Two National Guard members were injured when lightning struck near their post at protests in downtown Washington, D.C., as demonstrators and law enforcement weathered strong storms.
Lightning struck within Lafayette Square, leading to the injuries. Ambulances were called shortly after midnight Friday and the guards were hospitalized with injuries that are not life-threatening, D.C. Fire and EMS said.
Demonstrators protesting racial injustice continued marching in downtown D.C. despite strong thunderstorms throughout Thursday evening.
The heavy rain began about 8 p.m., but protesters continued chanting loudly over the sound of rain and thunder.
A huge crowd held a die-in demonstration at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial, on Thursday afternoon, lying on the ground for the more than eight minutes that an officer was shown on video kneeling on George Floyd’s neck. Protesters called out the names of black people killed by police.
Crews installed concrete barriers and more fencing along 17th Street Thursday morning in an effort to keep protesters farther away from the White House complex.
D.C., will not impose a curfew during a seventh night of demonstrations for racial justice Thursday after the previous night of protests passed without a single demonstrator being placed under arrest.
Mayor Muriel Bowser had imposed curfews since Sunday night to quell protests sparked by the death of George Floyd, who was killed in the custody of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin while three other officers stood by. All four face now charges in his death.
Protesters, police and work crews prepared for more demonstrations near the White House, the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial and the National Cathedral on Thursday amid temperatures exceeding 90 degrees.
Multiple organizing groups have called people to protests in other parts of the city. One group of citizens planned to walk from the Friendship Heights Metro Station in Maryland to the National Cathedral in Northwest D.C.
The first of three memorial services honoring Floyd took place Thursday in Minneapolis, with emotional tributes and calls for justice.
Bowser said Thursday that anyone concerned about the presence of military should rally behind D.C. statehood to give the city autonomy and representation in Congress.
"Until we fix that, we are subject to the whims of the federal government. Sometimes they're benevolent and sometimes they're not," she said. "We want troops from out of state out of Washington, D.C."
Several governors, including Maryland. Gov. Larry Hogan, sent National Guardsmen to D.C. though Bowser pleaded for them to refuse the president’s request to send them.
Scores of heavily armed federal officers in tactical gear have been on the streets for days, after demonstrators set fires, broke store windows and stole items from the shelves and left police officers injured.
The Trump administration has made an effort to show a collection of force in Washington, manning the checkpoints and lining some streets with armored military vehicles.
The Justice Department deployed agents from every one of its agencies, including the FBI’s Hostage Rescue Team, an elite tactical unit, and riot teams from the Bureau of Prisons. The Park Police and Secret Service have had dozens of officers out in riot gear for the last few nights, in addition to the Metropolitan Police Department. U.S. Customs and Border Protection and other Homeland Security agencies were also dispatched.
Most of the protesters have been peaceful and tried to discourage violence.
President Donald Trump, Attorney General William Barr and others have tried to blame some of the civil unrest on left-wing extremist groups, including antifa, and other “anarchists.” Short for anti-fascists, antifa is an umbrella term for far-left-leaning militant groups that resist neo-Nazis and white supremacists at demonstrations.
A senior Justice Department official said intelligence gathered by the FBI shows that antifa and other groups have been involved in some of the protests around the U.S. There have been “multiple instances” where people who have been arrested have identified themselves to law enforcement as members of antifa, the official said. The official, who could not discuss ongoing investigations publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity, did not provide specific details about those incidents.
Investigators also believe that groups have been training some demonstrators on techniques to rush officers on the lines of the protests and giving tips on how to avoid being arrested, the official said.
Wednesday's protests were the largest in several days of demonstrations: More than 5,000 people in multiple groups participated, police say. In the District, no protesters were arrested through 9 a.m. Thursday, even though some demonstrated long past the curfew, D.C. Chief of Police Peter Newsham said.
That's down from about 289 arrests overnight Monday and 26 arrests overnight Tuesday. About 88% of arrestees were from D.C., Maryland or Virginia. Most were charged with curfew violations.
The Metropolitan Police Department reported no injuries to officers or damage to vehicles overnight. On Monday, a police car was burned.
Protests remained largely peaceful Wednesday into Thursday. A curfew was in place from 11 p.m. Wednesday to 6 a.m. Thursday. It was the fourth night the city implemented a curfew in response to massive anti-police brutality and anti-racism protests.
Protesters late Wednesday and early Thursday stayed out long after the curfew began. But News4 reporters said the scene was one of the calmest they had seen during several nights of unrest, although there was a large military presence.
In a touching moment Wednesday, Maryland performer Kenny Sway picked up a microphone and led protesters in singing along and dancing to "Lean on Me." Earlier, scores of protesters at the Capitol laid face-down on the ground in a die-in.
National Guard and other officers in riot gear, many not wearing identifying insignia, have been maintaining distance between protesters and the White House fences.
Saturday is expected to be the largest day of demonstrations so far, Newsham said. Anyone who attends a protest is encouraged to wear a mask and maintain social distance.
Stay with NBC Washington for more on this developing story. Tune into News4 at 4, 5 and 6 and 11 p.m. for live coverage.