A few hundred protesters turned up yesterday in Washington to rally in support of the pro-Trump rioters who ransacked the US Capitol on January 6, but they were outnumbered by a robust security presence and journalists.
Police, who were caught on the back foot by the deadly riot on Capitol Hill, took no chances this time around, deploying a phalanx of officers and erecting a security fence around the Capitol complex.
Organisers of the “Justice for J6” rally – who said they wanted to draw attention to those held over the riot who did not commit violent offences – had received a permit for 700 people to gather near the Capitol’s reflecting pool, but far fewer showed up.
“We have no way of tracking it,” said Matt Braynard, a rally organiser and supporter of Trump’s false claims that his defeat was the result of widespread fraud, when asked for a crowd estimate.
Chants of “Let them go!” rose from the demonstrators as speakers took to the podium to decry what they called the Biden’s administration detention of “political prisoners.”
“Their rights are being violated,” David Thacker, a 63-year-old attendee from Virginia, told AFP. “Their crimes do not justify the way they are being treated.”
Tony Smith, 40, of Upper Marlboro, Maryland, said he had come to voice his support for a fair judicial process for those charged in the breach of the Capitol on January 6.
“If we don’t honour that, we don’t honour America,” said Smith, who was carrying a poster board that said “We Want Trump!”
Members of Congress were not in the building yesterday as the rally unfolded under the watchful eye of police in riot gear with shields, with many lawmakers still on summer recess and not back in town until next week.
Look Ahead America, which organised the event and is planning similar rallies across the country in the coming weeks, had appealed for attendees to show respect to law enforcement officers and refrain from bringing Donald Trump banners.
However, some carried signs that read “Free Biden’s political prisoners” or “Justice for Ashli Babbitt”, a woman who was shot dead by police on January 6 as she tried to breach the Senate.
Capitol Police said “400 to 450” people were inside the protest area, excluding law enforcement – but that would include the numerous journalists on site.
Daniel, a 35-year-old who only gave his first name, said he had a few friends who were being detained pending trial.
“I think they should release them,” he said.
Pointing at the Capitol, he added: “That’s our Capitol, for taxpayers, so we’re allowed to go in there when we want.”
Thousands of Trump’s supporters, some associated with ultra-nationalist and white supremacist groups, stormed the US legislature eight months ago in an effort to overturn President Joe Biden’s election victory.
Around 600 have been charged, including at least 185 accused of assaulting, resisting, or impeding officers or employees and more than 70 indicted for destruction or theft of government property.
Officials say the mob assaulted 140 officers, with damage to the Capitol complex estimated at $1.5mn.
Almost 50 people have so far pleaded guilty to charges related to the violence, nine admitting to committing felonies.
The vast majority of defendants have been released awaiting trial but about 75 are still in custody, according to court documents.
Members of the right-wing groups the Proud Boys, Oath Keepers and Three Percenters are among those charged with storming the building.
“It’s ironic that the rallying cries (are) justice for January 6th. I think justice for January 6th would have been the impeachment and removal of Donald Trump,” said Representative Adam Kinzinger, one of 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach Trump on a charge of inciting the January 6 violence, in an interview with MSNBC.
Trump was ultimately acquitted by the then-Republican-controlled Senate.
While hundreds have been arrested for taking part in the riot – some of whom posted images online of their activities on January 6 – questions remain unanswered.
No suspects have yet been identified in the investigation into who planted pipe bombs at the Democratic and Republican parties’ national headquarters near the Capitol on January 5.
US Capitol police officers stand guard in front of the Capitol during the rally in support of defendants being prosecuted in the January 6 attack on the Capitol.
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