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Washington, DC is hunkered down in advance of a protest on behalf of people arrested for their alleged part in the US Capitol insurrection at the start of this year. The “Justice for J6” rally, organised by a onetime Trump campaign staffer, is ostensibly a protest against the “persecution” of the 600-plus people who have been taken into custody. It is seen by some as part of a broader right-wing attempt to rewrite the narrative of the attack on the Capitol as a mostly peaceful incident, with the participants reframed as simply naive citizens earnestly concerned about the 2020 election.
However, there are concerns that the protest could attract extremist groups with other, more nefarious grievances – including some of the violent actors who joined the insurrection itself. That said, experts in extremism have reported that organisations such as the Proud Boys are telling their members to stay away from the protest. The organisers insist it will be a peaceful event – but the US Capitol Police are taking no chances.
Follow live updates on the event below.
Members of Congress and staff were warned to avoid US Capitol on day of protest
Organisers banned attendees from bringing pro-Trump clothing or signs
Proud Boys warned members away from attending for fear of law enforcement entrapment
Rally ends with crowds less than 300 as journalists, law enforcement heavily outnumbered attendees
Dozens of counter-protesters gather in nearby Freedom Plaza
Four arrested on various charges as fears of violence abate
Friday 17 September 2021 16:41 , Andrew Naughtie
Welcome to The Independent’s coverage of the “Justice for J6” protest at the US Capitol. Stay tuned for updates.
What the “Justice for J6” rally could look like
Friday 17 September 2021 16:46 , Andrew Naughtie
Today’s protest has been put together by Matt Braynard, a right-wing activist who briefly worked on Donald Trump’s first presidential campaign, and who has made a name for himself advocating for the hundreds of people arrested since the insurrection. What has he been doing, and why?
Here’s an explainer.
Online ‘chatter’ similar to January 6
09:41 , Independent staff
Capitol Police Chief Tom Manger said at a news conference on Friday that it was difficult to say whether threats of violence for the Saturday event are credible, but “chatter” online and elsewhere has been similar to intelligence that was missed in January.
A permit for the protest allows 700 people. Manger said he believes the most likely possibility for for violence Saturday will involve clashes between the protesters and counter-protesters who are expected to show up.
Police are also preparing for the possibility that some demonstrators may arrive with weapons.
“We’re not going to tolerate violence, and we will not tolerate criminal behavior of any kind,” Manger said. “The American public and members of Congress have an expectation that we protect the Capitol. And I am confident that the plan we have in place will meet that expectation.”
Release of Capitol rioters?
11:51 , Independent staff
Matt Braynard, a supporter of Trump’s false claims that his 2020 election defeat was the result of widespread fraud who is organizing the rally, said he hoped it would lead to the release of people charged with taking part in the Capitol riot on 6 January.
“What we really want to do is put a spotlight on the mistreatment of these individuals and encourage federal legislators to demand the Department of Justice deliver real justice to these people. And that means, in many cases, dropping charges,” Braynard said in an interview on C-SPAN.
Social media posts discuss the possibility of violence and ‘kidnap’
13:32 , Helen.Elfer
A Homeland Security intelligence report said social media posts discussed using violence ahead of the protest, as well as the possibility of kidnap. One social media user “commented on kidnapping an identified member of Congress,” reports the Associated Press. The person wasn’t identified by name in the intelligence report. As Congress is out of session there will no lawmakers expected in the building today.
“Other references to violence identified on social media include discussions of using the rally to target local Jewish institutions, elected officials, and ‘liberal churches,’” the Homeland Security report said.
U.S. Capitol Police tweet picture of team readying for the day ahead
13:49 , Helen.Elfer
U.S. Capitol Police posted a picture on Twitter of officers preparing for the protest this morning and swearing-in with law enforcement partners.
Trump says his heart is with those ‘persecuted’ after the January 6 riots
14:04 , Helen.Elfer
In a short statement posted to his website on Thursday, Donald Trump sent a message of support to protesters at today’s event, saying: “Our hearts and minds are with the people being persecuted so unfairly relating to the January 6th protest concerning the Rigged Presidential Election. In addition to everything else, it has proven conclusively that we are a two-tiered system of justice. In the end, however, JUSTICE WILL PREVAIL!”
