Big police presence for Capitol Hill rally is met with a sparse crowd

Capitol Police announced four arrests, but no major confrontations were reported

By Tim Balk
New York Daily News

WASHINGTON — A muscular police presence met a sparse crowd of right-wing protesters who headed to Capitol Hill on Saturday to support suspects in the deadly Jan. 6 assault on Congress.

Cops in heavy riot gear stood guard as around 400 people gathered on a grassy field at the foot of the Capitol. A podium above the crowd hosted far-right speakers, who complained about the treatment of defendants in the harrowing January attack.

The U.S. Capitol Police, who promised a robust security plan after incurring criticism in connection with the January siege, shared an image on social media ahead of the rally that showed a sea of camouflage-clad officers.

“Teamwork,” the department wrote on Twitter.

After the rally, the Capitol Police announced four arrests: a man with a knife was detained on a weapons violation; two people stopped in an auto were taken in, one on a possession of a firearm charge, the other on a probation violation; and a man carrying a gun in the crowd was arrested.

Law enforcement officials worked furiously this week to prepare for the event.

A tall black chain-link security fence rose outside the Capitol. Congressional lawmakers and staffers were asked to stay away from the area. And authorities helped put together a 25-agency-strong plan to protect the cradle of democracy, according to the police.

The National Guard was made available if needed, the Capitol Police said.

The Saturday protest, called the “Justice for J6″ rally, was organized by Matt Braynard, a former campaign operative for President Donald Trump. He acquired a permit for a 700-person demonstration, according to authorities.

The rally was set to start at 12 p.m. and to run for about 85 minutes, said a notice published by Look Ahead America, Braynard’s organization. In a video published with the guidance, Braynard asked participants to respect cops during the rally.

“Be kind to them,” he said. “Be respectful. And if they ask you to do something, please do so.”

Eric Ward, the executive director of Western States Center, a progressive organization in Portland, Oregon, that monitors extremism, said Friday his group didn’t believe more than 500 people would show up for the demonstration.

“We just haven’t seen significant mobilization,” Ward said.

On Saturday afternoon, it proved a mostly sleepy affair. Despite concerns about possible clashes between protesters and counterprotesters, no major confrontations were reported.

Cops with white bikes appeared to keep groups separate when tensions cropped up, according to video published on social media.

After the rally wrapped up, the Capitol Police wrote on Twitter its civil disturbance unit had gathered at an intersection near the rally to “to keep protestors and counter-protestors away from each other.”

Soon after, the department tweeted it had split the groups “without incident” or arrests.

The limited drama proved a far cry from Jan. 6, when a mob broke into the halls of Congress, inspired by Trump’s false claim that the vote was rigged.

That day, the then-president urged his supporters to “take back our country” as he claimed he had soundly beaten President Joe Biden in the November election.

No evidence has emerged that the Nov. 3 election was rigged, and Trump lost decisively in both the popular vote and the electoral college. But four people died in the Jan. 6 siege, and four cops who responded to the attack later took their own lives.

Trump signaled his support for Saturday’s event in a statement Thursday, saying, “Our hearts and minds are with the people being persecuted so unfairly relating to the January 6th protest concerning the Rigged Presidential Election.”

But he otherwise publicly ignored it. In an interview with The Federalist, he called it a “setup.”

“If people don’t show up they’ll say, ‘Oh, it’s a lack of spirit.’ And if people do show up they’ll be harassed,” Trump told the conservative news outlet Thursday.

Baynard didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on Trump’s remark.

Congress was out of session, and Biden headed to Delaware for the weekend.

Washington is still reeling from the January riot, and police leaders said they were ready for anything. On Friday, Chief Tom Manger said the U.S. Capitol Police had been “working around the clock” to prepare.

“We’re not taking any chances,” he told reporters.

At Saturday’s rally, the song “We Didn’t Start The Fire” played out of loudspeakers, an eyebrow-raising selection. Billy Joel, the Long Island crooner who wrote the turbo recitation of Cold War-era ills, is a critic of Trump and once said the former president “enraged him.”

A spokesperson for Joel declined to comment.

More than 600 people were charged with crimes after the U.S. Capitol attack.

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