from the UK, China, who were just, like, "Oh, is this something that happens every year in the District?" You know, obviously, the District gets a lot of tourists around this time of year. And then, throughout the evening, there was a lot of rain, and a lot of -- we almost had a delay for the president's program. But it started pretty close to time.
REEDHow much of a factor was the weather in turnout yesterday?
YUWell, it was rainy. I mean, but people came out with their ponchos and their umbrellas. I mean, the Mall, at a certain point, was just a flood of umbrellas. So, people -- it was pretty nasty out there, in terms of weather. But I think people's spirits were still, like, there to celebrate the Fourth of July.
REEDYou know, Washingtonians this weeks talked about military vehicles in the streets and the potential for fighter jets flying overhead. What did you hear about those aspects of the celebration yesterday?
YUYeah. So, earlier this week, I talked to folks as people were setting up the stage at the Lincoln Memorial. There was a couple of military armored vehicles there. Some folks I talked to said it's a little bit of overkill, this whole display of the military. Some folks I talked to didn't necessarily like how the military was being a big focus of the Fourth of July celebrations. But yesterday, as the flyovers were happening, a lot of people were just sort of enjoying watching these military aircraft flyover the Washington Monument. I mean, on one end, the president was introducing each branch of the military. And every time he did so, you would turn around, and there was, you know, helicopters or planes kind of synchronized, flying past the Washington Monument. And so people just had their cell phones up in the air, and were just trying to capture it all.
REEDDid those military flyovers affect civilian flights at all?
YUIt did. So, Reagan National Airport, because of the flyovers, flights there were grounded from around 6:15 to 7:45. And then also again between 9:00 and 9:45, because of the fireworks, because of just the large amount of fireworks that was being put out into the air. It was about 35-minute long show. There was a lot of smoke, and it was so long partly because of a couple of companies donating to the event.
REEDWe've got an email from David, who says, "I hope you won't overlook 45's statement from his speech that George Washington captured British-held airports during the Revolutionary War." That seems like a creative interpretation of the events, would you say?
YUYou know, actually, I did not hear that part. But I was with the crowd and most folks were kind of -- I was sort of in the back of the Mall, furthest away from the Lincoln Memorial. And a lot of folks there weren't necessarily paying super-close attention to what the president was saying. They were kind of looking out into the sky.
REEDIt seems like one of the main focuses that people had yesterday was about the impact of all these military tanks on the District's streets. Is there any evidence that they caused damage over the past week? And if so, is there a plan for dealing with it?
YUAs far as I can tell, it's too hard -- the city is going to bring in civil engineers to assess the damage if there is any. And the city expecting the federal government to pay for it, if there is. There were tanks and military armored vehicles sort of brought in by trailer, so they weren't necessarily, like, they weren't rolling on the streets, per se. But the city says that they expect the federal government to pay up if there is any sort of damage.
REEDSo, how much did the "Salute to America" event end up costing, and who's footing the bill?
YUThat is still the big question. We haven't gotten a cost estimate yet about how much this event will cost. When the president had been pushing for a military parade last year, there were cost estimates of up to -- like over $90 million, for example. I mean, that's something that city officials and members of Congress are still waiting for. There was a report in the Washington Post that the National Park Service diverted about $2 million from recreational fees to cover the event. So, we'll see. We'll see how much it does end up costing.
REEDNow, of course, the National Mall isn't the only place Washingtonians celebrated yesterday. What were some of the other ways the District marked the Fourth?
YUYeah. There were plenty of events, the Palisades Parade in northwest D.C. That happens every year. There's the Tacoma Park Parade. And then the National Independence Parade, as well. There was also a report of a senior sing-along happening, of a group of seniors sort of wanting to have an alternative event to the president's speech. They were calling it "Make Americans Friends Again." So, I mean, overall people were having, you know, celebrating the Fourth with their friends and family in other ways.
REEDAlso joining me today is Rachel Kurzius, the Senior Editor for DCist. Thanks for being here.
REEDSo, in the lead-up to the Fourth, there was some concern about violent confrontations between pro and anti-Trump attendees on the Mall. Was that concern merited?