Mr Trump will not be attending the rally today, and is understood to be spending the day at a golf tournament in New Jersey instead. He reportedly told sources that he believed the event was a set-up aimed at damaging his reputation.
Smaller rallies set to take place around the country
14:40 , John Bowden
Look Ahead America, the pro-Trump organization behind the plans for Saturday’s rally at the Capitol, says on their website that they will host simultaneous rallies at the sites of the federal courthouse in Charlotte, North Carolina, and outside of a Department of Justice building in Seattle.
Nearly a dozen more events are set to be held next Saturday, the 25 of September, in other state capitals including Phoenix, Richmond, and Austin.
“The purpose of these peaceful protests is for patriotic Americans to educate their state legislators on the power they have to give instructions to their state’s federal legislators. We have composed a draft resolution a state legislature can pass to inform US Senators and Representative to oppose the tyrannical and inhumane treatment of the January 6 political prisoners who have been targeted by the Department of Justice and the FBI,” declared the group’s executive director, Matt Braynard, in a statement.
The group claims that it plans to add additional rally dates and locations to the list in the near future.
Rally attendees outnumbered by law enforcement, media minutes before start
16:48 , John Bowden
Moments before Saturday’s rally was set to begin, the Union Square area and surrounding blocks were swarmed with members of law enforcement, members of the media, and just over a hundred protesters in the area where the event was set to take place.
The lack of attendees suggests that most supporters of the 6 January attack on the Capitol heeded warnings on right wing sites including some Qanon conspiracy blogs suggesting that the event would either intentionally lead to the jailing of attendees or result in that occurring if violence broke out.
A number of counterprotesters were also in attendance, including one individual with a sign urging the House’s select commission on the Capitol attack to investigate a Pennsylvania state senator, Doug Mastriano, who is accused of spending thousands of dollars to bus attendees to the rally outside the White House (and subsequent mobbing of the Capitol) on 6 January.
Organizers seen enforcing anti-political message rule among attendees
17:06 , John Bowden
Look Ahead America’s executive director Matt Braynard, one of the Justice for J6 rally’s organizers, was seen milling among the small crowd of protesters and directing an individual to take down a flag in support of former President Donald Trump.
Rally invitations stressed that the event was meant to be non-political in nature and urged attendees not to bring flags, signs, or clothing in support of either Mr Trump or President Joe Biden.
Mr Braynard walked a significant distance flanked by security to direct the man to take his flag down, suggesting that organisers are being vigilant in enforcing the rule.
“Do not wear or bring political, candidate, or another organization’s paraphernalia. This includes clothing or banners supportive of President Trump or President Biden,” reads the group’s website.
17:45 , John Bowden
A rally attendee, Andres Bruce, told The Independent that the rally was in support of those who are accused of “non-violent” offenses on 6 January, including trespassing and entering the Capitol grounds unlawfully.
“If you committed a violent act, that’s a crime and that can’t be defended,” he said. “But, most of the ones, it’s trespassing, and you know, going into a controlled area, and other charges that aren’t violent in nature.”
“I think most of the people who came that day had no intention of disrupting an official proceeding,” Mr Bruce argued.
Far fewer than expected in attendance at Capitol
18:10 , Helen.Elfer
While the rally has officially begun, crowds are much smaller than had been anticipated. Around 700 people were expected to attend the event, but so far no more than 200 protesters have shown up. Scores of media and security personnel are on site too.
Attendees chant names of two rioters slain during Capitol attack
18:14 , John Bowden
One of the speakers at Saturday’s rally led rally attendees in a chant of the names of two women killed during January’s assault on the Capitol.
The small crowd, along with the female speaker, chanted the names of Ashli Babbitt, who is thought to have been shot by a police officer and killed while inside the building attempting to breach the House chambers, and Roseanne Boyland, who was trampled outside of the building as chaos ensued while hundreds of protesters attacked Capitol Police barricades.
Former Trump DHS official: GOP looks like ‘Tinder for terrorists'
18:25 , John Bowden
Miles Taylor, the former chief of staff to ex-Homeland Security chief John Kelly and author of the “Anonymous” op-ed that set Washington’s political sphere on fire in 2018, unloaded on the GOP, of which he remains a member, during an MSNBC interview as the Justice for J6 rally began.
In the interview, he said that he never thought he would see such widespread support for what he called “terrorists” who stormed the Capitol among his own party.
