Heavy police presence as protesters flock to Washington rally
WASHINGTON (AP) – The fence around the Capitol has been raised. The District of Columbia Police Department is ready. The United States Capitol Police have requested assistance from nearby law enforcement agencies, including the National Guard.
Capitol police took no risk for Saturday’s rally on Capitol Hill in support of rioters jailed after the violent January 6 insurgency. They are working to avoid a repeat of the pre-inauguration attack.
An hour before the start of the event, as music began to blast through the speakers, the few demonstrators on site were largely outnumbered by the media and a heavy police presence.
A permit for the protest allows 700 people, but police were concerned about violent protesters and counter-protesters. Police were also preparing for the possibility that some protesters would arrive with weapons, although backpacks have been allowed in the area and there are no checkpoints.
Police warned protesters in advance that no weapons were allowed and that they should not swim in the reflective pools.
As of Saturday morning, police were already working to separate the handful of Trump supporters and counter-protesters who had arrived hours before the rally began. Law enforcement officers prepared in a staging area as large dump trucks and cement barricades lined the streets around the Capitol, outside the fenced area.
Persistent attempts to rewrite the narrative of the violence and panic of January 6, and the growing volatility behind the lie that the 2020 election was stolen, made it impossible to predict what might happen this weekend. After all, law enforcement didn’t expect a free speech protest until the day Trump supporters stormed the Capitol in an attempt to disrupt Joe Biden’s certification of victory. .
Capitol Police Chief Tom Manger told a press conference on Friday that it was difficult to say whether threats of violence at the event were credible, but “gossip” online and elsewhere was similar to missing information in January.
The rally, hosted by former Trump campaign member Matt Braynard, aims to support those detained after the Jan.6 uprising – about 63 people being held behind bars of the more than 600 indicted in the deadly riot. This is just the latest attempt to downplay and deny the January violence.
Intelligence gathered before the rally suggests that extremist groups such as the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers will show up. But some prominent members of the groups swore they weren’t going and told others not to attend. Far-right online chatter has been generally tamed, with Republican lawmakers downplaying the event.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has approved a request that approximately 100 members of the DC National Guard be stationed at a town armory near the Capitol, to be called in as needed as backup. They will be without firearms, but will be equipped with batons and protective vests for self-defense.
Congress is out of session and no lawmakers were to be in the building on Saturday. Biden was in Delaware for the weekend.
Many commentators on online platforms like Telegram, popular with the far right, disavowed the rally, saying they believed law enforcement was promoting the event to trap Trump supporters. Some urged their supporters not to attend an event they said was secretly organized by the FBI.
At the same time, however, some commentators continued to promote the planned gatherings in cities and state capitals across the country.
Meanwhile, Donald Trump is still using his platform as the GOP’s most popular leader to express sympathy for those arrested and continue to spread election misinformation, stepping up his attacks as the week goes on.
The Associated Press examined hundreds of court and jail records for Capitol Riot defendants to find out how many were being held and found about 63 inmates in federal custody awaiting trial or sentencing hearings. Federal authorities are still on the lookout for other suspects who may also end up behind bars.
At least 30 are imprisoned in Washington. The others are locked up in establishments across the country. They said they were being treated unfairly, and one defendant said he was beaten.
Federal authorities have identified several of those detained as leaders, members or associates of extremist groups, including nine accused linked to the Proud Boys and three linked to the anti-government Oath Keepers. Dozens of people are accused of plotting to organize coordinated attacks on the Capitol to prevent Congress from certifying the Electoral College vote of 2020, one of the most serious charges.
Some jailed defendants are accused of assaulting police officers, others of uttering violent threats. A few were released after their arrest but subsequently detained again on charges of violating the conditions of release.
The United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit has set standards that judges must apply in deciding whether or not to jail an accused of the Capitol Riot. A three-judge panel of the appeals court ruled in March that rioters accused of assaulting officers, smashing windows, doors and barricades, or playing a leading role in the attack were in “a different category of dangerousness “from those who simply encouraged violence or entered the building after it was breached.
But it is not known how the cases of the majority of those charged will end. A California woman who joined the crowd on Friday avoided jail time when a federal judge sentenced her to probation, a result that fits an early pattern in the January 6 riot lawsuits.
Associated Press editors Michael Kunzelman, Mary Clare Jalonick, Jacques Billeaud, David Klepper, Lisa Mascaro, Jake Bleiberg, Amanda Seitz, Nathan Ellgren and Robert Burns contributed to this report.