Washington ramps up security ahead of Sept. 18 rally
Taking no chances, Capitol Police and other law enforcement officials are ramping up security measures ahead of Saturday’s rally in Washington to support the pro-Trump insurrectionists who attacked the Capitol earlier in the year.
Security officials and congressional leaders appeared to be blindsided by the riot of Jan. 6, when a violent mob of Trump supporters overwhelmed police officers and stormed the Capitol in a failed attempt to overturn President Biden’s election victory.
Eight months later, the Capitol’s top security officers are long gone. But their replacements are scrambling to ensure that the tragic events of Jan. 6 don’t recur on their watch.
Capitol Police have installed temporary high-tech security cameras to allow them a vaster view of the Capitol complex. A Capitol security board on Monday approved a plan to reinstall a seven-foot fence around the main Capitol building, which had stood for months after January’s deadly assault.
The board also said it has issued an emergency declaration, which will allow Capitol Police to deputize outside law enforcement as “special” Capitol Police officers on Saturday.
And unlike the lead up to Jan. 6, when a number of lawmakers were warning of rampant violence during Congress’s vote to formalize the election results, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and other Hill leaders have been requesting security briefings ahead of Sept. 18, including one held Monday, to ensure officials have a game plan if violence erupts this weekend.
“We are here to protect everyone’s First Amendment right to peacefully protest,” Capitol Police Chief Tom Manger said in a statement after the briefing. “I urge anyone who is thinking about causing trouble to stay home. We will enforce the law and not tolerate violence.”
Leaving Monday’s briefing, Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said he sees a clear distinction between the security planning now versus January.
“They seemed very, very well-prepared — much better prepared than before Jan. 6,” he said. “I think they’re ready for whatever might happen.”
Pelosi offered a similar assessment, saying she’s seen “much better communication” between security officials heading into Saturday’s rally. Yet she also took a subtle shot at the former security heads, lamenting that congressional leaders were left out of the loop in January.
“It seems much better,” Pelosi said after Monday’s briefing. But “I don’t have anything to compare to, because we weren’t briefed before.”
Adding to the urgency surrounding the security planning, Capitol Police officers early Monday morning arrested a 44-year-old California man for possessing a bayonet and a machete just outside the Democratic National Committee headquarters, which sits just south of the Capitol and was targeted with a pipe bomb shortly before the Jan. 6 attack.
Both items are illegal in Washington.
The man, Donald Craighead, was driving a truck laden with white supremacist slogans and said he was “on patrol,” according to Capitol Police. Police said it was unclear if there was any connection between Craighead and this weekend’s demonstration at the Capitol.
Organized by Matt Braynard, a former Trump campaign staffer, Saturday’s “Justice for J6” rally is designed to highlight the treatment of hundreds of people who participated in the Capitol riot on Jan. 6. Many of those arrested have been held in jail for months awaiting trial, and former President Trump’s most vociferous allies — including a number of Republicans on Capitol Hill — are characterizing them as political prisoners.
In July, Reps. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), Louie Gohmert (R-Texas), Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.) and Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) staged a small protest of their own outside the Department of Justice in Washington after they were denied visits with some of the Jan. 6 detainees. And they’ve continued to press the case that those conservatives are being persecuted for their political beliefs.
“The reason why they’re taking these political prisoners is because they’re trying to make an example, because they don’t want to see the mass protests going on in Washington,” Rep. Madison Cawthorn (R-N.C.), another fervent Trump ally, said during a recent rally in his district.
But other high-profile Republicans have rejected that argument, forcefully condemning the insurrectionists as domestic terrorists. In a speech marking the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, former President George W. Bush likened foreign terrorists to those who carried out the violent assault on the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6.
“We have seen growing evidence that the dangers to our country can come not only across borders, but from violence that gathers within,” Bush said in a speech in Shanksville, Pa. “There is little cultural overlap between violent extremists abroad and violent extremists at home.
“But in their disdain for pluralism, in their disregard for human life, in their determination to defile national symbols, they are children of the same foul spirit. And it is our continuing duty to confront them.”
Among the various security measures being escalated before Saturday, the reinstallation of the Capitol security fence is likely to be the most controversial. The original fence was erected in the days following the deadly rampage at the Capitol on Jan. 6 and quickly became a symbol of both the failure of law enforcers to secure the building and the ongoing effort by Trump to overturn his election defeat.
It also infuriated Republicans in Congress, who accused Democrats of politicizing Jan. 6 by exaggerating the violent threat posed by Trump’s supporters. Closer to home, neighbors in the vicinity of Capitol Hill also pushed hard to have the fence removed.
Manger appears to recognize the volatile nature of the fence debate, vowing Monday that it won’t remain in place very long.
“The fence will go up a day or two before” Sept. 18, he told reporters Monday, “and if everything goes well it will come down very soon after.”
A wild card in Saturday’s security plans is the National Guard. By the evening of Jan. 6, dozens of National Guard troops were on hand helping to secure the Capitol complex and drive rioters back toward the National Mall. And thousands of service members from around the country patrolled the Capitol grounds in the days, weeks and months after the attack.
But it’s unclear if the National Guard will provide direct support to Capitol Police officers on Saturday. As of Monday, a formal request had not been made from the Capitol Police Board to the Pentagon, but law enforcement and national security officials are talking. And it’s possible some Guard troops will be put on standby near the Capitol complex that day, sources said.
“We maintain constant interagency communication, certainly have since the 6th of January for sure, and I expect that that communication will continue,” said Pentagon spokesman John Kirby. “But I’m not aware of any specific requests or specific communications right now.”
Rebecca Kheel contributed.