The new fencing around the Capitol proved unnecessary Saturday.
A rally in support of some of the people accused of taking part in the Capitol riot this past January went off without anyone climbing walls or breaking into a chamber of Congress. Not that there would have been much chance of things getting out of hand once again: DC activated its entire police force, the Capitol Police were everywhere, and police from other jurisdictions stood on guard in riot gear behind the “bike rack” barriers that divided the rally from the ducks in the Capitol reflecting pool.
The world’s press corps was likewise determined to not get caught with its pants down if things went awry. Crews from outlets domestic and foreign filled Union Square between the Mall and the Capitol Grounds, rushing after anyone who carried a flag or a sign. One woman with an upside-down American flag on a red pole found herself surrounded by dozens of representatives of the free press.
The only thing missing was enough rally-goers for all of us on assignment to interview. A woman wearing one of the red shirts that indicated volunteers for the group Look Ahead America, which organized the rally, drew a remarkable number of cameras and microphones when she strode up the lawn with a US flag slung over her shoulder. Two guys carrying flags with a bunch of writing on them about 1776 (a frequent sight on January 6) will likely be seen on TV screens from Lyon to Lima.
Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start the Fire,” a sort of all-purpose alibi for Baby Boomers, played three times before Look Ahead America honcho Matt Braynard appeared behind the lucite lectern to kick off the event. He praised the turnout—I estimated about 100 attendees, though it was difficult to discern who was there to support the “political prisoners,” as many in the crowd viewed the accused, and who was there to get some tape for the news. He jokingly asked the people there if they’d had their wrists measured for handcuffs by the FBI yet. He asked for a round of applause for the cops. There was a prayer from Braynard’s friend Ned, a rendition of the National Anthem whose introduction was interrupted by a shirtless guy who announced he was the “master of the universe,” and then he introduced his cohost, the pro-Trump boxer and former Biggest Loser cast member Cara Castronuova.
Castronuova blamed the media for telling people not to come (do we get any credit for filling out the field ourselves?) and read a letter she said was from Nicole Reffitt, writing on behalf of her husband, Guy Reffitt, who was a member of the Three Percenters militia group when he was arrested at home in Texas following the riot. The letter bemoaned conditions in the DC Jail, where Nicole Reffitt said inmates weren’t allowed to get haircuts or to shave, a situation Castronuova likened to Jews in the Holocaust. She asked the crowd to chant the names of Ashli Babbitt, who was shot by a Capitol Police officer as she attempted to step through part of a door near the House Chamber during the riot, and Rosanne Boyland, who may have been trampled by fellow rioters. She lambasted the “false narrative of J6 being an insurrection” and said “We the people are going nowhere.”
Braynard’s previous events in DC featured members of Congress including Matt Gaetz, Marjorie Taylor Greene, Paul Gosar, and Louie Gohmert. None were in attendance Saturday, a state of affairs Braynard blamed on some members of Congress being more afraid of GOP leadership than the people who sent them to Washington. He quickly said he meant that peacefully. The headline speakers were Mike Collins, a Republican running for Congress in Georgia, and Joe Kent, who’s challenging GOP Representative Jaime Herrera Beutler in Washington state. Collins said DC was on fire in 2020 (it was not) and no one went to jail. Kent said it was “banana republic stuff” to hold people for their politics. Braynard led a chant of “USA” after Kent spoke.
Braynard then delivered a keynote, contrasting what he saw as the disparate treatment of members of Congress like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who accompanied protesters to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office in 2018 (51 were arrested) and many of the people accused of crimes on January 6, who he portrayed as nonviolent. Members of the media, he said, should join him in his call for prosecutors to release all the footage they’ve gathered of the day. He inveighed against people on the left who portrayed this rally as Insurrection 2.0 and “armchair patriots on the right” who discouraged conservatives from coming. He invoked Gandhi and MLK. The violence on January 6 “was stupid, it was wrong,” he said. He urged people to join him in becoming “America First” community organizers, via his group. He talked a lot about an interview he did with MSNBC. He led another round of applause for cops.
Braynard dismissed the crowd, telling them DC is a “historically pretty dangerous city” and urged them to stay together in groups as they made their way out. He promised a surprise musical selection. First, we heard Linkin Park’s “In the End.” And then, once more, we heard “We Didn’t Start the Fire.”