This story has been updated as of 10:07 a.m. Wednesday.
WASHINGTON — Security fencing was installed Wednesday around the United States Capitol Building ahead of a Saturday rally supporting those jailed in connection with the deadly Jan. 6 insurrection.
The Capitol Police Board on Monday approved a plan to temporarily erect a fence around the Capitol.
“We are here to protect everyone’s First Amendment right to peacefully protest,” Capitol Police Chief Tom Manger said in a statement. “I urge anyone who is thinking about causing trouble to stay home. We will enforce the law and not tolerate violence.”
The fencing is encircling the Capitol grounds but is not hindering pedestrian or vehicular traffic on the surrounding streets.
Law enforcement officials appear to be planning a show of force amidst widespread criticism of the rally as a thinly-disguised extension of the first rally, fueled by lies spread by former President Donald Trump and his allies that he won last year’s presidential election.
“…These people are coming back to praise the people who were out to kill, out to kill members of Congress, successfully causing the deaths – ‘successfully’ is not the word, but that’s the word, because it’s what they set out to do – of our law enforcement,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California, told reporters last week.
Far-right extremists stormed the Capitol Jan. 6, aiming to obstruct the certification of President Joe Biden’s electoral victory. Five police officers died following the attack, including four by suicide. Two of the rioters also died.
More than 570 people have been arrested in connection with the event, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia.
There was no fencing around the Capitol grounds on Jan. 6, but it was put up after the insurrection and remained in place for six months. The Capitol itself has been closed to the public since the start of the coronavirus pandemic in the spring of 2020, the longest closure in the iconic building’s history.
Look Ahead America, an organization headed by a former Trump campaign operative, is planning the “Justice for J6” rally on the Capitol’s East end of the National Mall in front of the Capitol.
“We’re going to be safe. We’re going to raise our voices in defense of our fellow Americans who’ve had their rights and due process violated,” said Matt Braynard, the nonprofit’s executive director, in a YouTube video on the organization’s website. “We’re going to raise our voices demanding justice for Ashli Babbitt, and for the government to come clean on whatever involvement the FBI might have had in the events of Jan. 6.”
A Capitol Police officer fatally shot Babbitt during the Jan. 6 riot as she attempted to breach barricaded doors leading to the lobby off the House of Representatives chamber.
“The January 6th attack on the U.S. Capitol is a stain on our democracy,” House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Mechanicsville, told CNS in an email. “I believe it is the right decision to strengthen security around the Capitol in anticipation of the upcoming ‘Justice for J6’ rally this Saturday based on the intel ahead of the event.”
Capitol Police said it “is aware of concerning online chatter.” And the Capitol Police Board last week issued an emergency declaration allowing the department to deputize outside law enforcement as Capitol Police special officers.
According to NBC News, Melissa Smislova, deputy undersecretary for intelligence enterprise readiness at the Homeland Security Department, said the agency estimates that about 700 people will attend the rally.
In an interview with WTOP on Braynard’s Youtube channel, he said he had no safety concerns and that “there’s not going to be any violence.”
He declined to be interviewed by CNS.
Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Maryland, told CNS that it’s important the rally is taken seriously.
“We witnessed a violent mob attack the Capitol of the United States, attack our democracy,” he said. “And now you have people organizing in support of those who violently attacked the Capitol. It has to be taken with the utmost seriousness, and everything I’ve seen indicates that the Capitol Police are taking this seriously.”
Rep. C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger, D-Timonium, in an email to CNS, said: “I trust that our federal, state and local law enforcement agencies, including their intelligence units, are working collaboratively to prevent a reoccurrence of January 6 this weekend, including additional fencing.”
Washington’s Metropolitan Police will be “fully prepared” ahead of the rally and will have an increased presence around the city at the locations of the demonstrations, Alaina Gertz, a public affairs specialist for the department told CNS in an email.
“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,” U.S. Park Police said in an email.
“We want to reassure everyone these are temporary measures to ensure everyone’s safety,” Manger said. “We are extremely grateful for the support we continue to receive from the local community and our congressional stakeholders as we carry out our critical mission.”