Saturday’s rally defending some rioters arrested in the Capitol uprising reminds the GOP of an uncomfortable reality: Part of its base believes the Jan.6 attack was justified.
Saturday’s rally comes as some Tory lawmakers spark outrage from the right at former President Donald Trump’s false claims that the election was stolen from him – rhetoric that worries some fellow Republicans, who warn their colleagues annoy the biggest fans of the former president. This still latent discord within the GOP puts party leaders in a delicate position before September 18 "Justice for J6" rally on Capitol Hill, hosted by a former Trump campaign aide.
So far, leading Republicans have been as silent as they can get about the Sept. 18 protest on the hill, which prompted police to reinstall the Capitol’s security fence to guard against potential violence. They do not approve of it, nor condemn it. Minority parliamentary leader Kevin McCarthy told reporters Monday that outside of his Republican conference he “doesn’t think anyone” will attend. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell did not respond to whether leaders should encourage other members of the base not to attend as he made his way to a briefing on the rally.
Their approach appears to be working, as no Republican lawmaker has publicly declared that they will attend – even some who have repeatedly and publicly claimed that some of the January 6 defendants were “political prisoners” treated unfairly because of their political views. . However, the offices of Reps Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.) And Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) – who all peddled the "political prisoners" claim repeatedly – have refused multiple requests for comment on their intention to appear.
In the midst of the waiting game, some influential conservatives are trying to change the subject; Senator Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) Said on Monday he would not attend the rally and did not "don’t know." Others ignore the question of whether Republicans should appear; Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Arizona), chairman of the House Freedom Caucus, said he was "it’s none of my business. “
A GOP lawmaker sitting in a safe red seat spoke candidly on condition of anonymity about the conundrum the party faces ahead of the rally in support of some accused of the insurgency: "The majority of the Republican base believes that January 6 was justified. And because these people didn’t have weapons, they shouldn’t be in jail now."
“Every day I hear the word ‘civil war’ – every day," the Republican added, recalling a return home a day after Trump supporters raided Capitol Hill. This lawmaker expected sympathy and disgust about the attack on Congress and instead heard voters comment on their support.
Other Capitol Hill offices reported similar calls from voters who insisted the rioters did not go far enough in the weeks following the attack, which included more than 1,000 acts of violence against the police and was linked to multiple deaths of spectators and police.
It’s unclear how many people are expected to show up at the rally, with organizer Matthew Braynard insisting he is working closely with law enforcement to ensure the event does not turn violent. Some members of the far-right group Proud Boys – several of whom were arrested for some of the most extreme acts of violence on January 6 – are urging group members on message boards to skip the event, warning that the rally is a trap. to get them arrested.
Privately, Republicans have complained of the rally as a distraction that distracts from their centric criticism of the Biden administration’s policy on inflation and Afghanistan. (Hawley, for his part, said "Everything else is secondary" to Biden’s handling of Afghanistan.) And some party members take comfort in the fact that Trump has yet to promote the event, a move they say would draw a much larger crowd than they thought. ‘expect them to appear on Saturday.
But some of the intra-GOP tension over the grassroots inflammatory rhetoric has already spread to the public.
Rep. Madison Cawthorn (RN.C.) responded last month to a voter who asked when the freshman brandon would be "call us back to Washington again" saying that there would be a “bloodshed” if the elections continued "rigged. “Cawthorn and Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) said they did not plan to attend Saturday’s rally, but they and other conservatives changed their tone after initially claiming groups extreme leftists like Antifa were behind the violence on Capitol Hill rather than Trump supporters.
Now that some Trump supporters are in jail, the right wing of McCarthy’s conference argues that the January 6 defendants are being treated more harshly because of their political views compared to progressive activists like the Black Lives Matter protesters.
“There is a two-track justice system in America and the treatment of political prisoners in J6 versus violent Antifa [and] The BLM rioters prove it, ”Greene said in a statement.
There is no evidence that any rules are applied any differently to January 6 defendants than to others facing federal charges.
Representative Kelly Armstrong (RN.D.), a former federal court criminal defense attorney, said he believed some of his colleagues were reacting based on mistaken views of the federal court system.
“I think some of these people are being treated unfairly, absolutely. Do I think they are treated uniquely and unfairly? Absolutely not, ”Armstrong said in an interview, noting that the longest time he had held someone without bail in a federal case was 34 months.
Representative Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), Who became one of Trump’s fiercest critics after Jan.6, claimed in an interview with CBS News that Cawthorn’s comment last month was “language that appears intended to incite violence “- a characterization which a North Carolina conservative spokesman vehemently denied at the time.
More than 600 people have been charged in connection with the Jan.6 assault on Capitol Hill, facing alleged crimes ranging from trespassing and violent assault on police officers to conspiring to stop certification of police officers. 2020 elections. The overwhelming majority of suspects have been released pending trial, while dozens of defendants have been detained – determined by judges to be either too dangerous to be released into the community or likely risk of death. leak.
Whether or not Republicans attend on Saturday, Democrats have described the rhetoric of the handful of Republicans who have defended some defendants of the insurgency as dangerous. Comments like this “further encourage the same kind of riots that we saw on January 6," said Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee and former Trump impeachment official.
“I think the people who come here on September 18 are of the same opinion,” Nadler added.
As the war of words continues, Capitol Security officials are bracing for a possible threat to the building amid widespread criticism that preparation was insufficient eight months ago.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer both said on Monday that Capitol Hill looked better prepared before Saturday compared to the period leading up to Jan.6. And this time, lawmakers and staff should not be in the building during the protest. .
Nonetheless, Monday’s announcement of the arrest of a man found with a bayonet and machete and parked near the Democratic National Committee headquarters, a few blocks from Capitol Hill, heightened concerns about the violence. Police say it is not clear whether the arrested man intended to attend the September 18 rally.
Kyle Cheney, Burgess Everett, and Nicholas Wu contributed to this report.