Far-right demonstrators are once again planning to rally in Washington, D.C., on Saturday, in support of the insurrectionists who breached the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 and now sit in jail.
The so-called “Justice for J6” rally, organized by former Donald Trump campaign operative Matt Braynard and his group Look Ahead America, is meant to show support for the violent mob that overran the Capitol eight months ago. Five people died in that riot, and hundreds more were injured, many of them police. Since then, hundreds of arrests have been made, and federal officials are still searching for more suspects.
Despite fears of violence on Saturday, it’s unclear which of the major far-right groups, if any, will show up for the rally. Extremist groups like the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers — both of which had members who were at the Jan. 6 insurrection and who have since joined demonstrations in support of the defendants — appear to have backed off publicly from Saturday’s event, fearing further arrests.
Jared Holt, a research fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab who tracks far-right extremism on the internet, told HuffPost there hasn’t been much chatter in online extremist circles in favor of attending the event.
“A lot of these groups seem to be pretty clear with their members that they shouldn’t go to this thing on Saturday, and that by doing so [they] could end up putting their members who are still facing trial for their role in January 6 into a more precarious legal situation,” Holt said. “From everything I can tell, that consensus has been heard and people have the intention of obeying them.”
That includes members of groups like the Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers. As Holt points out on his Substack, far-right figures including Gab CEO Andrew Torba and QAnon conspiracy leader Ron Watkins have also encouraged their followers not to attend, for fear of ― as Torba put it ― becoming “a political prisoner of the state.”
Still, the possibility of violence on Saturday has the Metropolitan Police Department on high alert. The city is building a security fence around the perimeter of the Capitol building, though Congress likely won’t be meeting over the weekend and there will be less of a threat posed to lawmakers, according to NPR.
Braynard sought a permit to host the rally at Union Square, a public park near the Capitol’s reflecting pool, and expects about 700 people to show up, according to The Washington Post. (Holt told HuffPost he suspects this is an overestimate.)
In addition to the immediate concerns over violence, there are fears that Saturday’s rally will help to normalize one of the most egregious acts of domestic political violence in modern American history, and raise the already high temperature at demonstrations across the country.
“Matt Braynard and his organizers are going to get access to a megaphone to the nation that they have been completely unable to obtain on their own merits,” Holt said. “Braynard’s ultimate goal with Look Ahead America is to rewrite the history of January 6, and I worry that in the interest of ‘fair coverage’ that outlets are going to end up airing part of his revisionist history.”
Republican lawmakers, like U.S. Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene (Ga.) and Madison Cawthorn (N.C.), have attempted to downplay the events of Jan. 6 and lionize the insurrectionists, even referring to arrestees as “political hostages.” Both lawmakers’ camps have told reporters that their bosses won’t be in attendance on Saturday. Former President Donald Trump, who fomented the violent atmosphere that led to the January insurrection, isn’t expected to attend.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on Wednesday condemned anyone willing to attend this weekend’s rally, characterizing them as “coming back to praise the people who were out to kill.”
Metropolitan Police Officer Michael Fanone, one of more than 140 police officers injured in the attacks earlier this year, told The Daily Beast he was “shocked but not surprised” that there’d be another rally.
“My concern is the safety and well-being of myself and of any of the other officers who have chosen to come forward publicly about their experiences on Jan. 6,” he said. “It’s hypocritical that they are now protesting the incarceration of individuals who participated in the Jan. 6 insurrection.”