Nancy Pelosi condemns upcoming ‘Justice for J6’ rally
Washington, DC is hunkered down in advance of a protest on behalf of people arrested for their alleged part in the US Capitol insurrection at the start of this year. The “Justice for J6” rally, organised by a onetime Trump campaign staffer, is ostensibly a protest against the “persecution” of the 600-plus people who have been taken into custody. It is seen by some as part of a broader right-wing attempt to rewrite the narrative of the attack on the Capitol as a mostly peaceful incident, with the participants reframed as simply naive citizens earnestly concerned about the 2020 election.
However, there are concerns that the protest could attract extremist groups with other, more nefarious grievances – including some of the violent actors who joined the insurrection itself. That said, experts in extremism have reported that organisations such as the Proud Boys are telling their members to stay away from the protest. The organisers insist it will be a peaceful event – but the US Capitol Police are taking no chances.
Follow live updates on the event below.
Former Trump DHS official: GOP looks like ‘Tinder for terrorists'
Miles Taylor, the former chief of staff to ex-Homeland Security chief John Kelly and author of the “Anonymous” op-ed that set Washington’s political sphere on fire in 2018, unloaded on the GOP, of which he remains a member, during an MSNBC interview as the Justice for J6 rally began.
In the interview, he said that he never thought he would see such widespread support for what he called “terrorists” who stormed the Capitol among his own party.
“Today, I think we look more like a Tinder for terrorists where radicals around the country can swipe right and match with an extremist politician who amplifies their views and then when they get into trouble and commit crime, tries to bail them out from prison,” Mr Taylor said. “So if you ask me right now we look a little bit less like the party of Lincoln and more like a Tinder for terrorists.”
“Let me be clear, these are not political prisoners,” he added of the jailed 6 January defendents. “These are criminals.”
Attendees chant names of two rioters slain during Capitol attack
One of the speakers at Saturday’s rally led rally attendees in a chant of the names of two women killed during January’s assault on the Capitol.
The small crowd, along with the female speaker, chanted the names of Ashli Babbitt, who is thought to have been shot by a police officer and killed while inside the building attempting to breach the House chambers, and Roseanne Boyland, who was trampled outside of the building as chaos ensued while hundreds of protesters attacked Capitol Police barricades.
Far fewer than expected in attendance at Capitol
While the rally has officially begun, crowds are much smaller than had been anticipated. Around 700 people were expected to attend the event, but so far no more than 200 protesters have shown up. Scores of media and security personnel are on site too.
A rally attendee, Andres Bruce, told The Independent that the rally was in support of those who are accused of “non-violent” offenses on 6 January, including trespassing and entering the Capitol grounds unlawfully.
“If you committed a violent act, that’s a crime and that can’t be defended,” he said. “But, most of the ones, it’s trespassing, and you know, going into a controlled area, and other charges that aren’t violent in nature.”
“I think most of the people who came that day had no intention of disrupting an official proceeding,” Mr Bruce argued.
Organizers seen enforcing anti-political message rule among attendees
Look Ahead America’s executive director Matt Braynard, one of the Justice for J6 rally’s organizers, was seen milling among the small crowd of protesters and directing an individual to take down a flag in support of former President Donald Trump.
Rally invitations stressed that the event was meant to be non-political in nature and urged attendees not to bring flags, signs, or clothing in support of either Mr Trump or President Joe Biden.
Mr Braynard walked a significant distance flanked by security to direct the man to take his flag down, suggesting that organisers are being vigilant in enforcing the rule.
“Do not wear or bring political, candidate, or another organization’s paraphernalia. This includes clothing or banners supportive of President Trump or President Biden,” reads the group’s website.
Rally attendees outnumbered by law enforcement, media minutes before start
Moments before Saturday’s rally was set to begin, the Union Square area and surrounding blocks were swarmed with members of law enforcement, members of the media, and just over a hundred protesters in the area where the event was set to take place.
The lack of attendees suggests that most supporters of the 6 January attack on the Capitol heeded warnings on right wing sites including some Qanon conspiracy blogs suggesting that the event would either intentionally lead to the jailing of attendees or result in that occurring if violence broke out.
A number of counterprotesters were also in attendance, including one individual with a sign urging the House’s select commission on the Capitol attack to investigate a Pennsylvania state senator, Doug Mastriano, who is accused of spending thousands of dollars to bus attendees to the rally outside the White House (and subsequent mobbing of the Capitol) on 6 January.
A man from Doug Mastriano’s district is here calling on the Jan 6th commission to include his State Senator who was at the Capitol that day. pic.twitter.com/APfmJIfGve— Zach D Roberts - A Poorly Organized Depression (@zdroberts) September 18, 2021
Smaller rallies set to take place around the country
Look Ahead America, the pro-Trump organization behind the plans for Saturday’s rally at the Capitol, says on their website that they will host simultaneous rallies at the sites of the federal courthouse in Charlotte, North Carolina, and outside of a Department of Justice building in Seattle.
Nearly a dozen more events are set to be held next Saturday, the 25 of September, in other state capitals including Phoenix, Richmond, and Austin.
“The purpose of these peaceful protests is for patriotic Americans to educate their state legislators on the power they have to give instructions to their state’s federal legislators. We have composed a draft resolution a state legislature can pass to inform US Senators and Representative to oppose the tyrannical and inhumane treatment of the January 6 political prisoners who have been targeted by the Department of Justice and the FBI,” declared the group’s executive director, Matt Braynard, in a statement.
The group claims that it plans to add additional rally dates and locations to the list in the near future.
Trump says his heart is with those ‘persecuted’ after the January 6 riots
In a short statement posted to his website on Thursday, Donald Trump sent a message of support to protesters at today’s event, saying: “Our hearts and minds are with the people being persecuted so unfairly relating to the January 6th protest concerning the Rigged Presidential Election. In addition to everything else, it has proven conclusively that we are a two-tiered system of justice. In the end, however, JUSTICE WILL PREVAIL!”
Mr Trump will not be attending the rally today, and is understood to be spending the day at a golf tournament in New Jersey instead. He reportedly told sources that he believed the event was a set-up aimed at damaging his reputation.
U.S. Capitol Police tweet picture of team readying for the day ahead
U.S. Capitol Police posted a picture on Twitter of officers preparing for the protest this morning and swearing-in with law enforcement partners.
Social media posts discuss the possibility of violence and ‘kidnap’
A Homeland Security intelligence report said social media posts discussed using violence ahead of the protest, as well as the possibility of kidnap. One social media user “commented on kidnapping an identified member of Congress,” reports the Associated Press. The person wasn’t identified by name in the intelligence report. As Congress is out of session there will no lawmakers expected in the building today.
“Other references to violence identified on social media include discussions of using the rally to target local Jewish institutions, elected officials, and ‘liberal churches,’” the Homeland Security report said.