Patriotism, anarchy characterize the 58th inauguration
I traveled to Washington D.C. to document and experience President Donald J. Trump's inauguration. What I witnessed was unlike anything I had anticipated.
As I looked behind me to the mob of protesters holding a large sign displaying “FASCIST,” I finally made sense of the atmosphere surrounding the 2017 Presidential Inauguration.
I experienced unparalleled patriotism and dramatic defiance of government at the same time this weekend at the inauguration. It was a mood like no other.
Thursday, January 19, 2017
I arrived at Washington Dulles International Airport Thursday morning with my mother from Atlanta. We immediately grabbed our rental car and headed for the nearest D.C. Metro station to get to downtown Washington D.C. The metro was our main form of transportation, and I could feel my adrenaline building as we quickly sped through the underground tunnels into the heart of D.C.
We emerged from the metro exit to 15th Street, and we made a right turn to walk in front of the United States Treasury building on our way to the White House. We were immediately met with groups of media members and tourists looking wide-eyed at the mayhem of coverage occurring all around them.
Many roads and sidewalks were already blocked off in anticipation for Friday’s inauguration, so we didn’t catch any views of the White House.
We decided to go around the White House to the Washington Monument to walk the National Mall and see the numerous Trump supporters milling around. The National Mall was lined with a few massive screens and metal barricades in anticipation for the next day’s crowds.
There were no protesters in sight as we walked the National Mall Thursday afternoon, and the vast majority of people walking around were clad in “Make America Great Again” ball caps and wore T-shirts purchased from street vendors for the inauguration.
Street vendors stood on street corners, in the middle of closed roads and anywhere they found a crowded block to sell buttons, hats, T-shirts, Trump flags and a multitude of other inauguration memorabilia.
The feeling was bizarre. I thought to myself, “The campaign trail was so vicious and difficult, and now, here in Washington D.C., there are no protesters or shouting matches. Everyone is acting with civility. How can that be?” This thought would quickly be expelled the next day.
I am also a freelance photographer for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and I was assigned to photograph the Bikers For Trump that were planning to hold a “halftime rally” after President-elect Donald J. Trump was to be sworn in.
We went to John Marshall Memorial Park on Pennsylvania Avenue, right next to the post-inauguration parade route, to interview a few bikers that were there to understand their plan for the next day. After gathering some information and taking some photos, we headed to the Capitol Building for a moment of pure touristic enjoyment.
By this point, the sun began to set and the Make America Great Again Welcome Celebration had started at the Lincoln Memorial. We arrived at the celebration and tried to get as close to the front of the memorial as possible.
Looking around, I thought about this celebration in contrast to the “I Have a Dream” speech made by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. given at the same exact spot. It gave me chills to realize that I was standing in the spot as some of those that witnessed Dr. King’s revolutionary speech, and now I was standing there witnessing a celebration of one of the most discussed and turbulent elections in our nation’s history.
As performers kept the thousands in attendance entertained, I kept looking around for interesting photos to capture. Then, after a ten minute break in the performances, President-elect Trump and his wife Melania Trump greeted the crowd at the top of the memorial and walked down the steps to a viewing area. Their introduction was met with a roaring cheer from the crowd with multiple supporters waving American and Trump flags.
It started to get dark, and my mom and I hadn’t eaten nor rested since arriving in D.C., so we left the celebration early to go to my cousin’s house for food and rest.
Friday, January 20, 2017
Friday morning began at 5:00 a.m. when we hopped in the car and raced to the nearest metro station to get downtown. We knew the crowds would be crazy, so we gave ourselves a four-and-a-half-hour buffer. The first events didn’t begin until 9:30 a.m.
We got on the surprisingly empty metro and began the ride to our downtown stop: McPherson Square. We jogged up the escalator to the street and made coffee our No. 1 priority.
After the quick coffee run, we made our way down F Street to 5th Street to wait in the security line. As we rounded the corner at 5th Street, we were met with a wall of people waiting to get through security.
The mob of people comprised of protesters, Trump supporters, families, journalists and street vendors. Many of the protesters joined together and led loud chants to voice their distaste for the incoming president. The Trump supporters just shook their heads.
As the crowd grew, the chants and tension grew louder and more known. This was the moment the large “FASCIST” sign made its appearance, and it was met with a roaring approval from the mob. You could almost taste the bitterness of the crowd as the unrest grew.
The wait grew longer, and the chants grew louder. We stepped in line at 6:20 a.m. I didn’t get through security until 8:40 a.m.
Immediately after I passed through security, a group of animal right’s protesters blocked the security checkpoint, preventing anyone from entering the inaugural grounds. My mother was going to be the next one to pass through security before the National Guard shut the gates.
I waited on the inside, snapping a few photos of the immediate area, but after realizing the protesters would keep the checkpoint blocked for a while, I wandered around to take in the scene.
I posted a few live videos, and I photographed protesters carrying signs and Trump supporters wearing flags. The atmosphere was incredibly different from just 18 hours before. There were multitudes of people yelling derogatory statements and chants, but there was also the calm mood from those simply there to watch the ceremonies.
