Weekend Rally at U.S. Capitol to Paint January 6 Rioters as Political Prisoners

An upcoming rally at the U.S. Capitol is anticipated to center on the rhetoric that people charged for their roles in the January 6 attacks on the building are "political prisoners," the Associated Press reported. Matt Braynard, who was a strategist for former President Donald Trump's campaign, organized the rally and has been promoting it and similar events on the idea that the prosecution of those involved in the attack is unjust.

"I am so proud of all of the brave patriots who participated in these rallies under the same threat to their rights of so many who are being held in prison now for a non-violent expression of their First Amendment rights," he said in a July news release.

The imminent rally's message is one of the latest attempts to reframe the events of January 6, when supporters of Trump stormed and breached the Capitol in an attempt to halt the certification of President Joe Biden's election victory, the AP reported. Some promoted the theory that the attack was carried out by left-wing members of antifa, while others have compared the rioters to tourists.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Jan. 6 Rioters
A weekend rally at the U.S. Capitol is expected to frame people charged for their roles in the Jan. 6 riots as "political prisoners." Insurrections loyal to President Donald Trump try to break through a police barrier at the Capitol in Washington on Jan. 6, 2021. John Minchillo/AP Photo

"Some people are calling it January 6 trutherism — they're rewriting the narrative to make it seem like January 6 was no big deal, and it was a damn big deal, and an attack on our democracy," said Heidi Beirich, co-founder of the Global Project Against Hate and Extremism, who studies extremist movements.

All told, the attempted whitewashing of the January 6 attack threatens to further divide an already polarized nation that finds itself drifting from what had been common facts and a shared commitment to civic order toward an unsettling new normal.

Rather than a nation healing eight months after the deadly assault, it is at risk of tearing itself further apart, as the next election approaches.

The anticipated crowd size and the intensity of the Saturday rally are unclear, but law enforcement appears to be taking no chances. Security fencing has been requested around the Capitol and reinforcements are being summoned to back up the Capitol Police, whose leadership was criticized and summarily dismissed for its handling of January 6.

While authorities have been bracing for a repeat appearance by right-wing extremist groups and other Trump loyalists who mobbed the Capitol, it's unclear if those actors will participate in the new event. The extremist groups are concerning because, while members of the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers made up a small portion of the January 6 rioters, they are accused of some of the more serious crimes in the attack.

As Trump openly considers another run for the White House, many of the Republican lawmakers who joined his effort to challenge Biden's victory are staying away from the Saturday rally, even though many still echo his false claims that the election was rigged — despite numerous court cases by Trump's allies that have failed to confirm those allegations.

Representative Mo Brooks, R-Alabama, who joined rally-goers near the White House on January 6 where Trump encouraged the crowd to go to the Capitol, declined to comment, his spokesman said by email. Brooks is now running for the Senate.

Another Republican, Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, who voted to challenge some Electoral College tallies, was unavailable for an interview, his office said.

Also declining an interview was Senator Josh Hawley, R-Missouri, who was captured in a photo raising a fist in salute to the mob as he entered the Capitol that day.

Yet, even in their absence, some of the Republicans are telegraphing their views. When asked whether he would be attending, Hawley's office issued a comment on the senator's behalf.

"Joe Biden should resign," Hawley said in a statement.

More than 600 people are facing federal charges in the riot that injured dozens of officers and sent lawmakers into hiding. Five people eventually died, including Trump supporter Ashli Babbitt, who was shot and killed by police as she tried to break into a lobby off the House chamber. Several police officers later took their own lives.

Hundreds of people were charged with misdemeanors for entering the Capitol illegally, but hundreds of others are facing more serious felony charges including assault, obstruction of an official proceeding or conspiracy.

The most serious cases have been brought against members of two far-right extremist groups — the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers — as authorities probe to what extent the attack was planned. No January 6 defendant has been charged with sedition, though it was initially considered by authorities.

More than 60 people have pleaded guilty, mostly to misdemeanor charges of demonstrating in the Capitol.

Only a fraction of the defendants remain locked up while they await trial. Lawyers have complained of overly harsh conditions for the January 6 defendants in the D.C. jail, saying they are being held in what has been dubbed the "Patriot Unit."

Defenders of the alleged Capitol attackers claim they are facing harsher prosecutions because of their political views than others, including Black Lives Matter protesters, but a review of court cases by the AP refutes that claim.

Representative Adam Schiff, D-California, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee and a member of the select panel investigating the January 6 attack, said those who broke the law need to be prosecuted, "otherwise, we just rationalize, excuse and encourage more of the same."

Schiff laments that the nation had a chance to move on from the attack of January 6, but instead chose a different path.

"There was really an opportunity to repudiate everything that led up to January 6, and instead, Republican leadership has continued to embrace it," he said. "So that is discouraging. It means that the recovery is going to take much longer than it should."

Capitol Rioters Climb Wall
Some people have attempted to reframe the January 6 attacks on the Capitol as an act carried out by antifa members and the rioters as peaceful protestors or tourists. Rioters climb the west wall of the the U.S. Capitol in Washington on January 6, 2021. Jose Luis Magana/AP Photo