Capitol Hill residents brace for ‘Justice for J6’ rally this weekend

The rally supporting the Jan. 6 rioters on Saturday, Sept. 18 is on the Capitol’s West Lawn, where the Jan. 6 riot took place. 

By Vanessa Montalbano

Recently installed surveillance equipment is stationed near the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday. (Vanessa Montalbano, thewash.org) 

Fencing around the U.S. Capitol is set to be reinstalled late this week in preparation for Saturday’s “Justice for J6” rally, organized in support of those who were charged after a mob attacked the Capitol building on Jan. 6. The supporters of former President Donald Trump wanted to stop lawmakers from certifying President Biden’s November election victory.

The fencing as a precaution was announced by Capitol Police Monday along with other temporary security measures. The Metropolitan Police Department announced in a statement that it will activate its full force Saturday, meaning that all officers will be on-duty. The Capitol Police Board announced that an emergency declaration will go into effect at the time of the demonstration, allowing the Capitol Police department to deputize regional and other outside law enforcement officers. 

Capitol Hill neighbors advocated for nearly six months to get the barrier, which was one of the last remaining structures symbolizing what went wrong during the riot, removed. At the time, security personnel did not budge to community pleas, citing nonspecific threats of future violence. 

The restored fencing arrives just two months after the original was taken down. 

Capitol Police Chief J. Thomas Manger, who was installed in his post after his predecessor was forced to resign in response to  Jan. 6, said in a statement the fence would go up “a day or two before” Saturday’s event and is expected to be taken down “very soon after” if “everything goes well.” 

Some Capitol Hill residents continue to be frustrated with the clash between politics and community life in their neighborhood, but many say they understand the necessity to take every precaution possible. 

Stephanie Brun de Pontet, a 53-year-old consultant living in the area, said she is sad to see the perimeter fence go back up.

“I walk my dog on the property two times a day, and I just love the openness of this place,” Brun de Pontet said, motioning in the direction of the Capitol dome. “I don’t think they have a choice security wise. Hopefully it’s not up for too long.” 

Local ANC Councilmember Charles Allen, who represents Capitol Hill, has had meetings with Chief Manger regarding Saturday’s preparation plans. He said Manger agreed to prioritize community requests that the fence “be limited to as small a footprint as possible and be taken down as soon as possible afterwards.”

Betty Wright-Thomas, a 79-year-old veteran and retired D.C. public schools employee, lives on 6th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue. She said she plans to stay home and away from the Capitol complex at the time of the protest Saturday. 

“I know I’ll be  keeping away from the activity and staying in my home,” Wright-Thomas said. “I look forward to walking up that hill five times a week so I’m definitely disappointed, but I understand it must be done for our safety.” 

Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.), who represents the city in the House, is also a resident of Capitol Hill. She said in an interview that what her neighbors want from lawmakers and police with regard to demonstrations like this one is “a presence but not the kind of presence that takes away from the neighborhood.” 

Now, she said “authorities are being over prepared given what happened” on Jan. 6. 

Norton explained that Ward 6, where Capitol Hill is located, was particularly harmed by the events nine months ago because the space is used by a lot of people, especially families, for recreation. 

But, she said she thinks “Jan. 6 is fading,” and that there will be less participation or violence on Saturday. 

Former Trump campaign employee and executive director of Look Ahead America, Matt Braynard, is orchestrating Saturday’s event. According to Look Ahead America’s website, around 700 people have RSVP’d to the “JusticeforJ6” rally—a stark contrast to the tens of thousands who attended the riot on Jan. 6. 

In a website video promoting the rally, Braynard labeled those arrested as “political prisoners,” who have had their civil rights violated while encouraging attendees not to cause any trouble and to respect security teams. 

The Metropolitan Police Department said in a statement that it “will be monitoring and assessing the activities and planning accordingly with our federal law enforcement partners.” 

Lawmakers are not expected to be in the Capitol building as the rally is on Saturday.

“As a resident of Ward 6 myself,” Norton said. “I think everyone needs to calm down.” 

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