Capitol Police Are Bracing Themselves Ahead Of Far-Right 'Justice For J6' Rally
MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
Law enforcement and people who live here in D.C. are bracing again for the possibility of extremist violence on Capitol grounds. A rally called Justice for J6 is set for tomorrow - J6 a nod January 6, when a mob of Trump supporters launched an attack on the Capitol building. NPR's Odette Yousef covers domestic extremism and is here now.
ODETTE YOUSEF, BYLINE: Hey, Mary Louise.
KELLY: So tell us a little bit more about this rally. Who's expected to go and what's the message?
YOUSEF: Well, the rally is in support of people who've been arrested or charged in connection with the attack on the Capitol. The organizer is demanding that charges be dropped, particularly for people who didn't engage in violence or destruction of property. He's calling them political prisoners. And there is, as you mentioned, a lot of concern that this event is going to bring violence again to the grounds around the Capitol.
But frankly, Mary Louise, experts who monitor the far right have an equal or greater concern as well about how much traction this message has been getting as we get further away from January 6 - this notion that instead of holding people accountable for their crimes that day, the Department of Justice is instead engaging in a political witch hunt. And experts say more people seem to be adopting this view. I will also mention there will also be some local rallies happening in various states starting tomorrow and on following Saturdays at state and federal buildings.
KELLY: Can I follow up on one thing you just said? You said the organizer, suggesting there's one person in charge of this rally. Who is that?
YOUSEF: It's a man named Matt Braynard. He's not a particularly known name on the right, but he worked briefly for the Trump campaign. And now he heads an organization called Look Ahead America. His track record mostly is focused on, you know, furthering unfounded claims of voter fraud during the last presidential race and on trying to register more Republican voters.
KELLY: Well, let's talk about just what it looks like. I saw the fencing going back up around the Capitol earlier this week when I went out for a run along the Mall. I'll confess, it made me feel uneasy. Are we expecting turnout anything on a par with January 6?
YOUSEF: I don't think so. What we've been seeing online is a lot of paranoia, people urging each other not to go, even some calls, Mary Louise, to cancel the event. The Proud Boys have publicly stated its members are not to attend. Many people online are labeling this event a false flag, meaning that they are saying it's secretly organized by the feds to entrap attendees. I spoke with Megan Squire. She's a professor of computer science at Elon University and monitors online extremism. She was watching the online chatter leading up to January 6, and she says what she's seeing in advance of this rally has been completely different.
MEGAN SQUIRE: It seems to be the discussion of whether or not to go, rather than the hard details and, you know, Venmo payments and Cash App happening to actually pay for and manifest the vision.
YOUSEF: Another difference is we're not really seeing nationally known names on the speaker list, Mary Louise. None of the members of Congress who promoted this political prisoner narrative are known to be speaking at it. Former President Trump released a statement in favor of the cause, but he didn't directly acknowledge the event that's planned for tomorrow.
KELLY: Law enforcement is still preparing a lot of security, though.
YOUSEF: That's true. They're taking it very seriously. As you mentioned, the temporary fencing has gone back up at the Capitol. Capitol Police have also requested reinforcement from the National Guard if needed. D.C. police are going to be fully activated and deployed. And today, the head of Capitol Police said there's been some chatter about violence, but couldn't say for certain whether these were credible plots. They're also keeping an eye on counter-protests. There's one that's going to be happening about a mile away from this rally.
KELLY: And can I circle you back to the concern you flagged at the beginning, about the impact of this narrative taking root that the event organizers would like to promote and what role media attention may play in that?
YOUSEF: It's a real concern, Mary Louise. Megan Squire says that is a risk, that we are further spreading a revisionist take on what happened on January 6. But, you know, at the same time, nobody wants to be blindsided if something terrible does occur.
KELLY: Thank you, Odette.
YOUSEF: Thank you.
KELLY: NPR's Odette Yousef.
(SOUNDBITE OF DAN ROMER'S "AN OLD FASHIONED MAN") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.