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Experts are warning some right-wing extremists may appear at rallies in Washington, D.C., on Saturday in support of President Donald Trump, though it's unclear how many people will attend.
Multiple events with names including Million MAGA March, Stop the Steal and March for Trump are set to occur at Freedom Plaza around noon Saturday, according to several social media posts. As of Tuesday, there were at least 24 Facebook events using one or both terms, according to the Anti-Defamation League.
D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser and the Metropolitan Police Department say they're monitoring the events, but would not provide a crowd estimate. At least one counter-protest is planned by a leftist group.
Organizers are promoting the event as a way to protest “voter fraud,” to “show support for our President” and “demand a free and fair election," according to the Anti-Defamation League. Trump has refused to concede and leveled baseless allegations of voter fraud to falsely claim the election was stolen from him.
Although the rallies are not considered extremist events, they have caused a buzz in right-wing circles on social media including Parler and Telegram, according to the Anti-Defamation League.
Oren Segal, vice president for the ADL's Center on Extremism, said he doesn't expect the event will draw massive crowds like the Women's March held after Trump's election and he doesn't believe the event will necessarily lead to a public safety threat.
"Who actually shows up remains to be seen," Segal said. "The danger here is that you have extremists who are having the same ideas, sharing the same ideology, promoting the same thoughts as non-extremists."
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The only Trump-rlpermit application approved for an event Saturday is from Cindy Chafian with Women for America First, who estimated Friday that 10,000 people will attend.
The group said speakers for their event include Republican Reps. Mike Kelly of Pennsylvania and Paul Gosar of Arizona; Rep.-elect Marjorie Taylor Greene, a supporter of far-right conspiracy theory QAnon; and Sebastian Gorka, former Trump counterterrorism adviser who had alleged ties to anti-Semitic groups in Hungary.
Amy Kremer, chair for Women for America First, said her organization is not coordinating with any of the other groups planning simultaneous events. She expected people to attend from across the country but didn't have a crowd estimate.
Some Facebook groups and Twitter pages for the events have several thousand followers. A National Park Service estimate says there is only room on the plaza for about 13,000 people.
However, White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany told Fox News on Thursday that she expects the turnout to be “quite large" at Saturday's rallies.
“People want to show up and have their voice heard," McEnany said after being asked about the event.
Facebook previously shut down a fast-growing pro-Trump “Stop the Steal” group that was being used to organize protests over “worrying calls for violence.”
Eventbrite took down several of event pages connected to these rallies and refunded tickets. A spokesperson said the site prohibits events, content or creators that share potentially harmful misinformation or contribute to the risk of violence.
The event seems to have originated with conspiracy theorist Alex Jones who urged his followers to go to D.C. after the election, according to Angelo Carusone, president of the media watchdog group Media Matters for America.
Jones' website InfoWars announced plans to lead a cross-country caravan to the march through Houston and Austin, Texas; Tallahassee, Florida; Baton Rouge, Louisiana; Atlanta; Raleigh, North Carolina; and Richmond, Virginia.
Carusone estimated Friday that the caravan currently has attracted about 10 people.
Other groups including white nationalists and armed extremist groups then announced their intent to join, Carusone said. Proud Boys chairman Enrique Tarrio announced his group would attend and the Oath Keepers, an anti-government extremist group, issued a call for volunteers to attend the event with their leader, Stewart Rhodes, according to the ADL.
"It is an ad hoc sort of combination of extremists, of grifters and some online right wing media figures that are trying to hope something sparks," Carusone said. "Essentially as if an online comment troll just decided to come to life."
Carusone said that while he does not expect the rally will draw a massive crowd, he is concerned that groups like the Proud Boys may try to antagonize counter protesters in order to provoke a fight. However, he said that if mainstream right-wing media outlets and figures like the president start promoting the event it could draw thousands.
Trump indicated that he may stop by the rally in a tweet Friday.
"Heartwarming to see all of the tremendous support out there, especially the organic Rallies that are springing up all over the Country, including a big one on Saturday in D.C." he said.
"We’re going to engage in nonviolent mass protest," Sunsara Taylor, one of the co-initiators of the group, told USA TODAY. "We’re going to do it safely, but we’re also not going to be intimidated or back down because there’s a bunch of people who cannot reconcile themselves that their fascist program has been repudiated."
Alaina Gertz, a spokesperson for the D.C. police, said they are aware of planned activity but would not provide estimates on crowd size.
Police released an advisory noting some roads will be closed and parking will be restricted throughout downtown D.C. and reminding the public that they are prohibited from carrying a firearm within 1,000 feet of any protest, including those who have a concealed carry permit.
"We're continuing to monitor and assess each activity and plan accordingly with our fed law enforcement partners," Gertz said.
Mayor Muriel Bowser said Tuesday despite the upcoming rallies she still recommends business owners should take down their plywood they used to board up storefronts to prepare for potential election violence. She said her team is also monitoring reports of the caravan.
"We continue to follow those activities and be prepared for those activities," Bowser said when asked about the rallies. "Our police chief will have a similar posture this weekend as he did last week and we will be there to support peaceful exercise of first amendment demonstrations."
Contributing: The Associated Press
Follow N'dea Yancey-Bragg on Twitter: @NdeaYanceyBragg
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Million MAGA March, Stop the Steal: Trump supporters plan DC rallies