A large-scale security operation is preparing today to confront an unknown number of protesters who are expected to return to Capitol Hill, this time to express their support for the rioters swept away by the wide-ranging federal investigation into the deadly Jan.6 assault on the seat of government .
Eight months after the Capitol was pierced by waves of violent supporters of former President Donald Trump, the grounds are again sheathed with iron fences, as a possible new test awaits an army of agents from the forces of order which were severely overrun in January.
U.S. Capitol Police Chief Tom Manger, who took command following a security failure that cost the job of his predecessor, said on Friday the agency was ready to go. the task despite the ranks of officers beaten, some still recovering from riot-related injuries.
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“We are planning a safe event,” Manger said at a joint Capitol press conference with city police officials. “We will not tolerate violence and we will not tolerate criminal behavior of any kind.”
In recent days, rally organizer Matt Braynard has appeared to downplay expectations about the size of the rally, saying the heavy security measures are aimed more at “intimidation” than protection and designed to discourage people from committing to the rally. ‘attend the so called “Justice for D6” event.
“Everything is meant to deter people from coming,” said Braynard, a former Trump campaigner whose group called most of the more than 600 people arrested in the attack on Capitol Hill as “political prisoners.”
“It’s about reducing traffic. At the end of the day, it might just be me and a megaphone,” he told USA TODAY.
Trump, who called the Jan.6 rioters patriots, appeared later this week to lend his support to Saturday’s event, calling the rioters “persecuted” protesters.
“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!”
But Heidi Beirich, co-founder of the Global Project Against Hate and Extremism, said the event did not generate the same enthusiasm on social media as the one that accompanied on January 6.
Some groups, including the far-right Proud Boys, “mocked” the event, suggesting that it is a set-up of the police to carry out a new wave of arrests. ”Beirich said.
“This is not an event celebrated by far-right groups,” she said.
Capitol Police, DC Metropolitan Police Department, and Homeland Security
Early estimates predicted a crowd of up to 700 protesters expected to gather in Union Square, a public square just west of the Capitol.
If correct, even that number would represent a fraction of the violent crowd that finally invaded the Capitol building in January, killing five and nearly 150 police officers injured.
Yet that gruesome January scene and a fatal April incident in which a car slammed into a barricade on the Capitol, killing Officer William Evans, remain further reminders that the iconic domed building not only serves as a symbol. of American democracy, but also of imminent target.
Anxiety surfaced as recently as last month when parts of the government compound were evacuated after a man from North Carolina, suffering from mental illness, warned he was carrying a bomb in a parked van near the Capitol. No explosives were recovered, but the incident prompted an all-out response from law enforcement.
Apparently, little is left to chance on Saturday, as federal and local law enforcement officials were called in this week to brief lawmakers on their preparations.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., Sent a letter to her colleagues on Wednesday promising security officials would be better prepared for Saturday than January 6.
“The congressional leadership, on a bipartisan and bicameral basis, has been briefed by the Capitol Police Board of the nature of the threat and the unprecedented preparations to deal with yet another attempt to defile our national goal,” Pelosi wrote.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, DN.Y., also said he was happy with the security plan.
“I think they’re ready for whatever might happen,” Schumer said earlier this week.
In addition to fencing and the full deployment of the Capitol Police, the DC Metropolitan Police Department activated their full force for the event.
The Homeland Security Department also said it was coordinating with Capitol Police and public security partners “out of caution,” while others urged to prepare for the worst-case scenario.
Retired Lt. Gen. Russel Honore, who oversaw a critical review of Capitol Police operations in the wake of the Jan.6 riot, said security officials “must assume this rally has the potential to become a terrorist attack “and that officers must be prepared to use lethal force if necessary.
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Honoré’s report, released in March, called for a revamped training program, an intelligence-gathering system and an effort to fill hundreds of positions.
“I trust them (the Capitol police). They now have equipment to use in the event of civil unrest; they have received recent training. I don’t think they want to take another… whoopin, ”Honore said.
“We shouldn’t be stupid anymore,” he said.
Chuck Wexler, executive director of the law enforcement think tank Police Executive Research Forum, who spoke with security planners, said Saturday’s rally represented the “first major test” for local authorities since the murderous riot on the Capitol.
“So much happened on January 6 that underscored the importance of intelligence, mutual aid, communications and the need for a ‘plan B’,” Wexler said.
Organizer: event designed to be “peaceful”
As the rally pushes a political counter-narrative of the January 6 violence, organizer Braynard maintains that the event, and other similar gatherings scheduled for Saturday in more than a dozen states, are designed to be ” peaceful “.
In a video message, Braynard urged protesters to be “respectful and kind” to law enforcement. He discouraged attendees from openly supporting political candidates with clothing, flags and other distinctive symbols that associated January 6 with Trump.
Instead, Braynard said the aim was to draw attention to what he described as “serious civil rights violations” involving hundreds of people indicted in the January riot.
“We are fighting against disinformation,” he said in an interview.
Even though the event lacks numbers, Beirich, of the Global Project Against Hate and Extremism, said the group’s message would likely resonate with the far right.
“One of the biggest concerns is this narrative that they pushed, as if these (Jan. 6 rioters) were at Martin Luther King’s level,” Beirich said. “This is part of an attempt to undermine our democratic principles.”