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Heavy police deployment as pro-Trump protesters converge for DC rally

  • 18 Sep 2021

Rally organised by former Trump campaign staffer Matt Braynard is aimed at supporting those charged in January 6 insurrection case.

Supporters of those charged in the January 6 attack on the US Capitol attend the 'Justice for J6' rally in Washington, DC, on September 18, 2021. ( AFP )

A robust security presence and journalists have outnumbered a few hundred demonstrators who turned up for a rally to support pro-Trump rioters who ransacked the US Capitol on January 6. 

US Capitol Police took no chances on Saturday, with hundreds of officers brought into Washington in an effort to avoid a repeat of the pre-inauguration attack. 

The fence around the Capitol was put back up, the city police force was fully activated and Capitol Police requested assistance from the National Guard.

As part of an effort by some of Trump's far-right supporters to rewrite the history of the deadly mob assault on the Capitol that was captured in the graphic video, speaker after speaker insisted that hundreds of rioters arrested that day were "political prisoners."

"Let them go, let them go," the crowd occasionally chanted.

There were a few scuffles as the rally started and one person was arrested for carrying a knife, police said, but no major incidents were reported early on.

Organisers of the "Justice for J6" rally had received a permit for 700 people to gather near the Capitol's reflecting pool, but far fewer showed up.

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 news agency. "Their crimes do not justify the way they are being treated."

READ MORE: The bizarre cast of radical and conspiracy groups that stormed the Capitol

Ramped up security

Still, law enforcement officials remained on edge, concerned about the possibility of violent protesters and counterprotesters. 

Police were also preparing for the possibility that some demonstrators may arrive with weapons, though backpacks were allowed into the area and there were no checkpoints.

The rally was ringed by heavy dump trucks and took place in fields far from the Capitol building. 

Law enforcement officers geared up at staging areas and metal barricades were placed around the streets.

Inside the Capitol, police riot shields were placed near doors and windows, a stark difference from January, when officers inside were left without riot equipment and quickly overwhelmed as the crowd stormed inside.

Congress is out of session and no lawmakers were expected to be in the building on Saturday. 

READ MORE: Two Capitol police officers sue Trump over January 6 siege

Intelligence indicates attendance of extremist groups 

Capitol Police Chief Tom Manger said at a news conference on Friday it was difficult to say whether threats of violence at the event were credible, but "chatter" online and elsewhere has been similar to intelligence that was missed in January.

The rally, organised by former Trump campaign staffer Matt Braynard, is aimed at supporting people who were detained after the January 6 insurrection – about 63 people held behind bars out of the more than 600 charged in the deadly riot. 

It's just the latest attempt to downplay and deny the January violence.

In an MSNBC interview, he downplayed the low numbers in attendance, saying instead the media coverage of the event helped get the message out.

Intelligence collected before the rally suggested that extremist groups such as the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers will turn up. 

But some prominent members of the groups have sworn they aren't going and have told others not to attend. 

Far-right online chatter has been generally tame, and Republican lawmakers are downplaying the event.

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