The US Capitol is back on high alert as police brace for today's 'Justice for J6' rally held in support of the rioters jailed for their roles in the January 6 insurrection that left five people dead.
Hundreds of police officers started gathering at the Capitol Saturday morning where eight-foot-high security fencing has been erected around the building in efforts to avoid a repeat of the violence eight months ago.
Dozens of dump trucks were driven in to form a barrier around the area ahead of the rally at 12pm.
A total of 100 National Guard troops are on standby and security officials are performing additional checks on travelers arriving at Washington DC's nearest airport in an effort to prevent violence.
Capitol Police Chief Tom Manger said they had intelligence of online 'chatter' that is similar to that seen in the run-up to January 6 where it later emerged some rioters had organized the plot on social media.
Manger said it was 'tough to say' whether threats this time are credible or not but said police will be taking no chances, vowing 'we're not going to tolerate violence'.
Republicans have sought to distance themselves from the event with even staunch Donald Trump allies Marjorie Taylor Greene and Madison Cawthorn - who supported his false claims of election fraud and have described the January 6 jailed rioters as 'political hostages' - confirming they won't attend.
Senator Lindsey Graham has called for cops to take a zero-tolerance approach to any violence saying 'if anybody gets out of line, they need to whack 'em.'
Authorities are determined to avoid a repeat of the disaster of January 6 where cops were unprepared for the MAGA mob, who managed to storm the building in an attempt to stop the certification of Joe Biden's election win and sent lawmakers fleeing for their live.
Hundreds of police officers started gathering at the Capitol Saturday morning where eight-foot-high security fencing has been erected around the building
The US Capitol is back on high alert as police brace for today's 'Justice for J6' rally held in support of the January 6 rioters
Dozens of dump trucks form a barrier early Saturday as security measures are put into place before the rally at 12pm
A total of 100 National Guard troops are on standby and security officials are performing additional checks on travelers arriving at Washington DC's nearest airport
The Capitol is seen under security overnight Saturday as preparations were underway for the rally Saturday midday
Capitol Police Chief Tom Manger said they had intelligence of online 'chatter' that is similar to that seen in the run-up to January 6 where it later emerged some rioters had organized the plot on social media
Police vehicles are seen in the darkness overnight Friday as law enforcement prepare for possible violence at the rally
Around 700 Trump supporters and far-right activists are expected to descend on the West lawn of the Capitol for Saturday's rally to protest the federal charges that nearly 600 rioters have been slapped with over January 6.
Manger said at a press conference Friday the likeliest possibility for violence at the rally will be between protesters and counter-protesters who may show up, but that law enforcement will not allow things to escalate.
'We're not going to tolerate violence, and we will not tolerate criminal behavior of any kind,' Manger said.
'The American public and members of Congress have an expectation that we protect the Capitol. And I am confident that the plan we have in place will meet that expectation.'
Manger wouldn't give an indication of how seriously they are taking threats of violence.
'It's tough to say whether they're credible or not it,' he said of the threats. 'We don't know with any certainty.'
He added: 'We're not taking any chances.'
Preparations to defend the Capitol began earlier this week, with the building turned into a fortress with tall, black fencing around the perimeter.
Police are preparing for the possibility that some demonstrators may arrive with weapons.
USCP officers outlined the preparations they took to be ready for the rally even as they declined to go into details as not to reveal any sensitive security information.
The intent was to instill a sense of confidence and security going into the event.
A view of the U.S. Capitol behind newly-erected fencing ahead of the 'Justice for J6' rally set for Saturday
Capitol police patrol the Capitol grounds on Friday amidst a state of heightened security ahead of the 'Justice for J6' rally
The Supreme Court is seen behind newly-erected fencing ahead of the 'Justice for J6' rally scheduled for Saturday
Information about September 18 'Justice for J6' rally
Location: Union Square area of the Capitol grounds, the section of the West Front containing the Ulysses S. Grant Memorial and Capitol reflecting pool
Start time: 12 noon ET
Leaders of event: Matt Braynard, a former Trump campaign official who organized the rally
He will co-host alongside Cara Castronuova, a pro-Trump boxer who appeared on season 11 of The Biggest Loser
Speakers: Joe Kent, who's challenging GOP Representative Jaime Herrera Beutler in Washington state; she is one of 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach Donald Trump
Mike Collins, a Republican running for Congress in Georgia
Family members of people held on January 6 charges
Officials are determined not to repeat the intelligence and planning mistakes revealed in the aftermath of the January 6 insurrection.
He said their intelligence indicated three different groups - one of whom had a history of clashes - were talking of attending.
He did not specify the groups.
Meanwhile, the Associated Press reported that a Department of Homeland Security intelligence report warned of social media posts that discussed the possibility of storming the Capitol Friday night.
One user also 'commented on kidnapping an identified member of Congress,' the document said, though the lawmaker wasn't identified by name in the report.
Manger declined to comment on the report.
Although police are confident things will be under control, nearby residents and business owners whose memories of this year's violent riot is still fresh, are not so sure.
