Members of Congress and law enforcement are bracing for potential security threats on Sept. 18 when a “Justice for J6” rally is planned to support the more than 570 people charged with crimes related to the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.
The Capitol Police are expected to present their security plan to the Capitol Police Board this week, according to a congressional source, while the Metropolitan Police Department is also expected to ramp up its presence for the planned rally near the Capitol’s west front.
The group organizing the rally, Look Ahead America, is led by Matt Braynard, who served as a campaign staffer for former President Trump. About 300 to 500 attendees are expected at the event, including members of far-right extremist groups such as the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers, according to multiple reports.
Several members of those two groups have been charged with criminal offenses related to the Jan. 6 insurrection, when hundreds of people invaded the Capitol, forced the evacuation of Congress and delayed the counting of the Electoral College vote. More than 140 police officers were injured in the riot, which led to five deaths.
It’s not yet clear if any members of Congress will be in attendance, but some prominent far-right House Republicans have offered support and sympathy to people facing charges for their actions on Jan. 6. Some have also cast Ashli Babbitt, who was fatally shot by a Capitol Police officer as she came close to breaching the House chamber, as a martyr.
GOP Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene (Ga.), Matt Gaetz (Fla.), Louie Gohmert (Texas) and Paul Gosar (Ariz.) held a July 27 news conference outside the Justice Department to protest the treatment of people arrested in connection to Jan. 6. The event, which was interrupted by counterprotesters, took place the same day a House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack heard testimony from officers on the physical and mental abuse they took that day.
Greene, Gaetz and Gohmert also tried to visit the D.C. Department of Corrections to personally view the Jan. 6 defendants’ conditions but were barred from entry.
Late last month, Rep. Madison Cawthorn (R-N.C.) described the defendants currently in law enforcement custody as “political hostages” and “political prisoners” who are being detained to deter future protests.
“The big problem is we don’t actually know where all the political prisoners are,” Cawthorn said. “And so, if we were to actually be able to go and try and bust them out — and let me tell you, the reason why they’re taking these political prisoners is because they’re trying to make an example, because they don’t want to see the mass protests going on in Washington.”
A spokesman for Cawthorn later sought to clarify that he only “wants due process for the prisoners” and “was not advocating for any form of illegal action, only that they receive full due process.”
Some of this rhetoric, and the promotion of the conspiracy that President Biden wasn’t legitimately elected, has infuriated other lawmakers — including some Republicans — still shaken by the events of Jan. 6.
Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.), one of the most outspoken critics of Republicans who have backed Trump’s false claims about the election, harshly criticized plans for the Sept. 18 event.
“Let’s talk about what this rally celebrates. It celebrates cop killers,” he said in an interview with CNN. “And you know what, this is America. They can peacefully assemble. They can celebrate whatever they want.”
Swalwell also said Capitol Police, who have come under intense criticism for their preparations for Jan. 6, must be ready for Sept. 18.
“We just have to make sure that if they are ready to get violent, that we’re ready again in a better way than on Jan. 6 to defend the Capitol,” Swalwell said.
While the Sept. 18 rally is expected to be smaller than what occurred on Jan. 6, experts are encouraging security planners to take it seriously.
“This is coming eight months after” Jan. 6, said Brian Levin, a criminal justice professor and director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino.
“It’s a different scenario, but we’re getting a much more isolated and also angry and conspiratorial sliver that is not only labeling an election as stolen but is also labeling violent criminal defendants as political prisoners, and that’s another marker of extremism.”
Congress is not scheduled to be in session on Sept. 18, which falls on a Saturday, but the Capitol Hill community has been on edge since Jan. 6.
In April, a man rammed his car into a security barricade, killing one Capitol Police officer and injuring another, although the suspect died before a clear motive was established.
And last month, a man drove his truck onto the sidewalk in front of the Library of Congress across the street from the Capitol and claimed he had a bomb. During the tense five-hour standoff, the suspect posted a video to Facebook where he railed against Biden and claimed that “the revolution is on.”
The Capitol Police declined to comment Tuesday on any specific security plans for Sept. 18. But Capitol Police Chief Tom Manger said the department is “closely monitoring” the event and expressed confidence that “the work we are doing now will make sure our officers have what they need to keep everyone safe.”
The Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) is also planning an “increased presence around the city” where demonstrations will take place on Sept. 18 and may close off some streets, a spokesperson said.
Levin said the Capitol Police should be focused on developing a plan that includes securing the perimeter around the Capitol, ideally maintaining some distance between protesters and the building, and avoiding missteps that occurred on Jan. 6 by ensuring communication between commanders and officers as well as between the outside entities brought in to help.
“I think here the risk is not doing anything. You need responsive backup from across agencies — you can’t just have MPD. You have to have multiple mutual aid going on, planning across multiple agencies, and I think you’re going to have that now,” he said.
Braynard has urged attendees to “be respectful and kind to all law enforcement officers,” and he discouraged anyone from bringing signs or clothing related to a specific political candidate or the election’s legitimacy
“I invite you to make your own homemade signs demanding justice for these political prisoners, demanding justice for Ashli Babbitt. But we are focused like a laser on this and only this cause on this date at that rally,” Braynard said in a video posted to the event’s website.
Messages on the Proud Boys’ Telegram account have discouraged members from going to the rally, with one stating that “we will not be attending this guaranteed disaster.”
Via The Hill