The Washington Post
Fencing around the U.S. Capitol will be reinstalled before a weekend rally focused on those arrested in the riot.
Security tightens ahead of event supporting Jan. 6 riot defendants
Fencing around the U.S. Capitol will be reinstalled “a day or two” before a rally on Saturday, when demonstrators plan to demand “justice” for those arrested in the Jan. 6 riot.
U.S. Capitol Police Chief J. Thomas Manger confirmed the security measure to reporters Monday after briefing congressional leaders on the “Justice for J6” rally, for which local law enforcement has increased staffing.
“If everything goes well,” Manger said, he expects the fence to be removed “very soon after” the rally.
“I urge anyone who is thinking about causing trouble to stay home. We will enforce the law and not tolerate violence,” he said in a statement about the Capitol Police board’s approval on Monday for the fencing to go back up. The statement referenced “concerning online chatter” but did not describe what that entailed.
Jared Holt, a resident fellow at the Atlantic Council’s digital forensic research lab who studies domestic extremism, said “very little” of the far-right discussions he monitors online are tied to the Saturday rally. Unlike the lead-up to Jan. 6, Holt said, he is not seeing the logistical planning or organizing ahead of this weekend’s event.
“That’s generally kind of giving me the impression that the September 18th rally very well could be a dud,” Holt said. “I’m not seeing a whole lot on my side that makes me think this is going to be a big violent event.”
Organizers of Saturday’s demonstration have embraced a counternarrative to the insurrection, when a violent mob stormed the seat of the U.S. government, disrupting Congress during the certification of President Biden’s election victory and resulting in the deaths of five people. Instead, they say, many of those arrested in connection with the incident were nonviolent and simply swept up in
a political protest. They describe those arrested as “political prisoners” — an assertion that has exploded beyond the far right and been embraced in mainstream conservatism.
The rally is occurring as Washington is still recovering from the riot and other incidents, including in April when a man rammed his car into a barricade outside the Capitol, killing a Capitol Police officer, and last month’s threat when a man claiming he had a bomb parked a truck near the building and demanded to speak to Biden. On Monday, Capitol Police arrested a man with a bayonet and a machete near the Democratic National Committee headquarters.
The reappearance of the perimeter fencing comes just two months after the barrier — which had been one of the last remaining symbols of the inadequate security response to the riot — was removed. Because the rally is on a Saturday, Congress won’t be in session, and members aren’t expected to be in the building.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D- Calif.) invited Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), Senate Minority Leader Mitch Mcconnell (R-KY.) and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R- Calif.) to a security meeting Monday, where Manger briefed lawmakers on preparations.
Law enforcement authorities faced sharp criticism after the Jan. 6 riot. After the briefing Monday, Schumer expressed confidence in the Capitol Police’s preparation for this weekend’s rally.
“I think they’re ready for whatever might happen.” he said. “They are better prepared than people were before January 6th.”
Last week, Pelosi condemned those planning to take part in the rally, accusing them of “coming back to praise the people who were out to kill” during the attack by a mob of those who supported President Donald Trump. Pelosi said on Monday that she “feels much better” after the briefing.
Mcconnell and Mccarthy had no comment upon exiting the meeting.
Matt Braynard, a former Trump campaign operative and founder of Look Ahead America, an organization that has planned protests in support of people arrested in the riot, is one of the rally organizers who has blamed a few “bad actors” for violence on Jan. 6. Authorities have said that about 800 people entered the Capitol that day, ransacking the building and forcing the evacuation of lawmakers in the worst attack on the Capitol since the War of 1812.
This rally “is something that we do not want to see,” Karine JeanPierre, the deputy White House press secretary, said Monday. “The president has been very clear on the events of January 6th, that they were unprecedented in our democracy. . . . But if people come together, they should come together peacefully.”
Braynard’s group has requested to gather at Union Square, a public park near the Capitol Reflecting Pool, according to a permit application to the Capitol Police Board provided to The Washington Post. The group estimated there will be 700 people at the demonstration, which will include a recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance, songs of patriotism, prayer and guest speakers.
“We will be using this time to make our voices heard in asking that all charges be dropped for nonviolent detainees and they be released from solitary confinement,” the group said in the application.
Kimmie Gonzalez, Look Ahead America’s director of government affairs, said this month that the organization has been coordinating the rally with the D.C. police, Capitol Police and U.S. Park Police.
D.C. police will be “fully activated” Friday and Saturday, meaning all officers must work those days. The Capitol Police Board issued an emergency declaration last week, according to a statement Monday, which will go into effect about the time of Saturday’s rally to allow outside departments to aid in public safety efforts.
The Capitol Police has requested support from neighboring departments in Arlington and Montgomery counties Saturday, according to those departments, and all available Capitol Police employees will also be working.
“We have talked to the military and we have multiple agencies assisting,” the Capitol Police wrote in an email to The Post.
In an interview last week, Braynard emphasized that the protest will be peaceful and said any discussions about reinstalling fencing were “mostly theatrical.”
“There’s been no threat or indication of any violence from anybody on our side, and we wouldn’t permit it,” Braynard said.
Randy Ireland, who introduced himself at a Portland, Ore., rally as president of a New York Proud Boys chapter called Hell’s Gate Bridge and co-founder of Citizens Against Political Persecution, encouraged other Proud Boys to go to Washington on Saturday, according to videos posted last month on social media.
“We need you to show up, September the 18th in D.C. Especially the Proud Boys that are here, this is a message going out to you,” Ireland said in the video. Cara Castronuova, another co-founder of Citizens Against Political Persecution, is a co-host of the rally.
However, the Proud Boys, a farright group with a history of violence, has told its members on a prominent messaging platform not to attend, citing concerns that they would be arrested. The group also threatened that any Proud Boys who do attend would be “banished from the fraternity.”
Look Ahead America organizers have denied any relationship with groups such as the Proud Boys. Plans for a counter-rally at Freedom Plaza on Saturday have also begun to circulate online.
Holt, the domestic extremism researcher, said he will be monitoring plans for satellite rallies in states such as Florida, Texas and Massachusetts, scheduled for Sept. 18 and 25.
“Those seem a little bit more freewheeling, and I also think that they have the potential to detract would-be attendees from going all the way to D.C. for an event,” Holt said. “If there’s an event two hour’s drive away from you, why would you get on a plane and fly to D.C.?”