Homeland Security expects about 700 people at rally to support Capitol riot defendants

About 700 Trump supporters are expected to rally in Washington, DC this weekend to protest the prosecution of accused Capitol rioters, the Department of Homeland Security says.

Melissa Smislova, a deputy undersecretary at DHS, told NBC News that law enforcement is much more ready for Saturday’s rally – named “Justice for J6,” after the riot’s 6 January date – than it had been for the insurrection itself.

While the “Stop the Steal” rally that precipitated the Capitol riot brought out “tens of thousands” of people, Ms Smislova said, the 18 September protest is likely to only bring hundreds. Several other protests for the same cause, however, are also expected around the country.

The Department of Justice has charged more than 600 people in the January assault on the Capitol, when a mob of then-president Donald Trump’s supporters stormed the building, assaulted several police officers, and sent Congress into hiding.

The organisers of Saturday’s protest see those defendants as “political prisoners.” Matt Braynard, a former Trump campaign aide and director of Look Ahead America, calls the rally an “effort to raise awareness of this tragedy, of this grave violation of civil rights of hundreds of our fellow Americans.”

According to DHS, a number of the expected protesters are connected to the same groups that stormed the Capitol in January. The protesters plan to gather in DC’s Union Square, a short walk from the Capitol steps.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has condemned the rally.

“What happened on January 6 was such an assault on this beautiful Capitol,” the speaker told reporters last week. “And now these people are coming back to praise the people who were out to kill members of Congress.”

Ms Smislova, however, says law enforcement groups are much better prepared this time around, particularly because they’ve been more vigorously sharing intelligence.

“What we realised after January 6 is that we had gotten a little bit lax in some of the aggressive conversations,” the DHS official told NBC. “Some of it was a lack of discipline, complacency maybe even … The information was still out there, but you had to actually seek it out as opposed to having it brought to you.”

The Justice for J6 rally is scheduled to start at 12 noon this Saturday.

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