“We are not going to tolerate violence”
U.S. Capitol Police Chief Tom Manger speaks during a press conference at the Capitol in Washington, DC on September 17, 2021 to discuss preparations for the protest scheduled for September 18.
Saul Loeb | AFP | Getty Images
Washington and state capitals across the country braced for “Justice for J6” protests on Saturday morning to draw attention to what organizers say is the unfair treatment of those indicted in the January 6 riot. at the Capitol.
In the nation’s capital, authorities erected fences around the Capitol and the Supreme Court, held “tabletop” rehearsals to plan for the fight against violence, and promised police would be visible throughout the city.
“We are not going to condone violence,” US Capitol Police Chief Tom Manger said at a joint press conference with the Washington Metropolitan Police Department on Friday. “We will not tolerate any criminal behavior of any kind.”
More than 600 people have been arrested in the eight-plus months since the attack, more than 50 of whom have pleaded guilty to various federal crimes and six have been convicted by the courts, according to the Justice Department.
As they were unprepared for the Jan.6 assault on Capitol Hill, police said, they are ready to prevent and respond to illegal activity on Saturday – whether carried out by primary protesters or counter-demonstrators.
Protest organizer Matt Braynard speaks as protesters gather for the “Justice for J6” rally in Washington, DC on September 18, 2021 in support of pro-Trump rioters who ransacked the U.S. Capitol January 6, 2021.
Eric Baradat | AFP | Getty Images
Matt Braynard, executive director of Look Ahead America and organizer of the event, wrote on Twitter that he expects “a 100% peaceful event in support of non-violent offenders… who have been charged.”
Still, the potential for chaos made the rally politically toxic to leading Republicans, many of whom maintain the lie at the heart of the assault on Capitol Hill: Former President Donald Trump’s defeat was the result of election rigging. .
Trump, who was impeached by the House in January for his role in inciting violence, said Thursday that rioters had been “persecuted” by the Justice Department.
“Our hearts and minds are with those so unjustly persecuted in connection with the January 6 protest over the rigged presidential election,” Trump said in a statement. “On top of everything else, it has conclusively proven that we are a two-tier justice system. Ultimately, however, JUSTICE WILL PREVAIL!”
But the former president, who was acquitted by the Senate, and other Republican officials are keeping their distance from the rallies, which are putting law enforcement on high alert for a repeat of the Jan.6 melee. Neither he nor any member of Congress is expected to attend the main protest in Washington.
Trump called the whole affair a “setup” for more arrests and criminal charges, a message echoed in extremist online forums that were the hubs of the Jan.6 insurgency. As a result, numbers for Saturday’s rally could be lower than the initial protest turned attack.
A protester carrying an American flag walks past police-in-training during a rally in support of defendants prosecuted in the January 6 attack on the United States Capitol in Washington, DC, United States, September 18 2021.
Lea Millis | Reuters
The meeting point in Washington is Union Square, a small park just west and prominent in the Capitol. Organizers have posted rules on the website of Look Ahead America, the group sponsoring the protests. They include: “traveling in a group”, “not wearing or bringing political, candidate or other organization paraphernalia” and “being respectful to our security team and law enforcement”.
The Justice Department said about 140 police officers – from the Capitol Police Force and the Washington Metropolitan Police Department – were assaulted in January.
Metropolitan Police Chief Robert Contee said on Friday that “No Gun Zone” signs had been placed around the protest site and recalled that it was illegal to bring a gun within 300 meters of such an area.
“District gun laws will be enforced,” he told reporters.
But gun restrictions vary by jurisdiction, and satellite protests are planned at state houses and federal buildings in 17 states, according to Look Ahead America.
As for the United States Capitol, Manger said he was focusing on protecting free speech and allowing legal protests.
Capitol Police said the National Guard would be available to help secure the perimeter of the Capitol if needed, but would not be deployed otherwise.
“We have a solid plan in place to ensure this remains peaceful,” Manger said, adding that officers would be ready to respond “if violence occurs”.