Groups planning to protest President-elect Donald Trump’s inauguration next month monopolized the National Park Service permits to use public spaces around Washington during the event — until Bikers for Trump showed up.
Bikers for Trump founder Chris Cox said he had to negotiate with National Park Service officials to find space for the motorcyclists because anti-Trump groups had scooped up nearly every location for their “disruption” events surrounding the Jan. 20 inauguration.
Securing a designated area for the thousands of bikers expected to roll into Washington to watch Mr. Trump take the oath of office is crucial to avoiding clashes between the two sides, he said.
“We’ve already won. There’s no reason for these guys to be going shoulder to shoulder against the Black Lives Matter and the rest of the [protesting] guys,” Mr. Cox said. “This is a victory tour.”
The bikers are accustomed to being outnumbered and face-to-face with protesters, having often set themselves up as buffers between demonstrators and supporters at Trump rallies.
Bikers for Trump became a political movement in its own right, as it held massive rallies and organized support for Mr. Trump across battleground states. It was one of just two pro-Trump groups and by far the largest pro-Trump organization to request permits, according to National Park Service records.
The other pro-Trump group, which identified itself as “Let America Hear Us, Roar for Trump!” on its permit application, requested use of a small park at Dupont Circle on Inauguration Day for 500 people to celebrate and call for a peaceful transition.
Mr. Cox, who requested a permit for 5,000 people but noted that as many as 10,000 bikers might attend, said he was discouraged from applying last week by the permit manager at the National Park Service Office in Washington.
“She was telling me that they had already given all the permits out to the anti-Trump movement — permits for maybe 100,000 or 200,000 people,” Mr. Cox recalled. “I wasn’t happy. I told her I had thousands and thousands of bikers coming into town, and if she didn’t give me a spot, they were going to be just mingling around and would end up hanging out where all the Trump protesters are, and there’s going to be big problems and then people are going to wonder why.”
National Park Service spokesman Michael Litterst said the permitting decisions are made irrespective of a group’s affiliation. However, he said the scarcity of available space is consistent with the agency’s first-come, first-serve policy.
“I don’t know the specifics of how the plans for the Bikers for Trump event have evolved or what their specific discussions have been with staff, but that scenario aligns with how our permitting process works in general,” he said. “Permits are processed in the order in which they are received, and when there are conflicts for location and/or time, the first group to submit their application gets first use.”
Mr. Cox said that he eventually was able to submit the request for use of John Marshal Park in the Judiciary Square neighborhood, not far from the U.S. Capitol and just off the inaugural parade route.
He said he also is negotiating with the Inaugural Committee for bikers to participate in the parade.
Bikers for Trump are expected to come from as far as California for the inauguration, including large contingents from Florida and Pennsylvania.
Still, their numbers are dwarfed by groups such as Progressive Independent Party, a liberal activist group that requested two permits for a total of 15,000 demonstrators to use of various parks around the city during for several days surrounding the inauguration.
The group’s Facebook page displayed a banner with an image of the Capitol covered by a “occupy inauguration” logo.
The liberal protest-for-hire group DC Action Lab requested a permit for 10,000 people, Real Progressives requested space for 2,500 and People’s Action requested space for another 2,000.
The largest organized event seeking permit is the Gathering for Justice’s “Women’s March on Washington” slated for Jan. 21, with an expected turnout of 200,000 demonstrators.
The permit application said the goal of the march was to “come together in solidarity to express to the new administration & congress that women’s rights are human rights and our power cannot be ignored.”
Beyond those seeking permits, a host of anti-Trump groups are calling on followers to converge on the inauguration through the #DisruptJ20 campaign on social media.
The Facebook page “Protest at the Inauguration: Stand Against Trump, War, Racism and Inequality” had 33,000 people expressing interest in the page and 10,000 people pledging to attend the demonstrations.
Under a #DisruptJ20 banner, the website ItsGoingDown.Org called for a “bold mobilization” against the inauguration of Mr. Trump.
“Trump stands for tyranny, greed, and misogyny. He is the champion of neo-nazis and white Nationalists, of the police who kill the Black, Brown and poor on a daily basis, of racist border agents and sadistic prison guards, of the FBI and NSA who tap your phone and read your email,” read the post. “The KKK, Vladimir Putin, Golden Dawn, and the Islamic State all cheered his victory. If we let his inauguration go unchallenged, we are opening the door to the future they envision.”
Mr. Cox said he isn’t fearful that the protests would turn violent, citing the experience with agitators during the campaign and at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, where Bikers for Trump provided unofficial crowd control at outdoor rallies.
“I’m confident the police have learned from Arizona, Chicago and a lot of other places where things got out of hand,” he said, referring to violence at Trump rallies in those cities. “I think it will be a lot like Cleveland and they will have beaucoup police presence.”