WASHINGTON – Since a pro-Trump mob attacked the Capitol on January 6, Republicans have tried to divert national conversation from that dark and violent day and onto what they say are the problems of the Biden administration: a troubled withdrawal from Afghanistan, an overtaxed southern border and rising inflation.
Next, a former campaign agent for President Donald J. Trump announced that he was organizing hundreds of protesters on Saturday to return to Capitol Hill for a rally in support of those charged in connection with the fatal assault, which has made dozens of bloody officers.
Bad memories of the violence came back. Capitol Police said they were reinstalling a security fence around the complex and were aware of “online chatter” from extremist groups. And many Republican lawmakers, gritting their teeth, said they didn’t want anything to do with the event. Not a single member of Congress confirmed his presence, even those who were outspoken in describing the rioters as patriots persecuted for their political beliefs.
“There are a lot of clearly angry people out there who want to walk on Capitol Hill,” said Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, the second Republican. “I haven’t spoken to a single Republican here in the Senate who encouraged or allowed something like this.”
Nonetheless, the “Justice for J6” rally, to be held at noon on Saturday at the foot of Capitol Hill, has created a difficult situation for Republicans, who are caught between a far-right base comprising many voters who consider them to be. rioters as fair and a desire to distance themselves from the attack and its political fallout.
“Anytime the attention is on Joe Biden, it’s good for Republicans, and anytime the attention is on Jan.6, it’s bad for Republicans,” said John Feehery, Republican strategist and Capitol Hill veteran. “The Democrats’ only hope of keeping the House is to make January 6 the theme of the campaign. They know it, and we know it. The only people who don’t seem to know are the activists.
This has left leading Republicans in an awkward position, struggling to distance themselves from an event that is sure to raise the subject of the Capitol Riot – and potentially spiraling out of control – but wary of offending voters. who sympathize with the cause.
Representative Kevin McCarthy, California Republican and Minority Leader, told reporters this week he did not expect a lawmaker from his party to attend, but his office has had no response to questions of whether he supported the rally or dissuaded people from attending. Representatives Steve Scalise of Louisiana and Elise Stefanik of New York, the second and third House Republicans, were also silent about the event.
Even Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene, a Republican from Georgia who has been among the most vocal critics of the treatment of Jan.6 suspects, said she would not attend the rally, even if she defended the inspiration.
“There is a two-track justice system in America, and the treatment of J6 political prisoners versus violent antifa / BLM rioters proves it,” she said in a lengthy email statement.
Ms Greene said she condemned the violence that occurred during the riot, but said she believed “illegal aliens are treated better than most J6 defendants”.
In avoiding the event, Republicans are following the lead of Mr. Trump himself, who has been unusually quiet about it despite having defended crowds in the past.
Mr. Trump, assistants said, has little interest in joining the protest and has no plans to be anywhere near Washington on Saturday. Instead, his schedule includes a golf tournament at his Bedminster, NJ club before returning to his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida, according to people familiar with his schedule.
Mr. Trump views the planned protest as a setup the media will use against him regardless of the outcome, according to people familiar with his thinking.
But concern within the party is real on behalf of the January 6 defendants, especially those charged with non-violent offenses, Feehery said. He said many Republican voters believed Trump supporters who stormed Capitol Hill would have received lighter treatment if they had supported a leftist cause.
“I can understand why Republicans don’t want anything to do with this,” he said, “but there is a lot of angst in the Republican base.”
Capitol Police officials urged anyone considering violence to stay at home instead of attending Saturday’s rally, hosted by Matt Braynard, a former Trump campaign agent, and his organization, Look Ahead America.
Mr Braynard promised his group would be peaceful, unlike the crowd that stormed the Capitol on January 6, when around 140 police officers were injured and several people died.
Mr Braynard argued that the brutal attacks on police officers during the assault were the work of “a few bad apples” and accused the Biden administration of targeting “peaceful Trump supporters who entered Capitol Hill with selective prosecutions based on their political beliefs. “
“The faces of these people are displayed on the billboards,” he said. “They are losing their jobs. They are losing their homes. They spend all their savings on lawyers. They go bankrupt for doing what another day because any other cause would have got you a $ 50 fine and a slap on the wrist.
Such calls had found support among the right wing of the Republican Party in the House – including Ms Greene and Representatives Matt Gaetz of Florida, Louie Gohmert of Texas, Bob Good of Virginia and Paul Gosar and Andy Biggs of Arizona. In July, those members held a press conference on behalf of the defendants on January 6, but on Wednesday none of them had confirmed their participation in Saturday’s rally.
Mr. Braynard had difficulty finding high profile speakers for his event. To date, he has announced the presence of two Congressional candidates, including Joe Kent, one of the main challengers of Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler of Washington, who was one of 10 Republicans to vote to impeach Mr. Trump for his role in the attack.
Mr. Braynard also announced that Ralph Norman, Republican of South Carolina, will attend a future “Justice for J6” rally in Columbia, SC. But Mr Norman’s spokesperson said he would not attend.
Asked if he thought the Republican leaders were discouraging his efforts, Mr Braynard replied, “You should ask them.
In the Senate, Republicans also tried to distance themselves from the rally, with many saying it was a distraction.
Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the minority leader, said he believed the police were “well equipped to handle” anything that might happen.
Senator Josh Hawley, a Republican from Missouri who raised objections to President Biden’s victory on Jan.6, said he was not present and was focusing on other issues. Alabama Senator Tommy Tuberville, another Republican who opposed the election results and was in close contact with Mr. Trump’s inner circle before and during the riot, also said he would not participate .
“I don’t expect a lot of people there,” Mr. Tuberville said. “I haven’t heard anything about it. I will not be there.”
Still others said they had little sympathy for the January 6 defendants and encouraged a forceful police response if Saturday’s crowd turned violent.
“They have to take a firm line, mate,” said Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, a recurring ally of Mr. Trump. “If someone goes out of line, they have to hit them.”
Annie karni contributed reports.