Tanks, flag burning and the Trump baby balloon: What we know about the July Fourth parade

Ledyard King, Sarah Elbeshbishi and Jason Lalijee

WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump will take center stage at Fourth of July festivities in Washington D.C. on Thursday that will also feature Army tanks and military flyovers.

The event is expected to draw ardent Trump supporters but there will also be protests, including the burning of a flag and the flying of a "Trump Baby" balloon.

The annual Independence Day celebration on the National Mall will start with a parade and end with a spectacular fireworks display. It will be anything but your routine extravaganza.

The segment of the festivities featuring an address from the president, known as the "Salute to America," will include flyovers of the Blue Angels and Air Force One, a lineup of military vehicles including tanks, and a pyrotechnic display that will illuminate "over a mile of sky above and to the left and right of the Lincoln Memorial," according to fireworks makers Phantom and Grucci which is donating extra pyrotechnics.

And there will be Trump, revered by supporters and reviled by opponents, appearing during a celebration presidents have tended to avoid for fearing of turning the nation's birthday into a partisan event.

Already, protesters have threatened to air their own counter-celebration.

Trump's planned festivities are being compared to Richard Nixon's 'Honor America Day' in 1970 but that event devolved into riots as anti-war protesters were tear-gassed by police.

Trump's speech

The president's Salute to America address is scheduled to start at 6:30 p.m. in front of the Lincoln Memorial and is expected to last about an hour.

A portion of that will feature Trump honoring U.S. forces with "music, military demonstrations, flyovers and much more," according to a release from the Interior Department which is overseeing the festivities.

He promoted the event during his campaign kickoff in Orlando last month.

"And by the way, on July 4th, in Washington, D.C., come on down, we’re going have a big day. Bring your flags, bring those flags," he told the crowd. "Bring those American flags, July 4th, we’re going to have hundreds of thousands of people, we’re going to celebrate America. Sounds good, right? July 4th, celebrate America."

Military Show

Two M1A1 Abrams tanks and other military vehicles sit on guarded rail cars at a rail yard on July 2, 2019, in Washington, DC. President Trump asked the Pentagon for military hardware, including tanks, to be displayed during the 4th of July Salute To America on the National Mall.

Trump, who has advocated for a military parade, has infused the July 4th celebration with a strong Pentagon presence.

There will be music from military bands and flyovers over the Mall by the Navy's Blue Angels and Air Force One.

And there will be tanks.

The Pentagon has approved Trump's request for a display of tanks in conjunction with his "Salute to America" celebration, the president said Monday.

The tanks will be parked near the National Mall for the July 4 celebration, he told reporters.

"We're gonna have some tanks stationed outside," Trump said. "You know we're making a lot of new tanks right now."

Baby Trump balloon

According to the activist group CODEPINK, which was going to fly the “Baby Trump blimp" , the National Park Service granted the group a permit on July 1 to fly the balloon, but only if the balloon were filled with air, not helium. 

Ariel Gold, the CODEPINK national co-director, said in an email, "We plan to fly the Baby Trump blimp, hopefully with helium, and if not with air."

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The group lists the protest as taking place in front of the Lincoln Memorial. But it's unclear how close they will get given security restrictions in place before and during the celebration.

The group will be protesting the Trump administration’s handling of the border crisis and “spreading hate and racism across the U.S. and the world,” among other issues, according to the group's web site.

The Trump Baby Balloon, depicting an orange-hued Trump in a diaper clutching a Twitter-ready cell phone in his right hand, has become an iconic fixture at protests including recently in London and at the U.S.-Mexico border.

John McCain supporters 

Two military veterans groups are planning to hand out T-shirts on the mall "to honor the military service and sacrifice" of the family of John McCain, the late senator with whom Trump has feuded. 

VoteVets – a liberal political action committee that almost exclusively backs Democratic candidates, according to OpenSecrets – is teaming up with Rags of Honor – a screen printing shop that employs homeless veterans – to give out the "Big Bad John" shirts depicting the USS John S. McCain.

That ship was at the center of a recent controversy after it was revealed that the Navy was asked to move the destroyer bearing the Arizona Republican's name when Trump visited Japan last month.

Then-acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan said the White House military liaison had asked that the 7th fleet to hide the ship from Trump – who was outspoken in his criticism of McCain even after the veteran of the Vietnam War was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer – but the Navy ignored the request.

Flag burning

The man at the center of the 1984 U.S. Supreme Court case that protected the burning of the U.S. flag as constitutionally protected free speech is planning to protest the president as well.

Gregory Lee Johnson, who recently settled for $225,000 with the city of Cleveland for burning an American flag outside of the Republican National Convention in 2016, said he'll be doing it again Thursday. 

“I am going to D.C. on the Fourth of July and I’m going to burn the flag in protest (of his) whole fascist agenda," Johnson told USA TODAY.

“Think about all Trump has done to whip people into a frenzy,” he said. 

Contributing: Will Cummings, Tom Vanden Brook

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Tanks, flag burning and the Trump baby balloon: What we know about the July Fourth parade