Another 6am wakeup and a brisk walk past parked dump trucks blocking streets around the security permitter brought me to an inauguration entry check point on 10th Street NW. In front of the tall metal fences, several dozen protestors had gathered with signs and megaphones. As I tried to move around them, a man in a black sweatshirt with a bandana over his face blocked off the sidewalk with a metal crowd barrier. "This checkpoint is closed," he told me, before disappearing into the crowd. Moments later, police stepped in to remove the barricades long enough for me to pass through. In response, several demonstrators linked arms and fanned out across the sidewalk in a renewed effort to prevent entry.
Scenes like this could be found at many check points yesterday, as protestors obstructed entrances and created long lines and hours long wait times. Once inside, I walked down Pennsylvania avenue towards Capitol Hill through sparse crowds. Thousands of law enforcement officers lined both sides of the street, in some areas outnumbering spectators and demonstrators alike. Within the United States Naval Memorial, a larger group of protestors had set up a stage and PA system.
Once the presidential motorcade carrying Obama and Trump, passed on its way to the Capitol building I was able to cross Pennsylvania avenue and enter the National Mall. To my right, a sea of faces stretched out towards the Washington Monument. To my left, the white Capitol dome shone brightly against the grey sky. At first it was difficult to gauge the size of the crowd but, as I walked closer to the Capitol building, large gaps still remained amongst the audience.
The atmosphere was surprisingly subdued as the ceremony began. As the announcer called out the names of those in attendance, some, like Hillary Clinton, Nancy Pelosi, Joe Biden, and Barrack Obama, were met with scattered boos and jeers. It wasn't until Trump began the oath of office that the crowd began to really liven up. As he repeated the last words of the oath, members of the crowd around me lit victory cigars.
After the ceremony ended, I walked the 11 blocks to 18th street and the end of the security perimeter. I had heard that protestors on 12th street NW and L had smashed a bus station earlier in the day and began walking that way. I arrived to find a tense standoff between rows of police in riot gear and several groups of protestors in the park. Most of the demonstrators were peaceful and respectful but several had covered their faces with black bandanas, goggles, and gas masks. I rounded a corner to a blocked off street and squeezed through the tight space between the protestors and a building to get a better shot of the opposing lines.
I snapped a few images of a young child on top of his mother's shoulders and then two men wearing "Make America Great Again" hats passed in front of me between the protestors and the police. When the two men entered the crowd, someone sent a full plastic water bottle sailing towards one of their heads. It made contact with a crunching thud and was quickly followed by hands slapping the men. Police responded with pepper spray and quickly moved in to push the crowd back down 12th street.
That was all it took to ignite an outpouring of violence from a small sub sect of the protestors. Members of the black bloc group dressed in dark clothes with black bandanas covering their faces turned and threw chunks of rock and broken concrete towards the lines of police. Thick pink smoke billowed from the park behind us and flash bang grenades detonated around me. One demonstrator turned and began walking back towards the advancing law enforcement, both his hands raised in a gesture of defiance. More pepper spray and flash bang explosions followed. The crowd retreated towards the intersection of K Street and 12th where another standoff ensued. Some demonstrators dragged newspaper boxes into the street, which would later be set a blaze along with trash cans and a parked limousine.
All together, the group of protestors turned rioters comprised a very small group of the crowd. When some black bloc members began throwing rocks at the windows of a local business, bystanders called out for them to stop. "This is what we came here for," they shouted back in response before running off down the street.
After several minutes, I turned and began walking home. My eyes and mouth burned from the residual pepper spray clouds. Behind me, the booming reverberations of flash bang grenades echoed off the buildings and people walked passed with frightened looks on their faces. Altogether, 217 people were arrested and two officers were injured. I watched the rest of the day's events from a friend's apartment. Later that evening, Trump's motorcade flew by a few feet in front of us on its way to an inaugural ball. This time, there were no protestors.