Five people were arrested for dancing at the Thomas Jefferson Memorial, in defiance of a ban on demonstrations at the site.
The flash mob was organized through Twitter and Facebook as a protest against a recent court decision upholding a 2008 verdict that banned dancing at the memorial.
Andrew Sharp, a protester, told radio station WTOP:
"I think some people thought it was a joke at first, and then they started putting handcuffs on people and were very, very serious about it."
Sharp also said that people were told that no warnings would be given, and arrests would be made on the spot.
The court's decision stems from 2008, when Mary Oberwetter was arrested by police for dancing at the Jefferson Memorial on the eve of the former president's 265th birthday. Oberwetter, then 28, was charged with a misdemeanor count of interfering with agency functions, and was later released.
Oberwetter sued the Park Service in 2009, saying that her arrest for dancing was a violation of her First Amendment rights. In her suit, she asked U.S. District Judge John D. Bates to stop the Park Service from preventing such demonstrations in the future.
In his final decision, Bates took side with the Park Service, writing in his 26-page opinion:
“...the purpose of the Memorial is to publicize Thomas Jefferson's legacy, so that critics and supporters alike may contemplate his place in history. The Park Service prohibits all demonstrations in the interior of the Jefferson Memorial, in order to maintain an "an atmosphere of calm, tranquility, and reverence,"'”
The Justice Department, acting on behalf of the Park Service, wrote in court papers:
“The Memorial is, has long been, and is intended to be a place of calm, tranquillity, and reverence—a place where visitors can go to celebrate and honor Jefferson and enjoy and contemplate the Memorial itself without the distraction of public demonstrations and other expressive activities. The Memorial is akin to a temple or a shrine (both in terms of its purpose and its physical characteristics), not a place of public expression.”
A second event is planned for June 4.