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Eight months after a pro-Trump mob violently breached the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, plans for another right-wing rally in Washington this weekend have put law enforcement officials on edge.
But this time around, Capitol Police Chief Tom Manger assured reporters Friday that “we’re not taking any chances.”
Manger and other members of the Capitol Police Department’s top brass appeared with local officials at a press conference to discuss security preparations for the upcoming “Justice for J6” rally, which is scheduled to take place on Capitol grounds this Saturday. The event is being organized by Matt Braynard, a former staffer for Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign and is intended to show support for the hundreds of people who have been arrested in connection with the storming of the Capitol on Jan. 6.
“Over the last eight months, the leadership of the U.S. Capitol department has been preparing, working to ensure we don’t have a repeat of January 6,” said Manger, who was appointed to lead the department in July. “We have a strong plan in place to ensure that it remains peaceful, and that if violence does occur that we can stop it as quickly as possible.”
Capitol Police have taken a number of steps to ramp up security ahead of the Saturday afternoon rally, including reinstalling a fence around the perimeter of the Capitol. The D.C. Metropolitan Police Department has also activated its entire force for Saturday and has announced plans to close several streets in the city during the rally.
Yahoo News reported Friday that the Department of Homeland Security has warned law enforcement agencies about the potential for violence, citing “a small number of recent online threats.” However, as of Thursday, DHS said it was not aware of “a specific or credible plot associated with the event.”
Manger also acknowledged that “there have been some threats of violence associated with the event tomorrow.”
Though he admitted that it’s not clear whether any of those threats are serious, Manger said “we would be foolish not to take seriously the intelligence that we have at our disposal.”
Manger acknowledged that there was plenty of chatter about possible violence at the Capitol leading up to Jan. 6, and “many of those threats turned out to be credible.”
Investigations conducted in the aftermath of Jan. 6 have revealed that the Capitol Police were woefully unprepared for the attack on Congress, despite the existence of public social media posts and other intelligence suggesting that supporters of former President Donald Trump, including members of violent extremist groups, were planning to storm the Capitol in hopes of overturning the results of the 2020 election.
At least four people died as a result of the Jan. 6 insurrection, in addition to a Capitol Police officer who suffered strokes and died of natural causes one day after clashing with rioters. More than 140 police officers who responded to the attack were injured while defending the Capitol, four of whom have since died by suicide.
The organizers for Saturday's rally have obtained a permit for 700 attendees, though it’s unclear if that many people will show up. Manger noted that intelligence reports and social media posts have offered conflicting messages about whether members of far-right extremist groups like the Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers, whose associates face some of the most serious Jan. 6-related charges, are planning to attend the rally. He said his biggest concern stems from a number of groups planning counterprotests, and the potential for violent clashes between Justice for J6 rallygoers and their opponents.
“In my opinion that’s the most likely scenario for violence,” said Manger, adding that the Metropolitan Police will be responsible for keeping counterprotesters away from the rally.
Braynard, the former Trump campaign staffer who heads the group organizing the “Justice for J6” rally, has promised that Saturday’s event will be peaceful and insisted that “we aren’t protesting on behalf of those who did anything violent or destructive.”
But the rally is part of an effort by some on the right, including Trump, to downplay the seriousness of the attack by portraying those arrested for breaching the Capitol as “political prisoners” whose only crime is supporting the former president.
“Our hearts and minds are with the people being persecuted so unfairly relating to the January 6th protest concerning the Rigged Presidential Election,” Trump said in a statement on Thursday. “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!”
In reality, a report by the Guardian in May found that at least 70 percent of those charged in connection to the riot were released while awaiting trial — a much higher rate than the 25 percent of federal defendants who typically receive pretrial release.
Joe Kent, a Trump-backed GOP congressional candidate from Washington state who is slated to speak at the rally, echoed those claims on Twitter.
“I’m speaking at the rally for the J6 political prisoners tomorrow in DC for one reason,” he tweeted on Friday. “Constitutional rights are being denied to hundreds of Americans due to their political affiliation & a narrative based on lies.”
Kent is running as a challenger to GOP Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Wash., who voted to impeach Trump for inciting the Jan. 6 insurrection. So far, just he and one other Republican candidate, Mike Collins of Georgia, have been confirmed as speakers for the event.
Manger said that the aggressive security measures taken ahead of Saturday represent a “new normal” in terms of how the Capitol Police and its partners share and respond to such threats.
“This is as good a time as any to practice this regional model where we get help from neighboring agencies to prepare for big events,” he said, clarifying that the need for such security measures isn’t based on the the number of people expected to attend a particular protest or rally, but rather “the nature of event and intelligence associated with it.”
At the press conference on Friday, Yogananda Pittman, the Capitol Police assistant chief of police for protective and intelligence operations, told reporters that, since January, the department has made “several challenging yet critical changes” to its intelligence operations to ensure better sharing of information among law enforcement partners. Sean Gallagher, acting assistant chief for uniformed operations, added that the Capitol Police and partner agencies have been planning for the Saturday rally for the last several weeks, and all officers have received detailed briefings about the potential for violence.
“Our officers are ready,” Gallagher said.
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