U.S. Officials Warn of Potential Violence at the Sept. 18 Rally in Washington
An internal report by the Department of Homeland Security’s intelligence office cited concerning internet chatter ahead of the rally supporting the suspects in the Jan. 6 riot.,
U.S. officials warn of potential violence at the Sept. 18 rally, but see no ‘specific or credible plot.’
Security fencing was installed around the U.S. Capitol by Thursday, ahead of planned demonstrations this weekend over arrests of after the January 6 attack on the Capitol.Credit…Kenny Holston for The New York Times
Federal law enforcement officials have concluded that supporters of President Donald J. Trump flocking to Washington this weekend to rally for defendants charged in connection with the Jan. 6 riot “may seek to engage in violence,” as authorities ramp up security around the Capitol to prepare for potential unrest.
“We are aware of a small number of recent online threats of violence referencing the planned rally, including online discussions encouraging violence the day before the rally,” intelligence officers from the Department of Homeland Security wrote in a report obtained by The New York Times.
The officers are preparing for violence to erupt with “little-to-no warning,” although authorities have not identified any “specific or credible plot associated with the event,” according to the document, which is dated Sept. 16, 2021.
Still, the report points to concerning chatter on social media, noting that intelligence officials have found that some people are discussing storming the Capitol the night before Saturday’s rally, “and one user commented on kidnapping an identified member of Congress.” Others on the internet have mentioned targeting elected officials, Jewish institutions and “liberal churches.”
The “Justice for J6” rally, slated for Saturday, is being organized by Matt Braynard, a former Trump campaign operative, and his organization, Look Ahead America. The organization has demanded that the Justice Department drop charges against what the group calls “nonviolent protesters” facing charges stemming from the Jan. 6 riot. Organizers have secured a permit for 700 attendees at the rally, according to the document.
In preparation for the event, security officials have restored a security perimeter around the Capitol including a high fence like the one erected in the wake of the Jan. 6 riot.
The rally is the latest effort to rewrite history of the deadly mob attack on the Capitol, which sought to disrupt Congress’s count to formalize President Biden’s victory in the 2020 election, and which prosecutors say led to as many as 1,000 assaults against police officers. Federal authorities have issued multiple intelligence reports this year warning that the attack on Jan. 6 may not have been an isolated episode, and that domestic extremists have been emboldened by the mob attack and false narratives around the 2020 election.
The latest report, titled “Prospects for Violence at ‘Justice for J6’ Rally in Washington, D.C.,” warns of possible violence both by participants in the rally and by counterprotesters. Those seeking to commit violence could use encrypted communication platforms, making it difficult for law enforcement to disrupt any plans, according to the document.
Still, homeland security officers have found fractured support for the rally among those who have supported the storming of the Capitol on Jan. 6. Some individuals sympathetic to those who breached the Capitol have claimed online that the event is a “‘false flag’ planned by authorities to target potential attendees for arrest and have encouraged like-minded individuals to not attend,” according to the document.
Members of Congress and law enforcement officials have said the security preparations for the rally on Saturday are a stark contrast to the planning in the weeks before Jan. 6. A report by two Senate committees found that authorities failed to adequately warn law enforcement officials and share intelligence before the riot earlier this year.
Unlike the riot of Jan. 6 where the Capitol Police were severely outmanned, the agency plans to be at full staffing for the Sept. 18 rally, and has issued an “emergency declaration” that allows officers from other agencies to be deputized with police powers on Capitol grounds.
On Jan. 6, officers at the Capitol waited for hours to receive help from the D.C. National Guard. But for the Sept. 18 rally, the department has already asked the Defense Department to be ready to send in the National Guard “should the need arise” on Saturday.
In addition to restoring the fence, the Capitol Police has installed new security camera technology to better monitor a wider range of activity around the complex, and has streamlined its intelligence-sharing and planning processes in the wake of the attack.
Congressional leaders have said they are encouraged by briefings they’ve received from the Capitol Police about preparations for Sept. 18.
“I believe that they are well prepared, thorough, professional, and I think they are better prepared than people were before Jan. 6,” Senator Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York and the majority leader, said after receiving a briefing on the precautions.