The protesters eventually moved, and my mother made her way in. We walked to the Bikers For Trump rally, but when we arrived, there were hardly any bikers. Puzzled, I ran to the security checkpoint immediately above the park. Protesters blocked that checkpoint too, and they were not moving for anyone.
A few bikers still outside of security pleaded with bikers inside security to enforce the “wall of meat” that was said to take place if something like this occurred. No more than five minutes later, a group of bikers joined together and pushed the protesters away from the checkpoint. A fight between a protester and a biker almost ensued but was quickly broken up.
Once cleared, many protesters stayed close to the metal barricade separating those outside security from those inside security. I was photographing biker Chris Z. of Washington D.C. in a shouting match with a protester on the outside of the fence when an egg flew through the metal barricade and smashed on his neck.
He took a step back, winced and restarted his shouting match with the protester with more fervor. I did not see the individual that threw the egg. At that moment, I knew the remainder of the day would be full of turmoil.
The difference between the mood outside of the barricade from inside were remarkable. The inside felt like a normal Friday afternoon parade and celebration was about to take place. The outside felt as if the wheels had fallen off the wagon, and the wagon was headed for a cliff.
For the next few hours, I interviewed bikers from across the country and snapped photos of people lined up along the parade route. This would be a nice “break” before we hopped right into the thick of the protests outside of the security checkpoints.
As President Trump was sworn into office, the reaction among the bikers was filled with pure joy. Many were jumping up and down, fists in the air, cheering at the top of their lungs. Those attending in protest of Trump’s presidency were completely broken. I’ve never seen such stark emotional contrast.
My deadline for the AJC was approaching so we abandoned the safety of the parade route for the chaos of the streets away from security in search of Wi-Fi. I ended up sitting on the sidewalk to bum Wi-Fi off of a Starbucks. As I sat editing photos and captions, protesters filed by with signs shouting in anger at the events occurring just a mile or so away.
I wondered if anyone saw me. Many of the bikers I interviewed earlier had voiced their clear distaste for the media, and many people shot glares of anger at me when they spotted my press badge around my neck. I sat there nervously filing photos because I had no idea what someone may do to me: a photojournalist.
Once I sent them off, we headed straight to the protests at the 12th Street, 13th Street and K Street intersections. It’s one thing to watch these riots play out on television. It’s another to watch them unfold right in front of you. I approached three lines of riot police Friday afternoon, with the third being the center of it all.
The main protest occurred at the intersection of 13th Street and K Street. I walked up, and immediately, I saw a photojournalist being yelled at and attacked for taking a photo of a group of masked protesters. My stomach lurched.
As I walked through the mob of protesters, I saw people hanging from traffic lights and trees. Protesters had climbed on top of a National Guard truck. Some were standing on top of a bus stop shelter.
The protest was divided into two sections. One large group was facing the riot police blocking K Street, while the other group surrounded burning trash cans in the middle of the street. Sweeping back and forth between the two groups evoked two different worlds.
The protesters facing the police we calm, talking and firm in their place. They were not shouting. They simply stood and stared directly back at the police in riot gear. A ten foot gap separated the police from the protesters.
Those surrounding the fire shouted chants, threw objects and continued to fuel the fire. Those on the outside of the fire circle continued to destroy an already smashed limousine. At one point, I was walking by the limousine when I heard a cacophonous noise. A protester had smashed another one of the windows and took off in a dead sprint.
At one point, a Trump supporter made his way into the fire circle and was immediately met by a host of protesters that began throwing him out of the circle and punching him. The man’s “Make America Great Again” hat went flying through the air away from the circle. Media members and other protesters rushed in to see what was happening as many protesters began shouting, “Peaceful protest!”
I was live broadcasting the protest for The Sentinel, but after about 20 minutes of broadcasting my phone died. That was the signal to leave.
My mother and I left the protest to find our metro station so we could head back to my cousin’s house to prepare for dinner. Along the way we encountered more protests, but these were more like a party. There was lots of music, dancing and calm chanting.
After we left the downtown area, I learned the protesters near the limousine set it on fire and were continuing to amp up the violence. The protests would continue as night fell, and the radio station WTOP in Washington reported that over 200 people were arrested from the protests.
I’ll never forget this historical experience. Witnessing the patriotism that so many Americans hold was something to behold. Many of the people I talked to were veterans, and Inauguration Day appeared to be their Christmas Day. They fought for the freedoms we hold, and the peaceful transition of power is one of the millions of things our veterans fight to keep.
It made me realize there are so many Americans that truly care about the United States. It changed my thought that everyone hates the government and all they do.
The inauguration taught me to have a better attitude toward those that may have conflicting views with me. Our country has been divided over this election season, and the protests were a clear example of that. But seeing the civility of those attending to simply observe the transition showed me that setting differences aside matters when the country goes through something big.
If you’re liberal, conservative, libertarian or anything else, I urge you to consider those around you that have conflicting views and ask yourself this question: Would you be willing to fight for those people with conflicting views if the integrity of the country depended on it?
Those around you live individual lives just like you do, and they feel the same anger, depression and hurt that you do. I urge you to start treating others with as much respect as you desire to be treated with.
For those of you a part of my generation, our children will ask us what it was like to live during this time. What will you tell them?