The organisers of an upcoming rally in support of those arrested for their alleged part in the 6 January insurrection have instructed attendees not to bring pro-Trump clothing or signs – and insisted the rally is not about the 2020 election.
At the same time, the House sergeant-at-arms has told all members of Congress and their staff to avoid the US Capitol on 18 September, the day of the rally, amid warnings that the event may be attended by members of violent extremist groups.
The so-called “Justice for J6” rally, whose organisers insist their intentions are peaceful, is causing consternation among local and federal law enforcement. The Department of Homeland Security has said it anticipates a crowd of roughly 700, though it cannot say for sure how many will actually attend. More worrying than the number of attendees is the possibility that among the crowd will be members of the Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers, both of which have been linked to specific violence on the day of the 6 January attack.
Leading the rally is former Trump campaign staffer Matt Braynard, who has described people arrested and charged in connection with the insurrection as “political prisoners” being “persecuted for their beliefs” and compared the FBI’s attempt to track rioters down to “domestic terrorism”. Under the auspices of his nonprofit political action group Look Ahead America, he helped organise a similar rally in July this summer at a Washington DC detention centre where some 50 insurrection defendants were being held.
With the latest rally approaching, he has been at pains to reframe it as more (or less) than a pro-Trump event – and his message to attendees to that effect came off more like a threat than a request.
“We request that anybody attending our events not wear any clothing or have signs supportive of either President Trump or Biden,” he wrote. “Anyone not honoring this request will be assumed to be an infiltrator and we will take your picture, find out who you are, and make you famous.
“This event is 100% about #JusticeforJ6 and not the election or any candidate.”
That policy tallies with one of the strains of 6 January revisionism that has surfaced in recent months, namely that the insurrectionists were mostly peaceful and even naive patriots who are being penalised for their sincere conservatism by a draconian liberal-controlled state.
In his pre-rally warning memo directed to members of Congress, Sergeant-at-Arms William J Walker wrote that the Capitol Police – who were badly underprepared and underresourced for the 6 January attack – will have “additional personnel and external law enforcement partners posted throughout Capitol Grounds”. He also warned that “unless required to be onsite, members and staff are strongly encouraged to avoid the US Capitol complex”, and that they should park in underground garages and use tunnels between the Capitol and office buildings rather than moving around above ground.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has made her feelings about the upcoming rally abundantly clear. “These people are coming back to praise the people who were out to kill,” she told a press conference, “out to kill members of Congress, successfully [caused] the deaths – successfully is not the word, but that’s the word, because it’s what they set out to do – of our law enforcement.”
Mr Braynard, meanwhile, has claimed that members of Congress will appear at the rally, but it is not as yet clear who, if anyone, is on the slate. Top far-right House Republicans Madison Cawthorn and Marjorie Taylor Greene are reportedly staying away.
Others particularly associated with the events of 6 January are far-right representatives such as Mo Brooks, who spoke at Donald Trump’s “Stop the Steal” rally shortly before the attack; Lauren Boebert, who tweeted “Today is 1776” on the day of the riot; and Paul Gosar, an Arizona congressman who has attended events with prominent white nationalists. The Independent has sought comment from their offices on whether they will be attending or addressing the rally; Mr Banyard did not immediately respond to a message.