A smaller crowd than expected arrived in Washington, DC to protest vaccine mandates and pandemic restrictions.
A permit issued by the National Park Service revealed that the rally organisers thought that as many as 20,000 people would attend, but The Washington Post estimated that a group of several thousand had made it to the National Mall by Sunday afternoon.
The group of mostly unmasked protesters gathered in a city that has instituted both mask and vaccine mandates to protest measures to battle the Covid-19 pandemic, which has killed more than 865,000 Americans to date.
The seven-day average of new daily cases in the nation’s capital went from 101 on 13 December to 2,251 on 8 January. That figure has since gone down to 761 as of 22 January, according to data from The New York Times.
The demonstrators included people of all ages, most of them being white and with many wearing Donald Trump gear.
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A number of men stood in front of a “Don’t Tread On Me” flag, chanting “Let’s go Brandon”, which is code for their subsequent chant – “f**k Joe Biden,” as the crowd cheered them on.
The few attendees who wore masks risked becoming the target of a man screaming “Take those masks off!” and “It’s all a lie!” according to The Post.
Around ten men were seen wearing the insignia of the Proud Boys, the right-wing extremist group involved in the insurrection on 6 January last year.
Posters and flags seen during the march from the Washington Monument to the Lincoln Memorial bore inaccurate statements such as “vaccines are mass kill bio weapons” and “Trump won”.
Around ten officers on horseback could be seen along the march and vehicles from the US Park Police were parked in the vicinity.
Officers were present at the Lincoln Memorial, where the steps had been fenced off. Many of the protesters violated the mask mandate on the Washington metro as they travelled to the site of the rally.
Organizer Matt Tune, 48, told The Post that “the goal is to show a unified front of bringing people together — vaccinated, unvaccinated, Democrats, Republicans, all together in solidarity”.
He added that the rally was intended “to help change the current narrative … which is basically saying that we’re a bunch of weirdos and freaks who don’t care about humanity. And that’s not true at all”.
Suzanne Robertson, 52, said she had been a liberal Democrat until last year. “This is not a political thing,” she said. “If you want to get the vaccine, get it.”
She added that she would “die” before getting vaccinated.
The crowd bellowed its approval as speakers compared the mandates to actions taken by dictatorships such as Nazi Germany.
According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the unvaccinated over the age of 65 are 49 times more likely to end up in hospital than those who are vaccinated and have received a booster shot.
Those in the age bracket between 50 and 64 are 44 times more likely to go to hospital if they are unvaccinated, according to data collected between 6 November and 25 December.
Even without a booster, your risk of being hospitalised is much lower if you’ve been vaccinated.
Adults aged between 18 and 49 were 12 times more likely to go to hospital if they had rejected the shots. The difference in the age group 12 to 17 was nine times.