By Jan Wolfe and David Morgan
Police and media vastly outnumbered protesters around the U.S. Capitol on Saturday at a sparsely attended rally by supporters of the people who breached the building on Jan. 6, trying to overturn former President Donald Trump’s election defeat.
About 100 to 200 protesters showed up, some carrying the flags of the right-wing group Three Percenters over their shoulders. It was far fewer than the 700 people organizers had expected and the thousands who brought mayhem to the Capitol on Jan. 6.
Hundreds of officers patrolled the Capitol grounds and a black eight-foot-high fence that surrounded the white-domed building for about six months after the attack was reinstalled, reflecting unease about a potential repeat of Jan. 6. One hundred National Guard troops were on standby.
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 graphic video, speaker after speaker insisted that hundreds of rioters arrested for their actions that day were “political prisoners” who committed no violence.
Prosecutors and legal experts say the cases are being handled properly.
“This is about justice and disparate treatment,” said Matt Braynard, a rally organizer and supporter of Trump’s false claims that his defeat was the result of widespread fraud.
While crowds were small, passions rose at times, with sporadic yelling matches breaking out between participants in the rally and counter-demonstrators. Police on bicycles moved in to break up some of these squabbles.
Capitol Police reported four arrests, including a man armed with a handgun spotted in the crowd, though they said it was “not clear why the man was at the demonstration.” Officers in riot gear also removed one man from the rally who had a large knife strapped to his hip.
Organizers of the “Justice for J6” rally called for a peaceful event, but U.S. Capitol Police Chief J. Thomas Manger told reporters there had been threats of violence linked to the rally, some targeting individual members of Congress, and police were bracing to prevent clashes between Trump supporters and opponents.
Trump called Saturday’s rally a “setup” and said media would use it as an excuse to bash Republicans regardless of its outcome, according to an interview on Thursday with the Federalist, a conservative news website.
Unlike on Jan. 6, when Congress was in session to certify Biden’s election, the Capitol was largely empty on Saturday, with most members out of town.