The highly anticipated “Justice for J6” rally on Saturday fell short of fears that the event could be a potential sequel to the violent Jan. 6 riot when hundreds of people stormed the Capitol in support of then-President Trump.
The rally permit was for 700 expected attendees, but roughly 400-450 people showed up — including members of the press — according to an estimate by the United States Capitol Police.
Cara Castronuova, a political activist, spoke at the rally about it being a peaceful gathering, despite the fears of Washington.
“Thank you to the mainstream media for saying this is going to be a white supremacist rally. Do I look like a white supremacist to you?” said Ms. Castronuova, who is of Chinese and Italian descent.
Event organizer Matt Braynard, who served as data director for former President Trump’s 2016 campaign, warned attendants for weeks about not wearing anything that supported a political party or figure.
At one point during the rally, Mr. Braynard asked two attendants that carried American flags with symbols of the far-right extremist group Three Percenters on it to not show the flags, or exchange them for flags without the symbol.
“This [protest] is not about President Trump,” Mr. Braynard said. “This is not about President Biden. It’s not about the election. It’s not about what you think happened with the election. It’s not about any fringe third-party group.”
He said the rally was held to support jailed rioters’ who’ve made allegations of being treated harshly by jail staff or being denied the right to a speedy trial.
“This is about the many people who were there that day — who’ve not been charged with violence, not been not accused with assaulting a police officer or destroying property — and the disparate treatment they have received,” he told the crowd.
Attendee Maria Delaura, 57, told The Washington Times that she traveled to the rally from New York on behalf of a man who she said is detained in the D.C. jail on charges linked to the Jan. 6 riot.
“I’m here today for him because I believe he has the right to be heard,” Ms. Delaura said. “He has the right to have his case go in front of the justice system and he should be treated rightfully in that prison.”
The Metropolitan Police Department and USCP had been coordinating for weeks in anticipation of the rally, preparing a heavy law-enforcement presence around Capitol Hill and the surrounding area.
During a press conference Friday, officials said both the Capitol Police and the Metropolitan Police Department would be fully activated for the rally, and 100 unarmed D.C. National Guard troops would be on standby.
In the days leading up to the rally, police re-erected a fence around the Capitol building and the U.S. Supreme Court. They also installed surveillance cameras around the rally site and put up “No Gun Zone” signs.
Capitol Police Chief Tom Manger said the fence — which was first put up after the riot and taken down in July — is a temporary safety measure.
Mr. Trump said in an interview with The Federalist he believed the Washington, D.C. rally organized by his former staffer was a “setup,” adding that his supporters will find themselves in a negative situation whether they show up or stay home.
“On Saturday, that’s a setup,” Mr. Trump said. “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.”
Mr. Braynard said during the rally that he is grateful for the attendees.
“I am eternally grateful to each of you for trusting me because I was the one who told you to come out here. I was the one who told you to get here safely [that] it wasn’t a false flag,” he said.
After the rally, Mr. Braynard said he had no comment about Mr. Trump’s input.
Mike Collins, a GOP candidate for Georgia’s 10th district, spoke during the rally and demanded that the “J6 political prisoners” get their day in court.
“The American people are not stupid,” Mr. Collins said. “We can see with our own eyes the difference in the treatment from our federal government because of someone’s political beliefs.”
Joe Kent, a Republican challenging GOP Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler in Washington state’s 3rd Congressional District, also spoke and said he felt it was peoples’ duty to fight for freedoms, citing own military experience.
“Make no mistake, what governments do overseas, they will do here and they’ve already started,” Mr. Kent said. “It’s banana republic stuff when political prisoners are arrested and denied due process.”
Mr. Kent is a retired U.S. Army Special Forces who served for over 20 years, and completed more than 11 combat deployments.
No sitting officeholders or members of Congress attended the rally, which lasted just over an hour.
Counter protests were also held elsewhere in the city, but the clashes between rallygoers and counter-demonstrators — which were Chief Manger’s main concern for violence — did not happen.
Sarah Douglass, 60, of Fairfax, Virginia, stood at a counter protest at Freedom Plaza with a sign that read “J6 insurrectionists are criminals.” She told The Times that she disagreed with the rally in support of the jailed riot defendants.
“I think that the insurrectionists are domestic terrorists, and should be treated as such by the court system,” Mrs. Douglass said. “They are not tourists. They’re not political prisoners. They’re criminals.”
More than 600 people have been charged in connection to the riot, most of whom have been released from custody and are awaiting trial.
Roughly 60 defendants remain held in federal custody awaiting trial or sentencing hearings, according to the Associated Press.