“Today, I think we look more like a Tinder for terrorists where radicals around the country can swipe right and match with an extremist politician who amplifies their views and then when they get into trouble and commit crime, tries to bail them out from prison,” Mr Taylor said. “So if you ask me right now we look a little bit less like the party of Lincoln and more like a Tinder for terrorists.”
“Let me be clear, these are not political prisoners,” he added of the jailed 6 January defendents. “These are criminals.”
Rally speaker reads note comparing treatment of rioters to Holocaust victims
18:34 , John Bowden
As the rally progressed on Saturday in front of a small audience of supporters and a larger group of assembled media, one female speaker read a note claiming to have been authored by the mother of a defendent currently awaiting trial for their actions on 6 January.
The note’s most shocking line indefensibly likened the treatment of accused rioters to victims of the Holocaust, which the author justified by claiming that the accused persons did not have access to shaving equipment or haircuts.
“This reminds me of how the Jewish people were treated by the Nazis,” the female speaker said, reading from the note.
The woman identified herself as “Kelly” and as the girlfriend of Jonathan Mellis, a man accused of attacking Capitol Police officers with a stick or other blunt weapon of some kind during the 6 January attack.
Rally concludes less than two hours after beginning
18:38 , John Bowden
Saturday’s rally on the grounds of the Capitol ended with little fanfare and none of the violence feared by law enforcement and residents of DC ahead of the event, likely due in no small part to the small crowd size and overwhelming police presence.
Videos showed rallygoers walking calmly out of the Union Square venue as counterprotesters blared the YG & Nipsey Hussle hit, “FDT (F*ck Donald Trump).
Democrats hammer GOP for celebration of ‘cop-killers'
19:28 , John Bowden
Democratic lawmakers took to Twitter on Saturday to condemn the Justice for J6 rally as well as their Republican counterparts who in many cases spread some of the same conspiracy theories about the 2020 election that drove those at the Capitol on 6 January.
Rep Hakeem Jeffries, a close ally of Speaker Nancy Pelosi and chair of the House Democratic Caucus, noted that no members of House GOP leadership had condemned the rally’s participants: “Today’s hateful rally on Capitol Hill is a celebration of cop killers and domestic terrorists,” he added.
Rep Eric Swalwell, a congressman on the Intelligence and Homeland Security panels, contended that the rallies had the blessing of GOP House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy.
Organiser clashes with MSNBC anchor over 6 January characterisation
20:05 , John Bowden
Matthew Braynard argued with MSNBC’s Yasmin Vossoughian on Saturday regarding whether pro-Trump rioters had “stormed” the Capitol on the day of 6 January, claiming that police had instead ushered the mob inside by holding the doors of the Capitol open.
“So these are people who unlawfully stormed the Capitol," Ms Vossoughian said, before Mr Braynard interjected.
"Storming is a characterisation, that's your characterisation, it’s not mine," he said, before adding that "In many cases they walked through a door held open by a Capitol police officer."
Videos uncovered by the New York Post and other news outlets have shown officers directing rioters out of the building on the day of 6 January by holding the doors open for them to leave after much of the violence had died down, but Capitol Police have maintained since the day of the attack that they only abandoned positions after heavily outnumbered officers became overwhelmed and threatened with or experiencing violence.
Attendee tells NBC she’d celebrate ‘nuclear bomb’ being dropped on Capitol
20:12 , John Bowden
A paralegal from Georgia who argued that she did not support the mob that stormed the Capitol but nevertheless was at the rally in support of them on Saturday told NBC News that she wanted to see the US Capitol destroyed in a nuclear blast.
“If a nuclear bomb dropped on that Capitol building,” said 58-year-old Lori Smith, “I would celebrate.”
The woman went on to argue that the officer who shot Ashli Babbitt, a woman who was killed while allegedly attempting to breach the House chamber with lawmakers inside, should be charged in a manner similar to Derek Chauvin, the former officer convicted of killing George Floyd.
Capitol Police announced that the officer, who recently revealed his identity publicly as Lt. Michael Byrd, would not face disciplinary action.
Dozens attend small counter-rally in Freedom Plaza
20:21 , John Bowden
Several dozen protesters opposed to the messages of leniency for the 6 January rioters being spread nearby at Union Square rallied at Freedom Plaza early Saturday afternoon as the Justice for J6 rally concluded.
