US Capitol on high alert as pro-Trump demonstrators converge for rally

Published September 19, 2021
Police officers on bicycles watch before a rally near the US Capitol in Washington on Saturday. — AP
Police officers on bicycles watch before a rally near the US Capitol in Washington on Saturday. — AP

WASHINGTON: Hundreds of police officers were patrolling around the US Capitol on Saturday, ahead of a rally by supporters of the people who breached the building on Jan 6 trying to overturn former President Donald Trump’s election defeat.

A black eight-foot-high (2.44 m) fence which surrounded the white-domed building for about six months after the attack is back, 100 National Guard troops are on standby and security officials are performing additional checks on travelers arriving at Washington’s nearest airport in an effort to prevent violence.

Hours before the rally was set to start, Capitol police officers holding riot helmets and armed with batons and pistols took up positions outside the fence. Municipal buses bringing officers to the site clogged nearby streets. Trucks blocked access points to a staging area between the Capitol building and Union Station.

“On Jan 6, we knew something was going around but nobody expected what happened. This time, we’re expecting the worst,” said a police officer on duty near the Capitol.

Crowds were sparse early in the day. A man named Tim Smith stood shirtless outside the Capitol with a red, white and blue sign with “Loser” painted on it. He said the message was meant for Trump.

Unlike on Jan 6, when Congress was in session to certify Democrat Joe Biden’s election, the Capitol was largely empty on Saturday, with most members out of town.

Organizers of the “Justice for J6” rally said they expected a peaceful event, but US Capitol Police Chief J. Thomas Manger told reporters on Friday there had been threats of violence linked to the rally, where police would work to avoid clashes between Trump supporters and opponents.

More than 600 people have been charged with taking part in the Jan 6 violence, which followed a speech by Trump at a nearby rally reiterating his false claims that his election loss was the result of widespread fraud. Those claims have been rejected by multiple courts, state election officials and members of Trump’s own administration.

Rioters that day battled police, beating them with sticks and metal barricades, smashed their way through windows into the Capitol building and ran through the halls, sending lawmakers and then-Vice President Mike Pence running for safety.

Four people died on Jan 6, one fatally shot by police and three from medical emergencies. A Capitol Police officer who had been attacked by protesters died the day after and four police officers who took part in the defense of the Capitol later committed suicide.

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 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 Jan 6 violence, in an interview with MSNBC.

Published in Dawn, September 19th, 2021

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