WASHINGTON – Local and federal police officials are bracing for a right-wing rally that's meant to advance the false narrative that the hundreds of defendants charged in the Jan. 6 Capitol attack were targeted for political reasons.
The Washington Metropolitan Police Department said it will have an "increased presence" around the city on Sept. 18, when a group organized by a former Trump campaign staffer plans to gather on Capitol grounds. Capitol Police Chief Tom Manger said the agency is "closely monitoring" plans for Sept. 18.
Police agencies declined to share specific details about their preparation plans. But law enforcement experts say the failure to predict and prevent the violence on Jan. 6 means officials should prepare for the worst this time around. The rally also comes a month after the Capitol complex was evacuated because of a bomb threat followed by an hours-long standoff with a suspect.
Retired Lt. Gen. Russel Honore, who oversaw a critical review of Capitol Police operations in the aftermath of the Jan. 6 riot, said security officials "must assume that this rally has the potential to become a terrorist attack" and officers should be prepared to use lethal force, if necessary.
Honore's report, released in March, called for a revamped training program, intelligence gathering system and an effort to fill hundreds of positions.
“I’ve got confidence in them (Capitol police). They now have equipment to use in civil disturbances; they have been getting recent training. I don’t think they want to take another … whoopin,” Honore said.
"We ought not be stupid again," he added.
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Chuck Wexler, executive director of the law enforcement think tank Police Executive Research Forum, said the Sept. 18 rally represents the “first major test” for local authorities since the deadly Capitol riot.
"So much happened on Jan. 6 that underscored the importance of intelligence, mutual aid, communications and the need for a ‘Plan B’; this event will pull together all of the lessons learned," said Wexler, who has talked with officials involved in the preparations for this month’s rally.
Rally organizer says event will be peaceful
Former Trump campaign staffer Matt Braynard, organizer of the "Justice for J6" rally, has maintained that the event will be peaceful.
In a video posted on the website of a group Braynard founded, he requested attendees to be "respectful and kind" to law enforcement officers who will be on the ground on Sept. 18.
"If they ask you to do something, please do so," he said.
Still, experts say that after Jan. 6, law enforcement officials can no longer underestimate or ignore any potential for violence.
"We have seen demonstrations turn violent very quickly. And this is a very sensitive time," Wexler said.
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Terry Gainer, a former Capitol Police chief, said the Jan. 6 riots highlighted crucial weaknesses in police response, from basic preparedness to a lack of communication.
"This question is as this rally approaches is whether those lessons were learned ... You are hopeful that it is a peaceful protest but you have to prepared for something else altogether. I think they will be ready, because they (Capitol police) don’t want to be remembered for the worst day," Grainer said.
The "Justice for J6" rally will argue that the federal government has violated the civil rights of those who have been arrested and charged, Braynard said, calling the defendants "political prisoners."
Protesters are also expected to demand justice for Ashli Babbitt, who was shot and killed by a Capitol police officer during the chaos on Jan. 6. An internal review has cleared the officer of wrongdoing.
The Justice Department, armed with dozens of pieces of video evidence showing the chaos and violent attacks against police officers on Jan. 6, has charged more than 500 people since – many of whom were charged with assaulting police officers. Several defendants, including members and associates of two prominent extremist groups, the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers, have reached plea deals with prosecutors.
On the instant messaging platform Telegram, the Proud Boys denied reports that members of the group will attend the rally, calling it a "guaranteed disaster" that will lead to more arrests, and mocked those who plan to attend.
Proud Boys leader Enrique Tarrio told reporters Monday, as he was turning himself in to a detention facility in Washington, D.C. to begin serving a 155-day jail sentence, that members of the group are not planning to attend. Tarrio was sentenced to jail for burning a Black Lives Matter flag and bringing high-capacity magazines to the district days before the Jan. 6 riot.
Law enforcement agencies declined to say whether they're beefing up staffing by canceling days off for uniformed officers, or if they plan to erect fencing around the Capitol Building ahead of the Sep. 18 event. But Capitol Police said it has requested reinforcements from neighboring police agencies, adding that it often does so for large events and demonstrations.
Manger, the Capitol Police chief, also said the department has made changes in the way it gathers and shares intelligence after the Jan. 6 attack.
The FBI did not say whether it has reason to believe there will be violence on Sept. 18, or whether it is looking into specific groups.
In a statement, the bureau's Washington field office said: "We do not initiate investigations based solely on an individual’s race, ethnicity, national origin, religion, or the exercise of First Amendment rights. We are committed to working closely with our local, state, and federal law enforcement partners against any individuals who intend to commit violence and criminal activity that constitutes a federal crime or poses a threat to national security."