The Daily Beast is reporting that a few hundred protesters (not the thousands they predicted) marched on the grounds of the United States Capitol in Washington, D.C., on Saturday, demanding the release of prisoners imprisoned in the aftermath of the deadly Jan. 6 Capitol attack, which resulted in hundreds of criminal charges and little reflection on the extreme right.
The rally did not bring the large crowds of pro-Trump supporters that assembled in January, and the location was carefully guarded by police enforcement. Attendees resorted to the standard tropes, such as moaning about the media and portraying themselves as victims of governmental persecution.
— Erich with an “h” 🇺🇸 (@ErichinATL) September 18, 2021
One speaker compared the treatment of the Capitol rioters—who included, infamously, a man wearing a “Camp Auschwitz” sweatshirt—to the persecution of Jews under Nazi rule. Calling the D.C. jail a “gulag,” she read off a letter that she said was from an imprisoned rioter, who complained, “this reminds me of how the Jewish people were treated by the Nazis.”
As the crowd gathered in the Union Square area of the Capitol grounds, “We Didn’t Start The Fire” by Billy Joel blared from speakers.
— Tristan Snell (@TristanSnell) September 18, 2021
Tensions flared from time to time with counterprotesters. A man claiming to be an Afghanistan veteran showed up with a megaphone and spoke negatively about Trump and COVID. The crowd surged towards him and one man accused him of stolen valor. Capitol Police had to intervene to prevent violence.
The organizers of the “Justice for J6” rally believe that those still being held in the D.C. jail for their alleged roles in the attacks–which failed to prevent Joe Biden from becoming president despite a clear election victory–are being held in unconstitutional conditions and as political prisoners.
At least 600 reporters and media folks at the Justice for J6 rally in DC — with only around 20 rally-goers.
— Zachary Petrizzo (@ZTPetrizzo) September 18, 2021
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They also question whether the FBI was involved in the strike, while downplaying the extraordinary assault on the rule of law that day.
“We have almost a hundred people who were nonviolent protesters being held in solitary confinement,” Matt Braynard, a former Donald Trump campaign staffer and the event’s primary organizer, said in a video promoting the event. “All for walking through an open door and then walking out, never laying a finger on anyone or causing any violence.”
Quincy Booth, head of the D.C. Department of Corrections, told The Daily Beast that all detainees on Jan. 6 were handled with “dignity and respect.”
“All residents have access to health care services to treat any illness or medical emergency experienced while in our custody,” Booth said in an email. “Residents are provided with out of cell time, recreation, and visitation as permissible by any COVID-19 health restrictions that may be in place or the terms of their confinement. DOC also provides residents with the access and ability to meet with their attorneys or legal representatives.”
After purportedly showing apathy or a wish to remove himself from a potential sequel to the violent insurgency in his name, Trump issued a statement on Thursday expressing sympathy for the inmates.
“Our hearts and minds are with the people being persecuted so unfairly relating to the January 6th protest concerning the rigged presidential election,” Trump said. “It has proven conclusively that we are a two-tiered system of justice. In the end, however, JUSTICE WILL PREVAIL.”
The Jan. 6 attack began when attendees at a conspiratorial “Stop the Steal” Trump rally outside the White House–which falsely claimed election fraud last fall–marched to the United States Capitol Building while Congress voted to certify the results of the 2020 election. At the speech, President Trump claimed that the election had been “stolen” and warned supporters that if they did not “fight like hell,” they “wouldn’t” have a country.
Following the event, under-manned and overburdened U.S. Capitol Police Officers guarding the building were punched in the head, shoved down steps, and stabbed. The Capitol Police were eventually assisted by the National Guard, and the facility was secured hours later.
A massive fence was quickly built around the Capitol building. Five persons were killed in the incident, and several officers committed suicide in the months that followed.
Tensions on Capitol Hill have been high since the Jan. 6 meltdown, and other odd episodes have contributed to an ongoing sense of unease in Washington.
A man crashed his car into a Capitol Police officer in April, killing him in an incident that appeared to be ideologically unrelated to the Jan. 6 attack. Last month, though, a North Carolina MAGA supporter stopped his truck in front of the Library of Congress and demanded airstrikes on the Taliban, claiming to carry a bomb. (Eventually, the man surrendered to authorities, and no one was hurt.)
Just days before the Justice for J6 Rally, Capitol Police officers apprehended a guy wielding a machete and driving a truck emblazoned with Nazi symbols who claimed to be “patrolling” South Capitol Street.
Despite the fact that the fencing around the Capitol was removed in July, it was re-erected in time for the Saturday extravaganza. Locals were anxious in the run-up to the demonstration, according to Charles Allen, a local legislator on the District of Columbia Council who covers an area that includes Capitol Hill.
“We saw not just an attack on our democracy but an attack on our neighborhood and our community on January 6,” Allen told The Daily Beast. “Groups that want to whitewash what happened that day, to try to make it out that somehow the people who tried to overturn our country’s elections and tried to run roughshod on our community… (are) a peaceful group… It runs counter to what we saw and lived through.”
To add to the confusion, the National Park Service reported that Braynard’s group, Look Ahead America, did not have a permission for a gathering on the National Mall, though it was unclear if the rally would stray too far into that land.
The Department of Homeland Security issued an alert bulletin in the weeks leading up to Justice for J6 that warned of “calls for violence on many online platforms related with… conspiracy theories on apparent election fraud and purported reinstatement…”
However, a top FBI official recently stated that the agency was not aware of any specific violent plots linked to the rally.
Moreover, despite worries of violence at the protests, numerous far-right groups whose members attended the Jan. 6 protests urged supporters to avoid Saturday’s rally, frequently claiming without evidence that it was a government plot to entrap Trump supporters.
Justice for J6 organizer Matt Braynard – with only a handful of rally-goers present – is being protected by a security guard with a singular air-pod. pic.twitter.com/zde7HavuuZ
— Zachary Petrizzo (@ZTPetrizzo) September 18, 2021
The far-right Proud Boys men’s club declared that none of its members would attend the demonstration and threatened to excommunicate any Proud Boys who attended. Ron Watkins, a far-right figure accused of being behind the QAnon conspiracy theory, advised his viewers to “do yourself a favor” and avoid Washington during the demonstration.
The Saturday rally also lacked the backing of many of the pro-Trump media, as well as Trump’s most vociferous congressional allies. While Trump embraced, at the very least, the notion of protesting outside Congress on January 6, even falsely claiming that he would meet with the demonstrators outside the Capitol, practically all right-wing personalities have either rejected or disregarded Braynard’s event.
While Braynard claimed that members of Congress will speak at the gathering, no lawmakers have openly committed to attending. (Congressional candidates Mike Collins and Joe Kent did speak on stage.)
Casey Crawford, 28, arrived from Idaho and compared the MAGA rallies to last summer’s anti-brutality marches.
“Would people have stopped rioting if George Floyd’s death wasn’t righted?” Crawford said. “They would have never stopped rioting. So why should we ever stop assembling either whenever justice isn’t served? That’s the whole point of America.”
Steve Rusciano, 58, of Georgetown, Delaware, said the continuing incarceration of defendants arrested on January 6 did not compel him to attend.
“I’m more here to support the United States,” Rusciano said. “I don’t like what’s going on in this country. Like, God forbid you say the Pledge of Allegiance or have a flag. It’s terrible.”