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Stop the Steal rally
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Trump supporters in Washington ahead of Electoral College vote

Supporters of President Donald Trump who are wearing attire associated with the Proud Boys watch during a rally at Freedom Plaza, Saturday, Dec. 12, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Luis M. Alvarez)

WASHINGTON (AP) — Thousands of supporters of President Donald Trump returned to Washington on Saturday for rallies to show him their support. They cheered as Mr. Trump flew overhead on the Marine One helicopter on his way out of town for the Army-Navy football game in West Point, New York.

The gatherings of Trump loyalists were intended as a show of force just two days before the Electoral College meets to formally elect Biden as the 46th president. Mr. Trump has refused to concede and continues to say the election was fraudulent, though those claims have been rejected by state and federal courts, and Friday by the Supreme Court.

Pres. Trump tweeted his apparent surprise Saturday morning at the rallies: “Wow! Thousands of people forming in Washington (D.C.) for Stop the Steal. Didn’t know about this, but I’ll be seeing them! #MAGA”

Mr. Trump left the White House around midday for the trip to the U.S. Military Academy, and as Marine One passed over a rally on the National Mall, cheers went up. Michael Flynn, the former national security adviser recently pardoned by Trump, was speaking from the stage at the time.

“That’s pretty cool. Imagine just being able to jump in a helicopter and just go for a joy ride around Washington,” said Flynn, whose pardon wiped away his conviction for lying to the FBI during the Russia investigation.

At a pro-Trump demonstration in Washington a month ago, Mr. Trump thrilled supporters when he passed by in his motorcade en route to his Virginia golf club.

That demonstration, which drew 10,000 to 15,000 people to the capital, ended late in the evening with scattered clashes between Trump’s loyalists and local activists near Black Lives Matter Plaza near the White House.

On Saturday, police took more steps to keep the two sides apart, closing a wide swath of downtown to traffic and sealing off Black Lives Matter Plaza.

But while Saturday’s rallies, including one on Freedom Plaza downtown, were smaller than on Nov. 14, they drew a larger contingent of the Proud Boys, a neo-fascist group known to incite street violence. Some wore bullet-proof vests as they marched through town.

At a presidential debate in September, the group was told by Mr. Trump to “stand back and stand by.”

After the rallies ended, downtown Washington turned into crowds of hundreds of Proud Boys and combined forces of Antifa and local Black activists — both sides seeking a confrontation in an area flooded with police officers. As dusk fell, they faced off on opposite sides of a street, with multiple lines of city police and federal Park Police, some in riot gear, keeping them separated.

One Proud Boy yelled out, “You cops can’t be everywhere!” The Proud Boys later dispersed.

Antifa activists also were more organized this time, with their own bicycle corps to form bike walls to match those of the police.

Earlier in the day, a group of about 50 men in the Proud Boy’s black and yellow colors circled the perimeter of Black Lives Matter Plaza, where about 200 anti-Trump people were rallying.

They chanted vulgar slogans and at one point started singing “Jingle Bells.” They were apparently under orders not to engage with hecklers. One man who was talking back to people was yelled at and told “Don’t interact!”

The assembly on the National Mall, called the “Jericho March,” was described on its website as a “prayer rally” with speakers “praying for the walls of corruption and election fraud to fall down.”

The rally on Freedom Plaza also featured a series of speakers discussing claims of election fraud.

Sylvia Huff, a demonstrator who came from Gloucester, Virginia, to show her support for Pres. Trump, said the legal defeats hadn’t shaken her belief that he won the election.

“I believe the courts were on the take, too,” she said. The Supreme Court, where three of the nine justices were appointed by Trump, “was just afraid of a political backlash,” she said.

Among the speakers was Sebastian Gorka, a former Trump adviser, who urged demonstrators not to give up even after Friday’s Supreme Court decision. He said he wanted to send Pres. Trump a video and held up his phone, cueing the flag-waving crowd to chant “Stop the Steal.”

The organizers of this rally seemed intent on avoiding confrontations, telling demonstrators ahead of time to avoid certain hotels and marking off large chunks of downtown Washington as a “no-go zone.”