At Women's March, Bikers for Trump face the resistance
WASHINGTON — There was bound to be trouble. The conditions were perfect, right?
With the inauguration over, a few dozen or so Bikers for Trump made their way on Saturday to John Marshall Park, a green spot off Pennsylvania Avenue they'd secured for a rally in honor of President Donald Trump's swearing-in the day before.
Their candidate had beaten the odds by defeating Democrat Hillary Clinton and they were still in a celebratory mood.
But on Saturday, they were outnumbered — badly — by an estimated 470,000 people attending the Women's March on Washington to protest the incoming administration.
Their stakeout sandwiched between the march route and a very busy Metro station, the bikers were highly visible — and perfectly positioned to be scorned by anti-Trump demonstrators, even in victory.
Their victorious mood and the defiant spirit of the protesters around them all but ensured the park would become an ideological crossroads; a microcosm of the nation's deep political divide.
Pink-hatted protesters looked askance at the giant Bikers for Trump backdrop adorning the stage and flung references to fascism and the KKK at the handful of bikers, some of them wearing vests and jackets with patches identifying them as Vietnam veterans.
Biker Mark Albertson shrugged off the trolling. "We're better than that," he said.
The leather-clad Oklahoma oil field worker said his support for Trump wasn't about hate, nor was being a biker about disrespect for women or intimidation.
"I don't care what color or religion or race you are — there's bad people in all of them, and those bad people make it worse for all the good people who are trying to do good in this world." Albertson said as Hall & Oates' "Maneater" ironically blasted from a sound system nearby.
Albertson wasn't ready to give way on staple Trump campaign ideas, though. For example, without immigration control, he insisted, undocumented newcomers would robs citizens of the jobs they need to pursue "the American dream."
Fellow biker and Trump supporter Bernadette Luke of Florida said she even felt a strain of solidarity with the women marching along Pennsylvania Avenue just steps from the park — on certain issues, anyway, if not all.
"I'm a woman. I'm a woman rider, and I strongly believe in some of their protests," she said. "We're basically here to keep peaceful assembly and show them we support them and their rights [under] the First Amendment."
That good will and tolerance would soon be tested.
When country artist Kenny Lee took the stage, which faced toward the marchers on Pennsylvania Avenue, to perform his common man's campaign anthem, "Trump Card," the hullaballoo of protesters eventually cut him off.
After a few shouting matches, a tussle finally did break out (as seen at about the 11:49 minute mark into the following clip).
A demonstrator and a Trump biker tumbled to the ground. Those nearby shouted or tried to pull them apart or started rolling smartphone video of the brief wrestling match.
"He pushed a woman!" an anti-Trump protester shouted after freeing himself from under one of the biggest Bikers for Trump in the park. "How are you all going to let him push a woman? Fuck every single one of you!"
"Oh, come back up here and we'll go round two, dickhead," the biker shot back, walking away.
The usual he-said-she-said-he-said-she-said resulted, with conflicting allegations of pushing, hitting with signs, spitting, bigotry and more. The woman involved said she was unharmed. The biker said he'd been bumrushed. His opponent in the scuffle came away with a couple of forehead scrapes.
Cops were summoned by both sides, but the Trump rally, the counterprotest and the big Women's March continued apace.
Less than an hour later, Toinishia McAllister of Washington was walking past the park with her daughter when she heard Citizens for Trump spokeswoman Jan Morgan insisting from the stage that feminists should support Trump.
"That just kind of made me erupt," McAllister later said.
McAllister confronted the bikers from behind the stage barricades. Instead of being dismissed, a rally organizer invited her to address the crowd directly and held the mic out across the barricade for her as she spoke.
"How can someone unqualified, incompetent, irrational, irresponsible hold the highest office, controlling me and my children's lives?" McAllister said as the biker holding the microphone and others shushed the crowd. "He does not relate to me. He does not relate to any of you. He is rich! He has sown all types of bigotry ... He is not presidential by any means!"
McAllister's intensity grew as the head of Bikers for Trump, Chris Cox, looked on silently from the stage.
"This is a disgrace. Inside out. I'm bleeding. My heart is bleeding. Fix America? Fine. He can't even articulate what the plan is to fix America," she said.
That kicked off an intense exchange between McAllister and a pro-Trump black clergyman, Bishop Dwight Pate of Louisiana.
He raged about black children who had been aborted and so deprived of a chance at life and leadership, and pushed back when McAllister demanded details on how he thought Trump would make the country "great" again.
"He ain't been in but two days, honey," the preacher said of Trump.
"You need a new mindset. You're in America. You can live the American dream. You can come from zero and become president in America."
He finished by blessing her. She threw her hands up in frustration, expressed her thanks at being able to speak, and walked away.
Such tense moments flared and flamed out as the day wore on.
At one point, a group of masked protesters in black clothes formed a line a few hundred feet back from the stage.
At first they stood silently, mockery in their eyes as they stared down the stage. Later they broke out into jeers, making motorcycle noises, shouting insults and writhing on the ground in faux agony at the music blaring from the speakers.
From the stage, Cox dismissed the protesters as goons in "Halloween" masks that made them look like "dicks with ears" and boomed that whether the critics liked it or not, Trump was their new president and that wasn't going to change.
Al Baldasaro — a former Marine and New Hampshire lawmaker who's a possible Trump appointee to the Veterans Affairs Department — informed the capering protestors in black that he and his fellow veterans had been willing to die for their freedoms.
He also said they weren't doing much of a job of scaring him.
Things could have escalated from there.
Instead, as the afternoon went on, Bikers for Trump signs and demonstrators wearing T-shirts with messages like "ABORT MIKE PENCE" drew closer to each other, striking up conversations.
There were arguments and curses, but also the occasional smile, handshake or even hug.
Two women in pink "pussy" hats slow-danced and kissed just yards from a pink "Women for Trump" placard. "Lesbians for Jesus!" yelled one half of the pair.
By the time Kid Rock's "Cowboy" started playing on the sound system, shortly after 4:30 p.m., the mood at John Marshall Park had begun to shift from showdown to party:
The Kid Rock went over so well a protester near the stage asked the bikers to have it played again.
When songs like "Cowboy" and "God Bless the U.S.A." finally gave way to the twang of Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Free Bird," the emotional temperature had dropped considerably.
People began to disperse. Reporters and photographers documenting the scene smiled and shrugged at each other, confused or bemused, as they went about their work. The scent of weed, legal in the District, wafted through the park.
For a short time, the day after Trump became president following one of the most bitter elections in U.S. history, bearers of the American flag and bearers of the pink and rainbow standards had occupied the same ground in the heart of the nation's capital.
In the end, each side made at least some effort to hear each other's voices with a measure of civility over the shouting.
No, the afternoon had not answered the eternal question of "can't we all just get along?" Far from it.
But for a few brief hours under Washington's cloudy skies, a handful of the most passionate people on both sides of the national divide seemed to give it a try.