WASHINGTON – Washington and state capitals across the country braced for ‘Justice for J6’ protests on Saturday morning to draw attention to what organizers say is the unfair treatment of those charged in the January 6 riot at the Capitol.
In the nation’s capital, authorities erected fences around the Capitol and the Supreme Court, held “tabletop” rehearsals to plan for the fight against violence, and promised police would be visible throughout the city.
“We are not going to condone violence,” US Capitol Police Chief Tom Manger said at a joint press conference with the Washington Metropolitan Police Department on Friday. “We will not tolerate any criminal behavior of any kind.”
More than 600 people have been arrested in the eight-plus months since the attack, of which more than 50 have pleaded guilty to various federal crimes and six have been convicted by the courts, according to the Justice Department.
As they were unprepared for the Jan.6 assault on Capitol Hill, police said, they are ready to prevent and respond to illegal activity on Saturday – whether carried out by primary protesters or counter-demonstrators.
Matt Braynard, executive director of Look Ahead America and organizer of the event, wrote on Twitter that he expects “a 100% peaceful event in support of non-violent offenders … who have been charged.”
Yet the potential for chaos made the rally politically toxic to leading Republicans, many of whom maintain the lie at the heart of the assault on Capitol Hill: Former President Donald Trump’s defeat was the result of election rigging. .
Trump, who was impeached by the House in January for his role in inciting violence, said Thursday that rioters had been “persecuted” by the Justice Department.
“Our hearts and minds are with those so unjustly persecuted in connection with the January 6 protest over the rigged presidential election,” Trump said in a statement. “On top of everything else, it has conclusively proven that we are a two-tier justice system. Ultimately, however, JUSTICE WILL PREVAIL!”
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But the former president, who was acquitted by the Senate, and other Republican officials are keeping their distance from the rallies, which are putting law enforcement on high alert for a repeat of the Jan.6 melee. Neither he nor any member of Congress is expected to attend the main protest in Washington.
Trump called the whole affair a “setup” for more arrests and criminal charges, a message echoed in extremist online forums that were the hotspots of the Jan.6 insurgency. As a result, numbers for Saturday’s rally could be lower than the initial protest turned attack.
The meeting point in Washington is Union Square, a small park just west and prominent in the Capitol. Organizers have posted rules on the website of Look Ahead America, the group sponsoring the protests. They include: “traveling in a group”, “not wearing or bringing political, candidate or other organization paraphernalia” and “being respectful to our security team and law enforcement”.
The Justice Department said about 140 police officers – from the Capitol Police Force and the Washington Metropolitan Police Department – were assaulted in January.
Metropolitan Police Chief Robert Contee said on Friday that “No Gun Zone” signs had been placed around the protest site and recalled that it was illegal to bring a firearm within 300 meters of it. ‘such an area.
“District gun laws will be enforced,” he told reporters.
But gun restrictions vary by jurisdiction, and satellite protests are planned at state houses and federal buildings in 17 states, according to Look Ahead America.
As for the United States Capitol, Manger said he was focusing on protecting free speech and the possibility of legal protests.
Capitol Police said the National Guard would be available to help secure the perimeter of the Capitol if needed, but would not be deployed otherwise.
“We have a solid plan in place to ensure this remains peaceful,” Manger said, adding that officers would be ready to respond “if violence occurs”.