Protesters gather outside the U.S. Capitol building on Jan. 6.

Protesters gather outside the U.S. Capitol building on Jan. 6. Jose Luis Magana / AP

Federal Agencies Brace for Saturday Rally Supporting Jan. 6 Capitol Rioters 

“Federal law enforcement agencies and the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department are in a heightened state of alert,” said a White House spokesperson. 

Federal law enforcement agencies “are in a heightened state of alert” ahead of the rally this Saturday to support those arrested in the deadly riot at the U.S. Capitol in January as lawmakers were certifying the results of the 2020 presidential election. 

About 700 people are expected to attend the “Justice for J6” rally in Union Square Plaza on the Capitol grounds, said Melissa Smislova, Homeland Security Department deputy undersecretary for intelligence enterprise readiness, at an event earlier this week. That is a much smaller number than the crowd that rioted at and breached the Capitol in January, which came after an unprecedented presidential election season and transition. The response was largely seen as a law enforcement and intelligence failure. Five people were killed, over 100 officers were injured and four officers who responded died by suicide in the following months. The House impeached President Trump for the second time for his role in inciting the riots, but he was acquitted by the Senate. 

“Federal law enforcement agencies and the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department are in a heightened state of alert and actively sharing information to ensure appropriate protective measures and operational response plans are in place,” said Karine Jean-Pierre, White House principal deputy press secretary, during a press gaggle on Tuesday. “We hope Saturday remains peaceful. To the extent needed, executive branch law enforcement agencies are postured, prepared and ready to assist Capitol Police.”

She also said that congressional leadership has been briefed on the Capitol Police’s security plans. Also, the Homeland Security Department “noted in the recent National Terrorism Advisory System Bulletin that there are continued calls for violence on multiple online platforms associated with conspiracy theories, and DHS continues to share such information with relevant partners.”

Homeland Security has “been working with the Capitol Police, the FBI, state and locals. We’ve designated ... September 18 as [a special event assessment level three], which means that the federal government will assist the locals and reassure that we are in fact in a good place on September 18,” said Smislova earlier this week.

That assessment level indicates “events of national and/or international importance that require only limited federal support,” said a fact sheet. There are five levels in total. The department is also tracking rallies in other cities and collaborating with state and local authorities there, Smislova said. While the main event is in D.C., rallies are being held in at least 18 other states, according to the hosting organization. 

Also, “members of the public are encouraged to review DHS’s updated National Terrorism Advisory System Bulletin regarding the current heightened threat environment across the United States, should remain aware of the evolving threat environment, and should report suspicious activity to law enforcement officials,” a DHS spokesperson told Government Executive. 

The New York Times published on Friday a security memo on the event from DHS that says: “We assess that some individuals involved in or opposed to the ‘Justice for J6’ rally...may seek to engage in violence, but lack indications of a specific or credible plot associated with the event.” 

Similarly, Paul Abbate, FBI deputy director, said at an event on Tuesday the FBI has “no specific credible threat information about violence that may occur” at the rally.

“The FBI’s Washington field office respects the rights of individuals to peacefully exercise their First Amendment rights,” said a statement from the office. “We do not initiate investigations based solely on an individual’s race, ethnicity, national origin, religion, or the exercise of First Amendment rights. We are committed to working closely with our local, state, and federal law enforcement partners against any individuals who intend to commit violence and criminal activity that constitutes a federal crime or poses a threat to national security. We remind members of the public to be aware of their surroundings and to report any suspicious activity to law enforcement.”

The Justice Department did not respond to requests for comment about security preparations or how many personnel would be involved. 

The U.S. Capitol Police said on Wednesday officials asked the Defense Department for National Guard support. On Friday the department approved 100 troops “who will be stationed at the D.C. Armory as a Physical Security Task Force to augment law enforcement personnel,” said a statement from Lt. Col. Chris Mitchell, spokesperson for the Defense Department. 

“The D.C. National Guard will join a number of local law enforcement agencies in supporting the Capitol Police,” the statement continued. “Should the Capitol Police require assistance, they will first utilize local, state, and federal law enforcement capabilities before requesting the deployment of the Physical Security Task Force. The task force will only be deployed upon request of the Capitol Police to help protect the U.S. Capitol Building and Congressional Office buildings by manning building entry points and verifying credentials of individuals seeking access to the building.”

Since the rally is happening on the Capitol grounds, any permits must be filed with the Capitol Police, not the National Park Service, NPR reported. Also, the Park Service “has not received any permit applications for a counterprotest at Freedom Plaza or any other location,” The Washingtonian said on Wednesday.

Nevertheless, “we are committed to the peaceful assembly and expression of First Amendment rights,” a National Park Service spokesperson said in a statement to Government Executive. “We are continuously working with local and federal partners to ensure that safety protocols are in place for all events and other First Amendment activities. To protect the integrity of our operations, we do not comment on specific plans.”

The event is being organized by Matt Braynard, a former Trump campaign staffer, who is now executive director of the organization Look Ahead America. 

“The purpose of these peaceful protests is for patriotic Americans to educate their state legislators on the power they have to give instructions to their state’s federal legislator,”  Braynard said in a statement. “We have composed a draft resolution a state legislature can pass to inform U.S. senators and representatives to oppose the tyrannical and inhumane treatment of the January 6 political prisoners who have been targeted by the Department of Justice and the FBI.” 

Instructions said participants should “be respectful to our security team and law enforcement” and should not “wear or bring political, candidate, or another organization’s paraphernalia.”