WASHINGTON—Authorities on Friday warned of threats of violence associated with a Saturday rally of Trump supporters planning to “demand justice” for the hundreds of people charged in the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol, as police stepped up security to prepare for possible clashes and unrest.
As fencing was reinstalled on the Capitol grounds, law-enforcement officials said they knew of no specific or credible plots but had been monitoring online threats of violence.
“It’s tough to say whether they’re credible or not. We don’t know with any certainty,” Capitol Police Chief
said. “But what we do know is that the chatter we heard prior to January 6th, many of those threats turned out to be, in fact, credible. So we’re not taking any chances.”
The “Justice for J6” rally—set to start at noon in Union Square, roughly a block from the Capitol grounds—is one of at least 17 demonstrations being planned across the U.S. this month by Look Ahead America, a group led by former Trump campaign official
The events aim to support the more than 600 people charged in the Capitol riot, whom sympathizers depict as victims of state coercion rather than lawbreakers. At least 50 of those charged have pleaded guilty, mostly to misdemeanors. Only six have had their cases adjudicated and been sentenced.
Mr. Braynard said many of those arrested for storming the Capitol believed they had permission to be there and are being persecuted because of their political beliefs.
“We have hundreds of citizens who have been arrested and had their lives destroyed,” Mr. Braynard said, adding he had urged those planning to attend not to bring weapons. He also called the extensive security measures overblown.
Officials were bracing for the possible violence between demonstrators and counter-protesters, and for the prospect that members of some of the far-right groups involved in the January breach would attend.
“We’re also seeing mixed messages about whether folks are coming or not coming,” Chief Manger said. “But the fact that we have this information, that helps us plan better.”
A message Friday on a Telegram channel affiliated with the far-right Proud Boys urged followers to stay away from the rally, while acknowledging that some members might attend anyway. “The federal government would love for us to fall for them, so that they can use the inevitable fabricated violence against the political prisoners of January 6th,” the public message stated. The group has also promoted raising funds for members who are currently being prosecuted for their involvement on Jan. 6.
Earlier this week, a Department of Homeland Security official said more than 700 people were expected to attend the Washington event, noting that law-enforcement agencies have shared information and are better prepared than they were on Jan. 6.
Officials want to avoid the mistakes of that day, when thousands of supporters of then-President
battled police officers and seized the U.S. Capitol for hours in an effort to disrupt Congress’s certification of President Biden’s victory in the 2020 presidential election. The attack amounted to one of the greatest security lapses domestically since Sept. 11, 2001, and put law enforcement and intelligence officials on edge for the possibility of future violence by newly emboldened extremists.
Mr. Trump was impeached by the U.S. House of Representatives on the charge of inciting an insurrection for his actions on the day of the attack. He was acquitted in the Senate.
DHS circulated a memo to law enforcement indicating it was aware of individuals either involved in or opposed to Saturday’s rally who “may seek to engage in violence.” While the memo said DHS doesn’t know of any specific or credible plots, it noted that in early September, the department knew of undisclosed social-media users who discussed storming the Capitol on Friday night, before the rally. “One user commented on kidnapping an identified member of Congress,” the DHS memo said. Other users referenced using the rally to target local unnamed Jewish institutions, elected officials and “liberal churches,” according to the memo reviewed by The Wall Street Journal.
The department is aware of a “small number” of recent online threats referencing violence, though “the likely use of encrypted or closed communication platforms by those seeking to commit violence challenges law enforcement’s ability to identify and disrupt potential plotting,” according to the memo.
Officials have noted that other planned pro-Trump rallies, including one on Jan. 20 during Mr. Biden’s inauguration, have fizzled out with few incidents. A former Trump campaign official said Mr. Braynard had only a minor role in the 2016 campaign and was dismissed in March of that year. Mr. Trump and many in his political orbit are keeping their distance from Saturday’s event, the former official said.
Some lawmakers who have expressed support for some of the alleged rioters also signaled they plan to stay away from Saturday’s rally.
Mr. Trump, who hasn’t spoken directly about the planned event, said in a statement Thursday: “Our hearts and minds are with the people being persecuted so unfairly relating to the January 6th protest concerning the Rigged Presidential Election.”
Workers late Wednesday installed a temporary fence around the Capitol—like the one that stood for months after the January breach—amid “concerning online chatter” about the demonstration, the U.S. Capitol Police said. The agency, responsible for security on the sprawling grounds, also asked the Defense Department for the ability to get National Guard support if needed.
The Capitol Police, which a watchdog has said was seriously understaffed and unprepared for Jan. 6, earlier issued an emergency declaration for Saturday, allowing the department to deputize law-enforcement officers from outside agencies as members of the Capitol force. Capitol Police officers have spent days in training and scenario exercises and have received detailed briefings, officials said Friday. Officials said the agency has also bolstered its intelligence-sharing and other protocols in the wake of the January siege.
“They seemed very, very well prepared, much better prepared than before Jan. 6,” Senate Majority Leader
(D., N.Y.) said after a security briefing earlier this week. “I think they’re ready for whatever might happen.”
Washington’s Metropolitan Police Department said it had directed all of its officers to be on duty Saturday for increased visibility throughout the city.
About 140 Capitol and D.C. police officers were injured on Jan. 6 while defending Congress, according to a bipartisan Senate report released in June.
Federal agencies were also making preparations. DHS officials designated the rally a “special event,” something they were criticized for failing to do ahead of the Jan. 6 rally. The designation requires the agency to assess the threat and bolster security accordingly.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation said while it was mindful of demonstrators’ First Amendment rights, it would work closely with other agencies against “any individuals who commit violence and criminal activity that constitutes a federal crime or poses a threat to national security.”
William J. Walker,
the House sergeant at arms, sent a memo to lawmakers and staff encouraging them to avoid the Capitol complex on Saturday, when Congress isn’t in session.
Several other incidents since Jan. 6 have rattled Capitol Hill, including the April killing of a Capitol Police officer by a man who rammed his car into a security checkpoint and an August case in which a man drove a black pickup onto a sidewalk next to the Library of Congress and told police he had a bomb, prompting evacuations of nearby congressional buildings. The man surrendered after hours of negotiation.
A man driving a pickup marked with white-supremacist symbols was arrested early Monday near the Democratic National Committee headquarters in Washington, and was in possession of a bayonet and machete. Police said they didn’t know whether the man had planned to attend the Saturday demonstration.
—Rachael Levy, Lindsay Wise and Ted Mann contributed to this article.
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