Organizers brought homemade riot shields and had helmets nearby in case violence broke out between the two groups of demonstraters, but no signs of that violence actually occurring could be seen as attendees mostly played music and talked amongst themselves.
Stage taken down, attendees, media, law enforcement leave
20:34 , John Bowden
The last remnants of the Justice for J6 rally were already disappearing mid-afternoon on Saturday as a few stragglers remained behind to debate with counter-protesters who also attended.
A massive law enforcement presence and dozens of reporters also were seen clearing the area as the event concluded and the stage was torn down, leaving only the Capitol fencing as a reminder of the rally.
Capitol Police say four arrested on various charges, no violence
20:40 , John Bowden
Four people were arrested around Washington in apparent connection with the events of the Justice for J6 rally on Saturday, according to US Capitol Police.
Two people were arrested after being discovered with felony warrants out of Texas, including one for possession of a firearm. It wasn’t clear if that individual had a firearm or any weapons on them at the time of their arrest on Saturday.
Officers detained and arrested a man just after noon for a weapons violation, finding that he had a knife on Capitol grounds.
Another man was arrested on Saturday in the crowd after being spotted with a handgun, which like knives are illegal on Capitol grounds and strictly regulated around the District of Columbia. Police said it wasn’t clear whether he was an attendee or counter-protester when he was arrested.
Democratic Party leaders largely shrug off protest
21:38 , John Bowden
As of late Saturday afternoon neither of the two top House Democrats, Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, had tweeted or released any statements on their website regarding the day’s non-event on the Capitol grounds.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer was in a similar position, having not tweeted at all on Saturday and releasing no statements on his website.
Only Rep Hakeem Jeffries, the head of the Democratic House caucus, tweeted his own disgust at the protesters earlier in the day for hosting what he called a “celebration of cop killers and domestic terrorists.”
Two GOP congressional hopefuls among rally speakers
21:53 , John Bowden
Two Republicans hoping to make their own entrance into the Capitol in a calmer fashion than did the rioters on 6 January spoke at Saturday’s rally in Union Square.
Joe Kent, a GOP candidate endorsed by former President Donald Trump in his bid to unseat Rep Jaime Herrera Beutler, a Republican who broke ranks and supported Mr Trump’s impeachment, claimed in a speech that the constitutional rights of the 6 January accused were being violated.
Mike Collins, a Republican running to replace Rep Jody Hice as he seeks to unseat the Georgia Secretary of State who refused to entertain Mr Trump’s demands for him to stop counting votes in the state during last year’s election, also spoke at the rally and demanded that the Justice Department begin trying those in custody for offenses related to 6 January.
The attendance and speeches delivered by the two men skewed sharply from the stated purpose of the rally, which organizers including Matt Braynard, who retweeted both the candidates’ speeches, said would be non-partisan.
Organiser claims 500 attended Justice for J6 rally
21:57 , John Bowden
Matt Braynard, executive director of Look Ahead America and the organiser of Saturday’s sparsely-attended rally at Union Square, claimed on Twitter after its conclusion that 500 people had attended the rally in support of jailed 6 January rioters.
Estimates from reporters on the ground put the true number of attendees far lower, likely closer to 200. Some even put the number of actual supporters as low as a few dozen.
No matter the true number, protesters were seen being swarmed by members of the press on multiple occasions as they were heavily outnumbered by both media and law enforcement personnel.
Donald Trump Jr. mocks rally attendees
22:11 , John Bowden
Donald Trump Jr, the former president’s eldest son and frequent campaign surrogate, struck a mocking tone as he retweeted a photo of a group of men at Saturday’s rally that many on social media pointed out looked suspiciously likely plainclothes members of law enforcement.
Retweeting the image of several young men all wearing dark sunglasses and congregating in a group at the rally in shorts and t-shirts, Mr Trump Jr remarked: “They almost fooled the 2 non-feds in attendance.”
Poor attendance at ‘Justice for J6’ rally indicates Trump’s ‘waning influence’, says House Dem
22:20 , John Bowden
Rep Ted Lieu, a vocal critic of the former president who sits on the House Judiciary Committee, tweeted on Saturday that the small showing at the protest in support of 6 January rioters was a sign that former President Donald Trump’s grip on the GOP was loosening.
Rally attendees expressed dismay to news outlets that more did not show up in support of the protest, including members of Congress who have spoken out in support of the issue.