KURZIUSUltimately, what we say was that any of the scuffles that did occur weren't on the Mall itself, but instead were at Lafayette Square, which any local resident knows it's among the interesting places to check out in D.C. There are always people there with signs advocating for one or another thing, intermingled with tourists. What was happening at Lafayette Square yesterday was that there was a permitted protest that had been approved by the National Park Service from a man named Joey Johnson. He had a permit to burn an American flag. His idea behind that was he wanted people to envision a world without America in it. He's a member of the Revolutionary Communist Party. And if the name Johnson and flag burning kind of rings a bell for you, he is indeed the plaintiff of Johnson vs. Texas, which in 1987, determined that citizens have the First Amendment-protected right to burn flags.
KURZIUSSo, Johnson has been burning flags for some time now, and in many public places. And a group of counter-demonstrators came to Lafayette Square when they learned that this flag burning was happening. And their whole idea was that they thought burning a flag on July 4th was distasteful. And, as a result, some scuffles between these two groups ensued.
REEDNow, one of the groups that was involved in some of these events yesterday, and whose members got a police escort to a bar and exchanged fist bumps with at least one Metropolitan police officer, is a group called the Proud Boys. Who are the Proud Boys?
KURZIUSGood question. So, the Proud Boys are a group that was founded into 2016. They're an all-male group that described themselves as, quote, “Western chauvinists who refuse to apologize for creating the modern world.” Since their founding, they've been involved in a number of very controversial rallies. They've been determined a hate group by Facebook, Instagram, as well as the Southern Poverty Law Center. And they've also been involved in a series of violent altercations during a lot of their demonstrations, often with antifascists. And so, the Proud Boys were in town both for this July 4th celebration with headliner Donald Trump, whom they support, as well for a rally that is slated for tomorrow, which is extensible about First Amendment protections. In particular, the idea that all of these social media platforms -- like, for instance, Facebook and Instagram, which have banned groups like the Proud Boys -- that they are being censored by these big tech corporations is the reason for the demonstration.
REEDWe've got a call from Terry, in Virginia. Terry, welcome.
TERRYHey, how are you guys doing today? Love your show.
REEDThank you. How are you?
TERRYGood. Hey, I just wanted to make a comment. I think that the show of force -- as I like to call it -- parade Fourth of July celebration was a wonderful tribute to the past military members and the present military members, and, you know, defines what this country is all about.
REEDAll right. Thank you very much, Terry. Elly, it sounds like there were a lot of generally positive reactions to yesterday's presentation.
YUYeah. There was a mix of folks. I spoke to a family who flew in specifically for the event, when they heard about it. And they really enjoyed sort of the flyovers. And then I spoke with a group that -- a family who, you know, didn't necessarily think that the whole display of the military was the best way to celebrate the Fourth of July, but did also enjoy watching the flyovers, anyway.
REEDRachel, going back to what could happen this weekend.
REEDSo, you mentioned the "Demand Free Speech Rally." Their organizers have been selling tickets for VIP events associated with the protest. But it's not clear if those events are actually happening. Are they?
KURZIUSThat's a great question. And one that we're still looking for an answer to. We initially reported more than a month ago that the VIP lounge event, which was promised was -- it was up on Eventbrite. And organizers were selling $200 tickets for a gathering on the roof of VIDA Fitness, where there is the Penthouse Pool. But when we asked VIDA Fitness and Penthouse Pool, "Are you hosting this event?" they said, "No. We have nothing to do with this event. We have no idea why they are advertising this event." The exact same thing happened earlier this week. They were selling tickets for this seemingly same VIP event at the Spy Museum. And similarly, the Spy Museum said, "We have nothing to do with this event, and it's not taking place here." Now, organizers are saying basically that they are not announcing where this event is going to be, out of fear that antifascists are going to either try and get the event canceled or going to mob their event with their counter-protests.
KURZIUSAnd so we don't know where or if this event -- the after-party, I should say is taking place. Though, the permitted protest at Freedom Plaza is still slated for noon, with counter-protests a couple of hours prior in nearby Pershing Park.
REEDSpeaking of anti -- it sounds like there are a number of counter protests being planned tomorrow against the "Demand Free Speech Rally." And one of them is coming from a group called All Out D.C. Who is this group?
