Sparse pro-Trump crowds rally as US Capitol on high alert

WASHINGTON (REUTERS) – Police vastly outnumbered protesters around the US Capitol on Saturday (Sept 18) at a rally by supporters of the people who breached the building on Jan 6, trying to overturn former president Donald Trump’s election defeat.

Hundreds of officers patrolled the Capitol grounds and a black 2.44m-high fence which surrounded the white-domed building for about six months after the attack was reinstalled in anticipation of the event.

One hundred National Guard troops were on standby and security officials were performing additional checks on travellers arriving at Washington’s nearest airport in an effort to prevent violence.

A trickle of several dozen protesters arrived, some carrying the flags of the right-wing group Three Percenters over their shoulders, and far fewer than the several hundred that organisers had expected.

“We have no way of tracking it,” said Matt Braynard, a rally organizer and supporter of Trump’s false claims that his defeat was the result of widespread fraud, when asked for a crowd estimate.

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.

Organisers 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 and police were bracing to prevent clashes between Trump supporters and opponents.

Tony Smith, 40, of Upper Marlboro, Maryland, said he had come to voice his support for a fair judicial process for those charged in the breach of the Capitol on Jan 6.

“If we don’t honour that, we don’t honour America,” said Smith, who was carrying a poster board that said “We Want Trump!”

Hundreds charged in Jan 6 riot

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.

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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 (are) justice for Jan 6. I think justice for Jan 6 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.

Trump was ultimately acquitted by the then-Republican-controlled Senate.

While hundreds have been arrested for taking part in the riot – some of whom posted images online of their activities on Jan 6 – questions remain unanswered. No suspects have yet been identified in the investigation into who planted pipe bombs at the Democratic and Republican parties’ national headquarters near the Capitol on Jan 5.

Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin has put 100 National Guard troops on standby to help police on Saturday if needed. Those troops, unarmed except for batons, would be used after local, state and federal law enforcement capabilities had been tapped, a Pentagon spokesman said.

National Guard troops were stationed in and around the Capitol from early January through late May, with as many as 5,200 troops in place at the mission’s peak.

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