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Donald Trump inauguration

Anti-Trump protesters clash with police, illustrating deep divisions in US politics

As Trump’s motorcade wound its way up Pennsylvania Avenue in the parade to the White House, protesters just a few blocks away set a parked limousine on fire after smashing its windows

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 21 January, 2017, 1:35pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 21 January, 2017, 10:36pm

America’s political divide split fully open on the streets of the nation’s capital on Friday as Washington became a city of two peoples: the right gathered to celebrate Donald Trump’s inauguration as president, and the left marshalled passionate and occasionally violent protests against him.

Masked, black-clad protesters carrying anarchist flags smashed windows, lit fires and scuffled with riot police Friday in downtown Washington, blocks from the parade in honour of the newly sworn-in president.

I’m just really, really, really worried about what this president is going to do with the many people who have luck running against them
Aaron Harnly, protester

Washington police arrested at least 217 people for acts of vandalism committed on the fringe of peaceful citywide demonstrations against Trump’s inauguration.

Just before the parade started, clashes broke out between 400 to 500 stone-throwing protesters and riot police, who responded with tear gas – the second violent flare-up in the space of a few hours.

As Trump’s motorcade wound its way up Pennsylvania Avenue in the parade to the White House, protesters just a few blocks away set a parked limousine on fire after smashing its windows.

National Guardsmen were seen donning helmets and bulletproof vests, as protesters blocked traffic and set trash cans ablaze – chanting “Not my president” and “We resist President Trump”.

City police chief Peter Newsham said at least 217 people were arrested and would be held overnight before appearing in front of a judge.

“The charge is rioting,” he told reporters. “Our intention going into this event was to make zero arrests, and unfortunately they forced our hand.”

Meanwhile, prominent white supremacist Richard Spencer was sucker-punched in the street while giving an interview to journalists, according to footage of the incident circulating online.

“No serious damage,” Spencer said on Twitter. “I can take a punch.”

As the 70-year-old Trump, his supporters and top dignitaries gathered on the National Mall for the swearing-in ceremony, throngs of his opponents also converged on the US capital.

Most of the noisy protests – including those by an array of anti-racist, anti-war, feminist, LGBT, pro-immigration and marijuana legalisation groups – were peaceful. But the protesters were intent on being heard – massing at the city’s Navy Memorial Plaza, along the parade route, and letting out a deafening roar as the presidential limousine known as “The Beast” drove by.

“Not my president!” they yelled, as the pro-Trump crowd in bleachers across the street chanted “USA!”

Protesters along the route waved banners reading: “Try to deserve this office,” “Obama cares, Trump scares,” or “Make America Sane Again”.

Another group unfurled a giant banner reading “Shame” outside the Trump Hotel – right near the spot where the president briefly stepped out of his limo to walk the parade route.

Newsham attributed the sporadic outbreaks of violence to “a small group that wanted to disrupt the inauguration”.

“We have significant damage in a number of blocks in our city,” he said, while adding: “It’s a very, very small percentage of those folks who came here to peacefully assemble in our city.”

Black-clad groups with anarchist and anti-fascist banners could be seen moving quickly on the outskirts of the main protests.

Marchers, some red-eyed from pepper spray, chanted: “No deportation, no KKK, no fascist USA!”

Several demonstrators were carrying batons and other weapons, police said, while at least one protester was hurt and was seen receiving treatment for a head wound.

The front windows of some businesses including a Starbucks and a Bank of America were smashed to pieces.

The majority of protests in the city were peaceful – whether people came to register anger, dissent or dismay at Trump’s election victory over Democrat Hillary Clinton.

Protesters said they feared Trump would be an extremist president, taking a hardline approach on everything from immigration to gutting public services.

He’s the president now. I’m overwhelmed with joy
Zachary Stump, Trump supporter

John Zangas, a long-time Washington resident, said it felt like the city was “under siege” given the number of police on the streets.

“This should be a momentous occasion, not one where flash-bang [noise grenades] and tear gas are deployed against citizens,” Zangas said.

Many demonstrators brought protest signs lettered in Cyrillic, or bearing the word “nyet,” or depicting Trump as Russian President Vladimir Putin’s puppet – allusions to Russia’s alleged interference to support his election.

Even more protesters cried out against fascism, bearing defiant signs that said, “Fighting Nazis is an American tradition” and “My WWII vet grandfather didn’t vote for fascists – HE SHOT THEM.”

Aaron Harnly, 39, of Brooklyn, marched with a sign that said, simply: “This is bad.”

“I’m pretty lucky in life,” Harnly said, expressing his thanks for having a good upbringing and education. “I’m just really, really, really worried about what this president is going to do with the many people who have luck running against them.”

Some Trump supporters said they were uncomfortable with the protesters’ presence.

Zachary Stump, a high school junior wearing a camouflage-coloured Trump hat, came for the inauguration but found the day overwhelming. He said he was expecting “waves of Trump hats” but felt outnumbered by protesters.

“It was kind of scary, really,” he said. “They were all chanting, and I didn’t really feel all that safe with this Trump hat on. But now, he’s finally inaugurated. He’s the president now. I’m overwhelmed with joy.”

Demonstrations were not limited to the nation’s capital, with protesters taking to the streets in cities including Chicago, New York and Atlanta. Thousands clogged downtown Chicago to march in front of the city’s high-rise condo-hotel bearing Trump’s name. The protest stayed mostly peaceful, with police reporting a minor skirmish that resulted in two arrests.

Julie Vogl, 54, voiced concern over the president’s calls to ban Muslim’s from entering the country and deport undocumented immigrants.

“I hope he proves me terribly wrong,” she said. “We don’t believe in what he said. It’s not the nation we want.”

Additional reporting by Associated Press