DHS warns of potential for violence at rally for suspects in pro-Trump Capitol riot

·5-min read

The Department of Homeland Security issued a warning Thursday about the potential for violence at an upcoming right-wing rally in Washington, D.C., this weekend, according to an intelligence briefing obtained by Yahoo News.

The U.S. Capitol stands behind security fencing on September 17, 2021 in Washington, DC. Security in the Washington, DC been increased in preparation for the Justice for J6 Rally, a rally happening this weekend in Washington for support for those who rioted at the U.S. Capitol on January 6 to protest the 2020 presidential election outcome. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
The U.S. Capitol behind security fencing on Friday. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

The document, which was unclassified and marked “For official use only,” was disseminated to federal, state and local law enforcement ahead of the “Justice for J6” rally, which is scheduled to take place on the U.S. Capitol grounds this Saturday. The event is being organized by a former staffer for Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign and is intended to show support for the hundreds of people who’ve been arrested in connection with the violent storming of the Capitol on Jan. 6.

“We are aware of a small number of recent online threats of violence referencing the planned rally, including online discussions encouraging violence the day before the rally,” the intelligence brief reads.

A U.S. Capitol Police vehicle in parked on the plaza of the U.S. Capitol on September 17, 2021 in Washington, DC. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
A U.S. Capitol Police vehicle parked on the plaza of the U.S. Capitol on Friday. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

While the document states that DHS does not have “indications of a specific or credible plot associated with the event,” it warns that “lone offenders and small groups of individuals can mobilize to violence with little-to-no warning, particularly in response to confrontational encounters with perceived opponents or calls for escalation by key influencers.” The memo suggests that law enforcement’s ability to track potential threats may be undermined by “the likely use of encrypted or closed communication platforms by those seeking to commit violence.”

According to DHS, there were discussions on social media earlier this month about storming the U.S. Capitol the night before the rally, with one user commenting on “kidnapping an identified member of Congress.” Some social media users have also discussed using the rally, which has become the focus of law enforcement attention, as a pretext to attack Jewish institutions, elected officials and “liberal churches” in Washington.

Rioters clash with police using big ladder trying to enter Capitol building through the front doors on Jan. 6, 2021. Rioters broke windows and breached the Capitol building in an attempt to overthrow the results of the 2020 election. (Lev Radin/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images)
Rioters clash with police as they try to enter the Capitol building through the front doors on Jan. 6. (Lev Radin/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Saturday’s rally is part of an effort by some on the right to downplay the actions of Trump supporters who stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6 in an effort to stop Congress from certifying Joe Biden’s win in the 2020 presidential election. More than 600 people have been charged so far in relation to the violent riot, which left at least four people dead and more than 140 police officers injured. The Guardian reported in May that at least 70 percent of those people have been released while awaiting trial — a much higher rate than the 25 percent of federal defendants who typically receive pretrial release. But Trump allies like Matt Braynard, the organizer of Saturday’s rally who previously worked on the former president’s 2016 campaign, are seeking to portray the Jan. 6 defendants as “political prisoners” — a narrative Trump himself has embraced.

“​​Our hearts and minds are with the people being persecuted so unfairly relating to the January 6th protest concerning the Rigged Presidential Election,” Trump said in a statement on Thursday. “In addition to everything else, it has proven conclusively that we are a two-tiered system of justice. In the end, however, JUSTICE WILL PREVAIL!”

The intelligence memo obtained by Yahoo News explains that DHS’s threat assessment is meant to provide context for Saturday’s rally “in light of the continued heightened threat environment” in Washington, and in particular the U.S. Capitol, more than eight months after the insurrection. In April, a Capitol Police officer was killed when a man rammed his car into a barricade outside the complex, and last month another man was arrested after threatening to bomb the Capitol. On Monday, Capitol Police arrested a man who was found with multiple knives, including a machete and bayonet, in a pickup truck covered in white supremacist symbols outside the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee. The department noted that it was not clear whether the man had any ties to the Jan. 6 riot or if he was planning to attend the upcoming rally at the Capitol.

The intelligence memo indicates that the potential for violence on Saturday is heightened by plans for a counterprotest at Freedom Plaza in D.C., just over a mile from where the rally is slated to take place. According to DHS, organizers of the “Justice for J6” rally have said they’ve received “death threats” from opponents of their event.

The U.S. Capitol is seen behind fencing that was erected in the wake of the January 6 insurrection, which is expected to be taken down as early as tomorrow in Washington, U.S., July 8, 2021. (Kevin Lamarque/File Photo/Reuters)
Fencing at the Capitol erected in the wake of the Jan. 6 insurrection, as seen in July. (Kevin Lamarque/File/Reuters)

Braynard has said that Saturday’s event is meant to be a peaceful protest.

“We are cooperating completely with multiple different police forces to ensure that everyone is safe,” Braynard tweeted on Thursday. “Anyone with the intent of committing violence has no business at our rally.”

Though organizers have secured a permit for 700 attendees, the DHS memo notes that according to media reports, local authorities are expecting a smaller crowd.

But after failing to adequately prepare for the deadly chaos that unfolded on Jan. 6, law enforcement isn’t taking any chances. U.S. Capitol Police have taken a number of steps to ramp up security ahead of the Saturday afternoon rally, including reinstalling a fence around the perimeter of the Capitol and asking the National Guard to be on standby in case of violence. The D.C. Metropolitan Police Department has also activated its entire force for Saturday and has announced plans to close several streets in the city during the rally.

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