Activists plan to hold a “#JusticeforJ6″ rally on Saturday to support people accused of taking part in the riot at the Capitol this past January. The prospect has raised tensions in a city still reeling from the January assault on the Capitol. Here’s what you need to know about it:
Who’s organizing it?
A group called Look Ahead America, which a former Trump campaign official named Matt Braynard heads. His group previously organized two smaller events in DC in July: one in front of the Justice Department and another at the DC Jail. That’s where some people accused of taking part in the January 6 invasion of the Capitol are being held.
What do they want?
Braynard and his group consider people facing charges from the riot to be “political prisoners” and, like many on the right, views Ashli Babbitt, who got shot while trying to climb through an opening in a door in the Capitol, to be a martyr. Braynard sent a letter to the US Department of Justice earlier this year asking it to drop all charges against “non-violent” protesters, calling their prosecution “politically motivated” and claiming that the majority of people who invaded the Capitol “may have been naive, but were not acting maliciously.”
Where will it take place?
Astonishingly…the Capitol! Union Square, just off Third Street, Northwest, in front of the Capitol Reflecting Pool.
They actually got a permit for this?
Yep. The US Capitol Police won’t release the permit or answer any questions about it, but it has said it’s planning for the rally, which is scheduled to take place in Union Square, in front of the Capitol’s reflecting pool. The Washington Post reported that Braynard estimated 700 people will attend the rally. Reached by phone, Braynard said he has “no way of knowing” how many people will attend. “The left wants to intimidate us by putting up fencing,” he says. On the right, “dilettante pretenders” are trying to push attendance down, he says, referring to the common sentiment expressed in right-wing chats and forums that the rally is some sort of sting by the feds.
Who will speak?
The two main speakers are Joe Kent, who’s challenging GOP Representative Jaime Herrera Beutler in Washington state, and Mike Collins, a Republican running for Congress in Georgia. Braynard will host alongside Cara Castronuova, a pro-Trump boxer who appeared on season 11 of The Biggest Loser and founded a group called Citizens Against Political Persecution. Family members of people held on January 6 charges will likely speak, Braynard says.
Members of Congress including Matt Gaetz, Marjorie Taylor Greene, Paul Gosar, and Louie Gohmert attended Look Ahead America’s DC events in July. Greene and North Carolina Representative Madison Cawthorn have said they don’t plan to attend, and neither do Gohmert and Colorado Representative Lauren Boebert; none of the other members’ offices have yet responded to queries from Washingtonian about whether they plan to attend or speak. What about Trumpworld? The Daily Beast reported late last month the former President’s circle has been silent about the event so far. Braynard says “we’ve had some mighty allies” but wouldn’t say whether he’s been in touch with anyone in Trump’s ambit: “We will never disclose our conversations we’ve had.”
How will this be different from the pro-Trump rallies held in DC after Trump lost the election?
Braynard intends for this event to focus solely on the January 6 arrestees. In a video, he asks attendees not to bring clothing, signs, or flags that proclaim anything other than concern for people arrested over their alleged actions that day. That means nothing about specific candidates or the outcome of the 2020 election, he says, asking for “pure patriotism” instead.
Will groups like the Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers be in attendance?
Signs mostly point to no, though Capitol Police intelligence reportedly indicates that the Proud Boys and the neo-Nazi group White Lives Matter are promoting the event, and New York City-based Proud Boy Randy Ireland has called for members of his group to attend, saying in Portland that Babbitt’s mother plans to attend and that she “wants to feel safe.” In public posts, however, the Proud Boys organization has discouraged members from attending, calling the event a “guaranteed disaster.”
Are there other rallies planned elsewhere?
Look Ahead America plans events in North Carolina and Washington state on the same day and more than a dozen others in coming weeks.
What steps are police taking to protect the Capitol and beyond?
The US Capitol Police confirmed earlier reports on Monday and said it has authorized the reinstallation of fencing that went up around the Capitol and has issued an emergency declaration that will allow it to deputize officers from other police forces. The DC police will be fully activated on Friday and Saturday and promise an “increased presence around the city where demonstrations will be taking place.” The Capitol Police tell Washingtonian the fencing footprint will occupy the same area it did this past spring. Metro plans normal service, a spokesperson tells Washingtonian, and says the Metro Transit Police Department “will have an increased presence in the system to ensure public safety, as is routine for large-scale events in the region.”
City officials are concerned that some attendees may bring guns, which would be illegal in the District, the Washington Post reports. Officials have offered signs to businesses nearby that say guns aren’t allowed inside.
Braynard has advised attendees to be “respectful and kind” to police and advises attendees to travel in groups until they leave DC or get to their hotels. “Numbers will keep you safe,” he said in a video.
Should you go down?
Goodness gracious, no. Even if this event goes well, the combination of riled-up Trump fans and Washingtonians who’ve put up with unwelcome visitors since “Pizzagate” is not a happy one. Pro-Trump rallies this past November and December were notable for organized violence by members of the Proud Boys, but there were plenty of incidents like a normie-looking Trump fan who kicked a kid on a bike. Roll Call reported last week that police intelligence had picked up some chatter about potential counterprotests, which Washingtonian has so far been unable to confirm, though the group Shut Down DC has encouraged people to call hotels and urge them not to host anyone coming for the rally, and there’s talk of a counterprogramming type of gathering at Freedom Plaza, about a mile and a half south of Union Square. The National Park Service has not received any permit applications for a counterprotest at Freedom Plaza or any other location, spokesperson Mike Litterst tells Washingtonian.
Our advice remains not to go: Stay home, go to the H Street Festival, or check out the new painting that will wrap the Hirshhorn. You won’t change anyone’s mind at this thing, and, unlike the people attending, you have the glorious option of moving on with your life.