'I feel really frustrated,' Dorian Bean-Lipscombe, who owns a tuxedo shop near the Capitol, told NBC Washington.
'I don't know if they're going to shut down our street or evacuate our businesses to protect us.'
Frank Craddock, who lives near the Capitol and witnessed the Capitol riot, said the extra security measures put in place are necessary.
'I was here on the 6th, and after then I think that it's necessary,' he told NBC Washington.
Ahead of Saturday's rally, Capitol Hill has turned into a fortress.
Security fencing is back up around the perimeter, riot shields are ready, the National Guard is on stand by and DC Metro Police will activate their entire force on Saturday.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has approved 100 National Guardsmen to be on standby at the DC Armory for support on Saturday if they are needed.
They won't be armed but will be equipped with batons and protective vests for self-defense.
The capitol police force and its partners in the region - including the DC National Guard and DC Metro Police - have held multiple exercises, including physical ones and table top drills, to prepare for Saturday, according to Sean Gallagher, an assistant chief for USCP.
'Our officers are ready,' he said. 'We are hoping and expecting a peaceful event this weekend, but our operational plan is scalable, so that we will be ready to handle anything that occurs.'
Matt Braynard, organizer of the 'Justice for J6' rally, said those arrested on January 6th are 'political prisoners'
But the organizer of the rally, a former Trump campaign operative, said it would be a peaceful event.
Matt Braynard, who is also the executive director of Look Ahead America, said the intent was to draw attention to the Trump supporters facing federal charges for their role on January 6.
'We look forward to having a very safe, peaceful expression of our First Amendment rights,' he said Friday morning on C-SPAN's 'Washington Journal.'
He noted 'there's no intent for violence on our side.'
He also said he's hired private security for rally.
'Yes a diplomatic security team but they're looped in with the Capitol Police Department and many of them are themselves, you know, ex-cops,' he said.
Manger said they've had 'courtesy' conversations with rally organizers and he was aware they hired private security.
Braynard said his private security team would not be armed.
He also said he's asking attendees to film any encounters they have at the rally.
'I believe it's my responsibility to do everything I can do to keep every one of our attendees safe and to do that, we're asking when people leave to leave in large groups, we're asking for people to, if you see anything at all suspicious to somebody acting oddly - look we've all got television studios, right here in our pocket, whip it out and start recording,' he said.
Donald Trump defended the January 6th rioters being prosecuted for their storming of the Capitol building - above the former president speaking at a rally outside of the White House on the morning of January 6th
Republicans are distancing themselves from the event. No GOP lawmaker is scheduled to speak and only two Republican House candidates are on the agenda.
Far right extremist groups like the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers are planning to attend.
Members of those groups were among those who stormed the Capitol on January 6th and face some of the toughest federal charges as a result.
The January 6 riot resulted in five dead. Four police officers working that day committed suicide and more than 100 police officers were injured. The rioters did more than $1 million in damage to the Capitol.
Braynard said he organized Saturday's 'Justice for J6' rally to draw attention to the federal charges that almost 600 MAGA supporters who stormed the Capitol are facing. He called them 'political prisoners.'
He is part of a group of Trump supporters attempting to rewrite the narrative of the violence and panic of January 6.
Braynard argued during his C-SPAN appearance the MAGA protesters merely visited the Capitol on that day, walking between the security ropes.
Video footage from the day shows the violence committed against law enforcement and the destruction in the building.
'We've condemned all violence. We think that anybody that committed violence against police officers or destroy property at the Capitol Building on January 6 should be given a speedy trial,' Braynard said, even as he argued the protesters didn't do such things.
At least 30 people from January 6 are jailed in Washington. The rest are in facilities across the country.
Braynard argued the January 6 rioters are being treated much more harshly than other protesters, particularly those arrested for championing progressive causes.
'There's a big disparity between the way those people are being treated and these people are being treated despite engage in exactly the same behavior and facing the same charges.
'It's not about what they did, but about what they believe and that's what makes them political prisoners,' he said.
Braynard previously said he asked attendees not to wear political t-shirts or carry signs for a particular political candidate.
Meanwhile, Donald Trump warned that Saturday's rally is a 'setup'.
'On Saturday, that's a setup,' Trump told the Federalist.
'If people don't show up they'll say, 'Oh, it's a lack of spirit.' And if people do show up they'll be harassed.'
His comments come after he defended the January 6 rioters being prosecuted for their storming of the Capitol building, saying they were being 'persecuted so unfairly' for protesting the 'rigged presidential election.'
'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!' Trump said in a statement on Thursday.
Trump has repeatedly and falsely claimed the 2020 election was stolen from him as a result of massive election fraud.
He faced a second impeachment trial - and was acquitted - on charges he helped incite the January 6 riot.
He gave a fiery speech outside the White House on January 6, shortly before his MAGA supporters stormed Capitol Hill.
But he's not taking the same steps in the lead up to Saturday's rally.
The former president will spend the Saturday at a golf tournament at his Bedminster, N.J., club, the New York Times reported.