Hundreds rally in support of Capitol riot suspects amid heightened police presence

Supporters of those charged in the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol attend the ‘Justice for J6’ rally near the U.S. Capitol September 18, 2021 in Washington, DC

Supporters of those charged in the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol attend the ‘Justice for J6’ rally near the U.S. Capitol September 18, 2021 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Updated September 18, 2021 at 2:25 PM ET

Hundreds of people turned up for a far-right rally at the U.S. Capitol on Saturday, amid a heightened security presence by the U.S. Capitol Police and other law enforcement agencies.

The event, which was a protest of the ongoing arrests and detention of people accused of participating in the Jan. 6 insurrection, also drew throngs of journalists and counterprotesters.

Speakers delivered remarks from a podium near the Capitol early Saturday afternoon, as crowds milled about nearby. According to Capitol Police, between 400 and 450 people were in the protest area, not including law enforcement.

Event organizer Matt Braynard, executive director of the group Look Ahead America, urged attendees to respect the police and journalists in attendance and said the rally was not intended to support people charged with committing violence on Jan. 6.

“This is about the many people who were there that day who have not been charged with violence, not been accused of assaulting a police officer or destroying property, and the disparate treatment they’ve received,” Braynard said. “This is about equal treatment under the law.”

Police broke up at least one heated exchange between what appeared to be a protester and a counterprotester. Nearby, officers wearing riot gear stood guard.

U.S. Capitol Police said they had arrested a man, who had a knife, for a weapons violation. After the event ended, police said they separated a group of protesters and counterprotesters without incident.

More than 600 people are facing charges related to the Jan. 6 riot investigation, with at least 60 people having pleaded guilty. Most are facing low-level misdemeanor charges, but others are facing more serious allegations, including charges related to the death of U.S. Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick.

Ahead of Saturday’s rally, authorities took steps to ensure they avoided a repeat of what occurred on Jan. 6, when huge crowds of protesters overwhelmed law enforcement and breached the Capitol’s perimeter, gaining access to the building where lawmakers and staff huddled behind locked doors. The riot left several people dead.

Capitol Police installed fencing around the building this week and prepared a detailed security plan, which it shared with lawmakers.

“They seem very, very well-prepared, much better prepared than before Jan. 6,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said recently.

Look Ahead America previously estimated that about 700 people would attend, according to The Washington Post.

NPR’s Danielle Kurtzleben and NPR’s Lauren Hodges contributed to this report.

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