LONDON – It looks a little scary there on the homepage of U.S. Embassy in London: the word ALERT.
The State Department is warning Americans “to keep a low profile” and “be aware of your surroundings” this week.
The reason: demonstrations are planned against President Donald Trump, in London, as well as Windsor, Bristol, Newcastle, Leeds, Cambridge, Cardiff, Glasgow and the west coast of Scotland, where Trump has a golf course.
While Trump on Friday is having lunch with Prime Minister Theresa May at her Chequers country estate or sipping tea with Queen Elizabeth II at Windsor Castle, tens of thousands of demonstrators – maybe more – are planning to gather in London’s Trafalgar Square to protest the president and his policies.
The demonstrators plan to loft a large blimp-like balloon over the skies beside Westminster Palace, depicting a bronzed “Trump Baby” in a pair of nappies, clutching a mobile phone.
Trump will spend Thursday night in London at Winfield House, the official residence of U.S. Ambassador to Britain Robert “Woody” Johnson. The couple will attend a gala dinner at Blenheim Palace out in the countryside on Thursday evening.
Johnson has told reporters that Americans respected peaceful protest.
The embassy also warned Americans, however, to “exercise caution if unexpectedly in the vicinity of large gatherings that may become violent.”
The British are usually polite to a fault – though they have been known to go off after a soccer match or once the pubs close.
On Wednesday, the Guardian newspaper reported “the UK police mobilisation for Trump’s visit would be the largest since the 2011 English riots,” when London was shocked by five days of violence and unrest, with wild scenes of looting and arson, met by mass deployment of 10,000 police. The riots were sparked when police shot and killed a suspect as part of an investigation of gun violence in London’s black community.
Organizers of anti-Trump rallies say they are not expecting any trouble at all – and that it would be very unlikely for any hostility to be directed at ordinary Americans.
In fact, just the opposite, they say.
Asad Rehman, 51, one of the organizers of a massive protest planned for central London, said that among the motivations behind the protest was to show solidarity with Americans across the Atlantic who also oppose Trump.
“It’s important for us to send a powerful signal to those who are resisting and campaigning in America that we are standing in solidarity with them,” Rehman said.
On social media, some accused the State Department of scare-mongering. A spokesperson at the U.S. Embassy in London said there was nothing political about the timing of the alert, that such warnings were routine. The protocol is that if embassy staff are warned internally about possible threats, then the American public must be as well, she said.
John Scardino, 58, a high school teacher from the United States who has lived in Britian for 18 years and will be at Friday’s protests in London, is dubious that the embassy alert would have any effect on crowd size.
Trump “has proudly sparked passionate often divisive emotions about things, I think Americans living here to eager to turn out and express their views,” he said.
On Friday evening, Trump and the First Lady whisk up to Scotland for a weekend of golf and relaxation – and more protests outside his resort.