WASHINGTON – First, some blamed the deadly January 6 attack on the United States Capitol on left-wing antifa antagonists, a theory that was quickly debunked. Then came the rioters’ comparisons to peaceful protesters or even tourists.
Now, former President Donald Trump’s allies are calling the defendants in the Capitol riot “political prisoners,” an impressive effort to revise the narrative of that deadly day.
The blatant rhetoric ahead of a planned Saturday rally on Capitol Hill is the latest attempt to explain the horrific assault and obscure what happened for all the world to see: rioters loyal to the then president storming the building, fighting the police and trying to prevent Congress from certifying the election of Democrat Joe Biden.
“Some people are calling it true on January 6; they are rewriting the narrative to make it look like January 6 was not a big deal, and it was a big problem, and an attack on our democracy,” Heidi Beirich said. co-founder of the Global Project Against Hate and Extremism, which studies extremist movements.
Altogether, the attempt to whitewash the January 6 attack threatens to further divide an already polarized nation drifting from what had been common ground and a shared commitment to civic order toward a disturbing new normal.
Rather than a nation rebounding eight months after the deadly attack, the country risks tearing itself apart even further as the next elections approach.
The anticipated size of the crowd and the intensity of Saturday’s rally are unclear, but law enforcement appears to be taking no chances. Security fences were approved Monday for areas around the Capitol, and reinforcements are being called in to support the Capitol Police, whose leadership was criticized and summarily removed from office for its Jan.6 handling.
While authorities have been bracing for a repeat of right-wing extremist groups and others loyal to Trump that stormed the Capitol, it is unclear if those actors will participate in the new event. 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 most serious crimes in the attack.
Whether those groups participate or not, the rally could bring lone actors to Washington. Just after midnight Monday, Capitol Police arrested a California man who had a bayonet and a machete in his truck in front of the Democratic National Committee headquarters. The man, Donald Craighead of Oceanside, California, had a swastika and other white supremacist symbols painted on his truck and told officers he was “on patrol.” Police said it was unclear whether he planned to attend the next demonstrations.
Rally organizer Matt Braynard, a former Trump campaign strategist, has been promoting the event and others like it in cities across the country, focusing attention on what he calls the “prisoners” wrongly prosecuted for their involvement in the riot of January 6.
“I am so proud of all the brave patriots who participated in these rallies under the same threat to their rights as so many who are now being held in prison for a non-violent expression of their First Amendment rights,” he said in a press release from July.
Braynard declined to answer additional questions via email, and The Associated Press refused to agree to the conditions he set for an interview.
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 Saturday’s rally, despite many still echoing his false claims of that the election was rigged, despite numerous court cases. by Trump allies who have been unable to confirm those allegations.
Rep. Mo Brooks, R-Alabama, who joined attendees at a rally near the White House on Jan. 6 where Trump encouraged the crowd to go to the Capitol, declined to comment, his spokesman said by email. . Brooks is now running for Senate.
Another Republican, Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, who voted to challenge some Electoral College accounts, was not available for an interview, his office said.
Also turning down an interview was Sen. 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.
More than 600 people face federal charges in the riot that injured dozens of officers and sent lawmakers underground. Five people were ultimately killed, including Trump supporter Ashli Babbitt, who was shot and killed by police as she tried to break into a lobby outside the House chamber. Subsequently, several police officers took their own lives.
Hundreds of people were charged with misdemeanors for illegally entering the Capitol, but hundreds more face charges for more serious felonies, such as assault, obstruction of official proceeding, or conspiracy.
The most serious cases have been against members of two far-right extremist groups, Proud Boys and Oath Keepers, as authorities investigate the extent to which the attack was planned. No defendants on January 6 have been charged with sedition, although they were initially considered by authorities.
More than 60 people have pleaded guilty, mostly to misdemeanors, for demonstrating on Capitol Hill.
Only a fraction of the accused remain locked up while awaiting trial. Attorneys have complained of too harsh conditions for the January 6 defendants in the DC jail, saying they are being held in what has been dubbed the “Patriot Unit.”
Advocates for the alleged Capitol attackers say they face tougher prosecutions for their political views than others, including Black Lives Matter protesters, but an AP review of court cases refutes that claim.
Representative Adam Schiff, Democrat of California, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee and member of the select panel investigating the January 6 attack, said that those who violated the law should be prosecuted, “otherwise, we just rationalize, we excuse and encourage more of the same. “
The lush Capitol grounds, a favorite spot for people to take photos in front of the iconic dome, typically saw few legislators or staff on Saturdays. While the Senate returned to session on Monday, the House will not resume until next week.
When the fence was first erected around the Capitol after the January attack, it drew strong criticism from those concerned about the message that was sent as a symbol of closed democracy. Now, it is increasingly seen as a necessary precaution.
Associated Press writers Alanna Durkin in Boston and Michael Balsamo, Eric Tucker, and Mary Clare Jalonick in Washington contributed to this report.