Outrage at Trump's takeover in Fourth of July celebrations
Non-traditional Independence Day festivities spark protest parade
A rain-drenched crowd gathered in the heart of Washington for President Trump's 'Salute to America' yesterday as supporters praised his celebration of US military clout and protesters criticised him for putting himself centre stage on a day devoted to unity.
Mr Trump called on Americans to "stay true to our cause" and declared "the future of American freedom rests on the shoulders of men and women willing to defend it".
A late afternoon downpour drenched the capital's Independence Day crowds, heralding an evening of on-and-off storms that cast clouds on Mr Trump's programme of military flyovers and the city's annual July 4 fireworks.
The rain chased off a steady stream of people while others arrived, using plastic bags, ponchos and the covers of baby buggies for shelter.
By adding his own, one-hour production to capital festivities that typically draw hundreds of thousands anyway, Mr Trump cast himself as the first president in nearly seven decades to address a crowd at the National Mall on Independence Day. "I will speak on behalf of our great Country!" he said in a morning tweet. "Perhaps even Air Force One will do a low & loud sprint over the crowd."
Protesters unimpressed by his "Salute to America" programme inflated a roly-poly balloon depicting Trump as an angry, nappy-clad baby.
Mr Trump set aside a historic piece of real estate - a stretch of the Mall from the Lincoln Monument to the midpoint of the reflecting pool - for a mix of invited military members, Republican and Trump campaign donors and other bigwigs. It's where Martin Luther King Jr gave his "I have a dream" speech, Barack Obama and Mr Trump held inaugural concerts and protesters swarmed into the water when supporters of Richard Nixon put on a July 4, 1970, celebration, with the president sending taped remarks from California.
Aides to the crowd-obsessed Mr Trump fretted about the prospect of empty seats at his event. Aides scrambled in recent days to distribute tickets and mobilise the Trump and Republican social media accounts to encourage participation for an event hastily arranged
Many who filed into the sprawling VIP section said they got their free tickets from members of Congress or from friends or neighbours who couldn't use theirs. Outside that zone, a diverse mix of visitors, locals, veterans, tour groups, immigrant families and more milled about, some drawn by Mr Trump, some by curiosity, some by the holiday's regular activities along the Mall.
Protesters earlier made their voices heard in sweltering heat by the Washington Monument, along the traditional parade route and elsewhere.
In the shadow of the Washington Monument hours before Mr Trump's speech, the anti-war organisation Codepink erected the three-metre tall "Trump baby" balloon to protest at what it called the president's co-opting of Independence Day.
"We think that he is making this about himself and it's really a campaign rally," said Medea Benjamin, the organisation's co-director. "We think that he's a big baby. ... He's erratic, he's prone to tantrums, he doesn't understand the consequences of his actions. And so this is a great symbol of how we feel about our president."
The balloon remained tied down at the Mall because park officials restricted the group's permission to move it.
Daniela Guray, a 19-year-old from Chicago, said she did not come to the Mall to protest but ended up doing so. "I started seeing all the tanks with all the protests and that's when I said, 'Wait, this is not an actual Fourth of July,'" she said. "Trump is making it his day rather than the Fourth of July."