After an unprecedented security surge in the runup by U.S. Capitol and law enforcement groups, the “Justice for J6” rally moved into D.C. Saturday and broke up as scheduled at about 1:15 p.m., with few incidents.
The U.S. Capitol Police said they made four arrests near the demonstration.
Saturday’s rally was organized by a group in support of those charged in the deadly attack on the Capitol Jan. 6, and “officials were planning for the worst and hoping for the best, and that appears to be what happened,” WTOP’s Ken Duffy said.
The rally was set for Union Square, between 1st and 3rd streets. Some 700 people were expected to attend the demonstration, according to the event permit.
At about 2 p.m., WTOP Capitol Hill Correspondent Mitchell Miller estimated the crowd at a few hundred and said, “This was really your standard Washington First Amendment exercise” that ended peacefully.
The Capitol Police estimated the crowd at about 400 to 450.
Organizer Matt Braynard at the rally called for a round of applause for police officers, saying, “We respect you. We know you have a tough job. We’re not your enemy.” He told protesters to “take your anger and channel it into something productive,” and said the gathering was in support of those who he described as “caught up in the moment” Jan. 6. Those who committed violent acts, he said, “belong in prison.”
Capitol Police Chief Tom Manger said Friday that the primary concern was not violence at the rally itself, but the potential for violent clashes between the demonstrators and counter-protesters.
WTOP’s Alejandro Alvarez said he’d seen counter-protesters mixing in with rally-goers, but “I have not seen [them] making any attempt to disrupt the event.” He added that “Some debates have broken out, some quite heated. But personally I have not seen any direct confrontation” between any combination of protesters, counter-protesters and the police.
Duffy reported Saturday from the Capitol that there was “a brief interaction between counter-protesters and those leaving the rally heading north from here, but they broke that up pretty quickly.”
The Capitol Police said they stopped a vehicle on Louisiana Avenue Saturday morning and arrested two people on “felony extraditable warrants” out of Texas.
The USCP also stopped a vehicle along Louisiana Ave. this morning and subsequently arrested two people for felony extraditable warrants out of Texas. One was for Possession of a Firearm. The other was for a probation violation.
So far, the USCP is reporting a total of 4 arrests.
The Capitol Police also said a man was spotted with a gun in the rally crowd at 1:30 p.m. and charged him.
At 1:30 pm, someone spotted what appeared to be a handgun on a man in the crowd. The witness told USCP officers, who detained the suspect. At this time, it is not clear why the man was at the demonstration. Officers charged him with 40 U.S. Code § 5104 – Unlawful activities.
Miller said one of the counter-protesters was Doug Hughes, who in 2015 flew a gyrocopter onto the West Lawn of the Capitol near the site of today’s rally. He was jailed and lost his job but says he has no regrets. He was protesting government corruption.
All morning, there was a large police presence around the Capitol and throughout the National Mall. Miller said the area on the side of the reflecting pool closest to the National Mall was “lined with heavy trucks and major law enforcement presence.”
Miller said that even though the rally was set for the west side of the Capitol, police had a heavy presence on the east side and throughout the Capitol grounds, as well as several policing units on bikes throughout the area.
Police from Fairfax County were seen near the Capitol, being brought in to bolster the Capitol Police.
WTOP’s John Domen said that the biggest police presence on Saturday morning was about 100 to 150 yards away from the main demonstration site.
“Lots of law enforcement with riot gear just sort of hanging out in the background in case they’re needed,” Domen said. He said signs from counter-protesters could be seen at the rally site.
The Capitol Police were hoping to avoid what happened on Jan. 6, when a mob breached the Capitol in an attempt to stop Congress from confirming the electoral votes for Joe Biden.
Threats of violence related to the rally had been identified in intelligence “chatter,” Capitol Police Chief Tom Manger said Friday. CBS News reported that the Department of Homeland Security informed law enforcement partners of a “small number of recent online threats of violence” linked to the rally, as well as the encouragement of violence the day before the rally.”
Braynard had told WTOP that there would not be any violence during the rally, and that he had no plans to cancel it over the risk of violence.
A church that was vandalized during a rally supporting former President Donald Trump last year called on police to ramp up security and expressed concerns about what the demonstration could mean for the safety of the congregation, pointing to a report warning that Jewish centers and liberal churches could be targeted.
The U.S. Capitol Police asked the Defense Department for National Guard support as well.
Some roads that were closed near the Capitol for the rally may stay closed until midnight.
WTOP’s Abigail Costantino contributed to this report.
Valerie Bonk started working at WTOP in 2016 and has lived in Howard County, Maryland, her entire life. She's thrilled to be a reporter for WTOP telling stories on air. She works as both a television and radio reporter in the Maryland and D.C. areas.
Rick Massimo came to WTOP, and to Washington, in 2012 after having lived in Providence, R.I., since he was a child. He went to George Washington University as an undergraduate and is regularly surprised at the changes to the city since that faraway time.