House

Republicans keep distance from 'Justice for J6' rally

Republicans are keeping their distance from Saturday's "Justice for J6" rally on Capitol Hill without explicitly condemning its support for people accused of crimes related to storming the Capitol on Jan. 6.

Despite several far-right House members expressing sympathy for the rioters in recent months and depicting them as "political prisoners," none have said they plan to attend the rally.

Former President Trump said Thursday that people accused of crimes related to Jan. 6 were being "persecuted" but notably didn't make any reference to Saturday's event.

The distance from the rally is in line with Republicans trying to avoid further discussion of the attack, which was carried out by Trump supporters, and the actions that led to the chaos, including those by Trump and GOP lawmakers who had encouraged the effort to overturn his election defeat.

Yet Republicans' general silence on the merits of the rally shows how they are loath to risk alienating a base that remains loyal to Trump and increasingly believes the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol was justified or overblown.

A poll released this week by the Public Religion Research Institute hints at the impetus behind the balancing act, finding that while 59 percent of all respondents blame white supremacist groups for the rampage - and 56 percent blame Trump - those numbers fall precipitously among Republicans, to 30 percent and 15 percent, respectively. In the eyes of  61 percent of GOP voters, in fact, liberal activists were behind the Jan. 6 attack - a narrative with no basis in fact.

"We've got this element in American society that is embracing violence to promote a lie," Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), a member of the House select committee investigating the insurrection, told CNN this week. "And, unfortunately, we have elected political leaders and former elected political leaders that are promoting the same lies."

During a press conference with Senate GOP leaders earlier this week, a reporter asked "what do you say to the people who are coming here" for Saturday's rally, citing other Republicans calling accused rioters in jail "political prisoners."

The GOP senators' response was to focus on expressing confidence in law enforcement's preparations instead of addressing the motives for the rally.

"I believe that they are well equipped to handle what may or may not occur," said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).

Organized by Matt Braynard, a former Trump campaign staffer, Saturday's protest aims to highlight what many Trump allies consider the unfair treatment of hundreds of people arrested over their alleged actions surrounding the Jan. 6 riot. Braynard, who now heads Look Ahead America, a conservative advocacy group, says the organization opposes all forms of political violence and supports the incarceration of those who attacked police officers or destroyed property on Jan. 6.

Their protest relates largely to the others who were arrested over nonviolent offenses and are now being treated as "political prisoners," he said in a long interview with C-SPAN on Friday.

"Historically, these individuals who have engaged in this behavior at the Capitol have been given a slap on the wrist," Braynard said. He cited the relatively minor fines given to activists who had protested the confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh as evidence that the Jan. 6 protesters have been singled out for harsher treatment.

"There's a big disparity between the way those people are being treated and these people are being treated, despite engaging in exactly the same behavior and facing the same charges," he said. "It's not about what they did but about what they believe, and that's what makes them political prisoners."

Joining Braynard outside the Capitol on Saturday will be family members of some of those who were arrested as well as at least two GOP candidates vying for Congress in 2022: Mike Collins, who's running to replace outgoing Rep. Jody Hice (R) in Georgia, and Joe Kent, who's challenging Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler (R) in Washington state. Herrera Beutler was among the 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach Trump for inciting the Jan. 6 riot - a distinction that has earned the wrath of the former president and his followers.

"I'm speaking at the rally for the J6 political prisoners tomorrow in DC for one reason," Kent tweeted Friday. "Constitutional rights are being denied to hundreds of Americans due to their political affiliation & a narrative based on lies."

Trump's allies on Capitol Hill have not shown a similar interest in attending.

In July, GOP Reps. Matt Gaetz (Fla.), Louie Gohmert (Texas), Paul Gosar (Ariz.) and Marjorie Taylor Greene (Ga.) had taken up the cause, protesting outside the Department of Justice in Washington, D.C. Gaetz, Gohmert and Greene were also denied entry to a D.C. jail in an attempt to visit with some of the Jan. 6 rioters.

And in recent weeks, Rep. Madison Cawthorn (R-N.C.) described the jailed rioters as "political hostages" and suggested in an interview with the Smoky Mountain News that people who "saw an open door at the top of the Capitol, and they were just kind of wandering in" were being treated too harshly.

Yet aides to Greene, Gohmert and Cawthorn confirmed to The Hill they won't be at Saturday's rally, while Gosar and Gaetz have not telegraphed plans to attend either.

Capitol Police Chief Tom Manger said Friday that he was "not aware of any elected officials that are planning to attend."

"There were a few that were invited. To my knowledge, all of them have declined," Manger said at a news conference meant to project confidence in law enforcement preparations.

Despite expectations that Saturday's protest will be far smaller than Trump's rally in January that preceded the Capitol breach, law enforcement officials - who were blindsided by the attack - are leaving nothing to chance this time. On Wednesday, Capitol Police reinstalled the seven-foot security fence around the Capitol just two months after it was finally removed. The Pentagon also announced Friday that it has approved 100 National Guard troops to serve as security reinforcements during Saturday's event.

"There have been some threats of violence associated with the events for tomorrow. We have a strong plan in place to ensure that it remains peaceful and that if violence does occur, that we can stop it as quickly as possible," Manger said.

The reluctance of sitting lawmakers to participate may reflect a new tone of caution among Republicans, who have their eyes on flipping the House in 2022 and would rather focus on President Biden's agenda than the Jan. 6 riot, which left several people dead and roughly 140 police officers injured.

Trump himself may be the more significant factor.

The former president has been persistent since ceding office in trumpeting the lie that the election was stolen. And on Thursday, he offered blunt support for those arrested for storming the Capitol on Jan. 6, saying their incarcerations are evidence of "a two-tiered system of justice." But he did not mention Saturday's protest.

"Our hearts and minds are with the people being persecuted so unfairly relating to the January 6th protest concerning the Rigged Presidential Election," Trump said in a statement.

Democrats quickly condemned his remarks, accusing the former president of both defending the violence of Jan. 6 and tacitly encouraging his supporters to participate on Saturday.

"It shows that Donald Trump remains not just a threat to our democracy, but an actual physical security threat," Rep. Jason Crow (D-Colo.), a former Army Ranger, told CNN this week.

Outbrain