The security fencing around the U.S. Capitol building has gone back up, and members of Congress have sounded off about their fears of potential violence, all in anticipation of Saturday’s far-right “Justice for J6” protest in Washington, D.C., ostensibly a march to support the several hundred people currently facing federal prosecution for their roles in the insurrection.
However, the likelihood of any kind of significant outburst by Donald Trump’s most ardent followers is so low this time around that residents have relatively little to fear. In contrast to Jan. 6, there has been no promotion of the protest by Trump or his circle, and no congressional Republicans appear likely to attend—so consequently, there is very little buzz about it in right-wing circles. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) expects only 700 or so people to attend, in contrast to the tens of thousands who showed up the first week of January.
Nonetheless, D.C.’s Metropolitan Police Department will activate its entire force for that day, and specialized riot officers have been placed on standby. MPD officers will have “an increased presence around the city where demonstrations will be taking place and will be prepared to make street closures for public safety,” according to a spokesperson.
Capitol Police said Monday they had issued an emergency declaration that will go into effect at the start of the rally, one that allows Capitol Police leaders to deputize outside law enforcement officers. The agency also has obtained additional equipment and created an incident response plan.
The event creating all this upheaval is the brainchild of a former Trump campaign official named Matt Braynard, who has declared that 700 or so people charged in the Jan. 6 insurrection are “political prisoners.”
Braynard announced the event on the podcast of former Trump adviser Steve Bannon, saying: “We’re going back to the Capitol, right where it started. And it’s going to be huge … We’re going to push back on the phony narrative that there was an insurrection.”
His organization, Look Ahead America, is discouraging would-be rallygoers from signs related to the election or any candidate, or wearing “MAGA gear.”
“This rally is about protesting the treatment of these political prisoners. That has nothing to do with any candidate, nothing to do with the election,” Braynard said. “It’s not a pro-Trump rally, an anti-Trump rally. It’s not a pro or anti-Biden rally. It’s not political in that way and we don’t anything to distract from that.”
DHS spokesperson Melissa Smislova told NBC News that the agency has learned via social media that in addition to the Washington rally, similar protests are planned in other cities across the country. She said that in comparison to the “tens of thousands” who came out for the Jan. 6 “Stop the Steal” event, DHS expects a much smaller turnout this weekend. She said the agency has been tracking publicly available information on protesters, U.S. Park Police permit applications for large gatherings, and hotel reservations across the U.S. in order to gauge the response.
Some members of Congress have spoken out. “Given the violent tendencies of the right-wing extremists who plan to attend, it is obvious that this rally poses a threat to the Capitol, those who work here, and the law enforcement officers charged with protecting our democracy,” Democrats Tim Ryan of Ohio and Rosa DeLaura said in a joint statement. “We are pleased that the Capitol Police, in coordination with other law enforcement agencies, appear to have developed a clear plan—based on careful intelligence analysis—to maintain order and protect public safety.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was even more scathing: “And now these people are coming back to praise the people who were out to kill, out to kill members of Congress, successfully causing the deaths—‘successfully’ is not the word, but that’s the word, because it’s what they set out to do—of our law enforcement,” Pelosi told reporters Wednesday morning.
When a reporter asked Republican House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy whether any GOP members would be making speeches on Saturday, as they did at the Jan. 6 rallies, he responded: “I don’t think anyone is.”
One of the chief lingering concerns among intelligence experts and law enforcement officials is the fact that the person who placed two pipe bombs in the vicinity of the Capitol the night of Jan. 5 has never been identified. Most leads have so far some up dry, and investigators working on the case reportedly have been unable to ascertain whether the suspect is a man or a woman.
Last week, the FBI released grainy surveillance video of the person they believe left the bombs in the hope of attracting new leads and information. The agency says the person wore a backpack over a gray hooded sweatshirt and had a face mask, as well as distinctive Nike Air Max Speed Turf sneakers in yellow, black, and gray.
The bombs—each about 1 foot long with end caps and wiring that appeared to be attached to a timer—were placed outside the headquarters of the Republican and Democratic national committees between 7:30 PM and 8:30 PM on the night before the insurrection. They were not located by law enforcement until the next day, at about the same time the Capitol came under siege by the mob.
The Sept. 18 event could attract a lone-wolf actor along similar lines. But it’s also certain that it will not create the kind of mob scene that engendered the January violence. Extremism analyst Mike Rotchschild, who monitors far-right groups’ activities online, notes that this time around, “the chatter isn’t there. Influencers who egged on the MAGA faithful then are waving them off now. People will show up, and it bears watching – but this isn’t going to be Insurrection 2.0.”
As terrorism analyst Jared Holt observes, the rhetoric around the event is largely hyperbolic, and it is expected to draw neither a large nor a violent crowd capable of another Capitol siege. However, it could be significant in the way that “it lays patchwork or groundwork for those kinds of events to happen in the future in D.C., or maybe in state capitols going forward.”
One of the ways it can set a foundation is by providing openings for similar forms of insurrectionist violence elsewhere, such as at state Capitol buildings, as DHS’ assessment warned. Clint Watts, a former Joint Terrorism Task Force member, told MSNBC that he was far more concerned about the spread of these events to state-level venues than with the Sept. 18 rally itself.
“There will be, I’m sure, some who show up there, but I don’t think it will be a Jan. 6 moment. What I’m much more worried about, though, is state Capitols and local municipal buildings,” he said.
“They’re much less defended, and in some discussion spaces you hear—it may be just a small number of people, but you hear people talking about going to rallies closer to home, in up to 10 different states. Those could be particularly troubling for those with smaller law enforcement, and don’t have the resources like we have at the nation’s capital.”
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