KURZIUSGreat question. All Out D.C. is basically a coalition of a number of local D.C. organizations, including Smash Racism D.C., Sanctuary DMV, Black Lives Matter D.C., and more than a dozen others. Their stance is that the "Demand Free Speech Rally" is a laundered fascist rally. And as a result it's in their interest to try and protect their community from people who are coming in who may be racist and violent and otherwise cause harm to the people that they see as the most marginalized in D.C. And so we can definitely -- we know that the police are planning for this both demonstration and counter demonstration, they say, "Look, we're used to this. We do this basically every day." In D.C. we're very accustomed to these kind of First Amendment demonstrations. The thing from yesterday that I think is of particular fascination as we're imagining how the police may handle tomorrow's both demonstration and counter-demonstration is that the only people who were arrested yesterday in front of Lafayette Square were two of the flag burners, right?
KURZIUSSo, they were the people who were a part of the demonstration, not the counter-demonstration. One of them was arrested for both felony assault on a police officer and malicious burning. That would Joey Johnson, who, you know, again, certainly not his first rodeo when it comes to being arrested for burning a flag. And another member of his group was similarly arrested for helping resist arrest. Johnson is going to be arraigned at 1:00 p.m. today. And two Secret Service Officers were taken to the hospital for inhaling some of the accelerant on the American flag that was burning.
REEDNow, last weekend, there was some clashes between Proud Boys and other groups at a demonstration in Portland. What happened there, and are people anticipating that there might be similar violence here this weekend?
KURZIUSSo, often, when far-right groups like the Proud Boys demonstrate, you see that groups like antifascists come out, and basically they have a notion of what they call deplatforming. If these people's ideas don't see the light of day, then fewer people will be able to be recruited, fewer people will be able to think, "Oh, this is a rally about Facebook's policies, as well as a rally about who belongs in the United States." Now, of course, people like the Proud Boys are saying, "The real fascists are the antifascists, because they're preventing us from speaking and expressing our First Amendment right to speak." So, yeah, these are groups that are in direct conflict with one another, ideologically. And we've seen that come to blows in the past, most recently in Portland. After what happened in Portland, organizers for this event slated in D.C. for tomorrow are saying that in addition to this being a rally in opposition to Facebook, Instagram, etcetera, it's also a rally that is anti antifa.
KURZIUSSo, now they're even more directly in conflict with one another. Will there be violence? We shall see. Certainly, the police are going to try and prevent that from happening. We saw that, at the Unite the Right 2 Rally last year, white supremacists were vastly outnumbered by counter-protestors. But police protected those white supremacists, so that they wouldn't be violently attacked by any counter-protestors.
YUAnd police last year also kept the two groups, like, very far apart from each other. So, there was no sort of way for them to kind of come in contact with one another. So, we'll see what happens tomorrow.
KURZIUSYeah. And that's certainly seems to be the plan this time. And in addition to police doing that, I know that Metro was widely criticized for basically allowing the white supremacists last year to board Metro on what was essentially a private car, and escorted them into the city that way. We did see yesterday that police escorted Proud Boys from Lafayette Square to a nearby bar, where they had been drinking previously. Some police officers have been heavily criticized on social media for what appears to be fist-bumping Proud Boys in what seemed to be at least one officer joining in a Proud Boys chant of "I like beer," which is an apparent reference to Bret Cavanaugh's statement during his Senate hearings for Supreme Court.
REEDInfamous now. We've got another caller. Beth from Fairfax, Virginia, you're on the line.
BETHHi. Thank you for this very interesting discussion. And I just wanted to give a local color story. I live in Fairfax, and during the time -- the earlier time period when Reagan National was closed, the planes were being diverted our neighborhood so low, they were shacking my kitchen windows. And I looked up ,thinking, "If I stood on my neighbor's house, I could reach for those underbellies." It was just very uncanny. So, wanted to share that.
REEDThank you. It sounds like there were a lot of adjustments people had to make yesterday around all the events.
YURight. Right. A lot of logistical things that they had to deal with.
REEDThat was Elly Yu, Reporter for WAMU. Thanks so much for being here today.
YUThanks for having me.
REEDAnd Rachel Kurzius is a Senior Editor for DCist. Thank you for being here.
REEDWe'll continue our conversation after a short break. Stay tuned.
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