Officials took no chances ahead of the Saturday rally, deploying hundreds of officers from across the region—some visibly armed and in riot gear—installing a metal fence around the Capitol and requesting assistance from the National Guard, measures largely absent ahead of the January breach.
But the crowd on Saturday was small—about 400 to 450 people, by law-enforcement estimates, including dozens of reporters and camera crews—and the “Justice for J6” rally, roughly a block from the Capitol, unfolded with few problems.
At the end of the event, Capitol Police reported the arrests of four people, including a man who had a knife and two others on outstanding felony warrants out of Texas.
A fourth man was arrested after someone spotted him in the crowd with a handgun, according to police, who said it wasn’t clear why he was at the demonstration. He was charged under a federal statute that makes it illegal to bring a gun onto the Capitol grounds.
Protesters, some of whom spoke on a stage erected in front of a line of Capitol police officers, said they were supporting the more than 600 people charged in the Capitol riot, whom they depicted as political prisoners and victims of state coercion, rather than lawbreakers.
Saturday’s speakers played down the events of Jan. 6, when thousands of supporters of then-President
a Republican, battled police officers and seized the building for hours in an effort to disrupt Congress’s certification of President
victory in the 2020 presidential election. The attack amounted to one of the greatest U.S. security lapses since Sept. 11, 2001, and put law enforcement and intelligence officials on edge for the possibility of future violence by newly emboldened extremists.
At least 140 law-enforcement officers were injured that day, and the rioters caused extensive damage to federal property.
“This is not a partisan issue, this is a civil rights issue,” said Matt Braynard, a former Trump campaign official who organized the demonstration. He said the rally wasn’t in support of Mr. Trump, but instead aimed to spotlight what he said was the unfair treatment of the Jan. 6 rioters.
Linde Barrera—70 years old, a retired New York public school teacher who works with the group that organized the event—said she traveled by bus to attend because she felt that the rioters were being unfairly targeted by the government.
“In the United States there is something called due process and people are innocent until proven guilty,” she said.
One counterdemonstrator set up a sign resembling a Trump flag that instead said: “Loser.” Another, Eric Lamar, 64, held a sign that said, “Support our police.” He confronted participants for supporting the rioters.
“You’re backing domestic terrorists. Shame on you,” he told the rally participants.
Most of the cases stemming from the riot are still winding through the courts. Of the more than 600 charged, at least 50 people have pleaded guilty, mostly to misdemeanors. Only six have had their cases adjudicated and been sentenced. Most of those who face charges aren’t being detained pending their trials.
Joe Kent, a GOP congressional candidate from Washington state who participated in the event, said in an interview that he disputed the “entire narrative behind Jan. 6.” He said the events of that day were tragic, but argued that the government is coming down too hard on those who entered the Capitol but weren’t violent. The government should focus on organizers of the riot and those who committed violent acts, he said.
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Mr. Kent is challenging Rep. Jaime Herrera Butler, one of 10 Republicans who voted to impeach Mr. Trump for his actions on the day of the riot. Mr. Trump, who was acquitted in the Senate, has endorsed Mr. Kent.
While the speakers described those charged in the riot as largely peaceful protesters, more than 185 have been charged with assaulting, resisting or impeding officers, including with dangerous or deadly weapons, according to the Justice Department. Dozens of others face charges of theft or destruction of government property or entering the building with deadly weapons.
The violence and destruction was front of mind for officials planning for Saturday’s rally, after authorities warned of online threats. Federal and local law-enforcement officials, who faced a wave of criticism for being understaffed and unprepared for the Jan. 6 riot, said they had implemented improvements designed to prevent a repeat attack.
Capitol Police officers spent days in training and scenario exercises. Officials said the agency has also bolstered its intelligence-sharing and other protocols in the wake of the January siege.
On the ground, the Capitol Police made a far greater show of force as the rally began. Behind a double layer of metal barricades, officers stood roughly 20 feet apart, riot helmets at the ready. A large contingent in full riot gear stood nearby, at one point briefly detaining and searching a man carrying a military-style backpack.
As the crowds parted, officers worked to keep protesters and counterprotesters separated.
Washington’s Metropolitan Police Department said it had directed all of its officers to be on duty, and police from surrounding jurisdictions were also present.
Officials said the massive presence likely discouraged some people from attending, with crowds numbering far fewer than the 700 that police had expected.
The Department of Homeland Security, criticized for failing to act on intelligence suggesting the potential violence on Jan. 6, treated Saturday’s rally with greater urgency. It issued a bulletin to law-enforcement warning that officials were aware of individuals either involved in or opposed to Saturday’s rally who “may seek to engage in violence.”
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