The original permit application, filed on November 24, scheduled the demonstration in Washington for January 22 and 23, two days after the Inauguration and many months after the electoral vote count in Congress. Freedom Plaza and the Lincoln Memorial serve as the backdrop. The application stated that 5,000 people were expected to attend, despite the fact that 11,000 people attended the November 14 event, which was also sponsored by Women for America First.
The organization stated in the required federal form filed that day that the “First Amendment Rally” could be disrupted by “anyone who opposes conservatives, Trump supporters, or Republicans.” That was the only time Donald Trump was mentioned. It appeared to be simple and straightforward, but no one in the federal or District of Columbia governments thought it would be.
The National Park Service, which is in charge of security on the Mall and monuments such as the Ellipse, began communicating with protest organizers on November 14, the day of the first Trump protest in Washington, which drew 11,000 people. “Right now,” an NPS official wrote in an email, “it appears that there may be more internet traffic than actual attendees,” but they are expecting pro-Trump and anti-Trump groups.
Women for America First stated in an email to the National Park Service on December 21 that they were relinquishing January 22-23 for the Lincoln Memorial and Freedom Plaza and instead requesting January 5-7. Anyone who opposes election integrity, conservatives, Trump supporters, or Republicans were added to the list of those who might disrupt the demonstration.
With only two weeks until the event, organizers are now predicting 15,000 attendees. In an internal email, the Park Service stated that they needed to find “a location suitable for 15,000,” informing organizers that Freedom Plaza and the Lincoln Memorial were no longer available.
The Ellipse, just south of the White House and adjacent to the Mall, is not mentioned in any of the documents released by the National Park Service or leaked to the press since January 6. On December 29, another application update was officially filed, with the venue having been relocated to the Ellipse. The protest is scheduled to last from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., according to organizers. Representatives from various pro-Trump organizations, members of Congress, Rudy Giuliani, and Roger Stone were among the potential speakers.
The organizers and the Park Service agreed that the event would be held in the Ellipse’s southwest quadrant, south of the Christmas Tree Lighting Site. The Park Service stated during the rally that “all areas are always to remain open to the general public.”
The organizers of the protest stated that they were aware of “the significant concerns to public health resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic.” They agreed to follow CDC guidelines and best practices, to wear masks, and to engage in social distancing.
The event, according to the National Park Service Record of Determination, “will not adversely affect the park’s natural, aesthetic, or cultural values and is not of a highly controversial nature.”
Thousands of emails were exchanged about the rally within the Park Service, the federal government, and the District of Columbia government, as well as all of the responsible agencies (there were many) and the event organizers. There is no evidence that the FBI or the Pentagon were involved in any of the coordination. It was all very pleasant.
All of the internal correspondence regarded concerns about the structures that might be built on the Ellipse, from the stage to the Jumbotron screens, about seating, tents, lighting, flags and bunting, fire and safety of the participants, what would and would not be allowed on Park lands, the provision of porta-potties and hand-washing stations, crowd flow into and out of the event, the presence of vendors, street closures and parking, emergency medical preparations, food truck permits, recycling and trash containers, photographers at the top of the Washington Monument, compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, protection of the grass on Park lands, protection of the steam lines that ran underneath the Ellipse, protection of the “sanctity of the National Mall,” particularly the preservation of the sightline that existed between the White House and the Jefferson Memorial, which by law could not be blocked.
One Park Service internal email, worrying about the structures being built, sums up the federal government’s concern.