Social Media Chatter Around Capitol Rioter Protest Includes Targeting Lawmakers: DHS

Social media chatter regarding a Saturday rally at the Capitol by allies of former President Donald Trump included mentions of targeting a U.S. lawmaker and other elected officials, according to a Department of Homeland Security (DHS) intelligence report. Rally organizers have said that the demonstration is meant to be a show of support for “political prisoners,” in reference to people charged and detained for their involvement in the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection, the Associated Press reported.

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More than 600 people have been charged so far in connection to the January riot and around 60 people are being kept behind bars. The DHS report said that some social media posts mentioned possibly storming the Capitol again on Friday night, while one poster “commented on kidnapping an identified member of Congress.” The document did not provide the name of the identified lawmaker, the AP reported.

“Other references to violence identified on social media include discussions of using the rally to target local Jewish institutions, elected officials, and ‘liberal churches,'” it said.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Social media conversations about a Saturday rally at the Capitol included mentions of targeting a U.S. lawmaker and other elected officials, according to a Department of Homeland Security report. Security fencing and video surveillance equipment has been installed around the Capitol in Washington, Thursday, September 16, 2021, ahead of a planned September 18 rally by far-right supporters of former President Donald Trump who are demanding the release of rioters arrested in connection with the January 6 insurrection.
J. Scott Applewhite/AP Photo

Intelligence suggested that extremist groups such as the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers would turn up, but some prominent members of the groups have sworn they aren’t going and have told others not to attend. Far-right online chatter has been generally tame, and Republican lawmakers are downplaying the event.

But law enforcement officials are taking no chances. The fence around the Capitol is back up, temporarily at least. Police are preparing for the possibility that some demonstrators may arrive with weapons. Hundreds of counter-demonstrators are also expected with the possibility of clashes. The D.C. police department was activated, and U.S. Capitol Police have requested assistance from nearby law enforcement agencies.

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Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin approved a request for about 100 members of the D.C. National Guard to be stationed at a city armory near the Capitol, to be called if needed as backup for other law enforcement agencies and primarily to protect the Capitol building and congressional offices. They’ll be without firearms, but will be equipped with batons and protective vests for self-defense.

Police officials planned to lay out security plans Friday.

Many commenters on online platforms popular with the far-right like Telegram disavowed the rally, saying they believed law enforcement was promoting the event to entrap Trump supporters. Some urged their followers not to attend what they said was a “false flag” event they believed was organized in secret by the FBI.

At the same time, however, some commenters continued to promote rallies planned for Saturday in cities and state capitals across the country.

In a notice to House members this week, Sergeant at Arms William Walker urged lawmakers to stay away from the Capitol complex on Saturday and reminded them of security available if they were traveling or had protests in their districts.

Lawmakers who supported Trump’s efforts to overturn his defeat distanced themselves from the event. “I don’t know what it is,” said Texas Senator Ted Cruz said when asked about the rally.

Wisconsin Senator Ron Johnson said he would not be attending, though he said he does have questions about the treatment of those charged in the riot. His message to those coming to Washington for Saturday’s rally: “Obviously, if you do come here, peacefully protest. Make your point peacefully, that is every American citizen’s right.”

Trump was still using his platform as the most popular leader in the GOP to express sympathy for those who were arrested and continue spreading the election misinformation and notched up his attacks by the end of the week. In a statement Thursday, he said: “Our hearts and minds are with the people being persecuted so unfairly relating to the January 6th protest concerning the Rigged Presidential Election.”

The Associated Press reviewed hundreds of court and jail records for the Capitol riot defendants to uncover how many were being detained and found about 60 held in federal custody awaiting trial or sentencing hearings. Federal officials are still looking for other suspects who could also wind up behind bars. Just Friday, a judge ordered the pretrial detention of a Pennsylvania woman who contends the court doesn’t have jurisdiction over her.

At least 30 are jailed in Washington. The rest are locked up in facilities across the country. They have said they are being treated unfairly, and one defendant said he was beaten.

Federal authorities have identified several of those detained as extremist group leaders, members or associates, including nine defendants linked to the Proud Boys and three connected to the anti-government Oath Keepers. Dozens are charged with conspiring to mount coordinated attacks on the Capitol to block Congress from certifying the 2020 Electoral College vote, among the most serious of the charges.

Some jailed defendants are charged with assaulting police officers, others with making violent threats. A few were freed after their arrests but subsequently detained again, accused of violating release conditions.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit has set standards for judges to apply in deciding whether to jail a Capitol riot defendant. A three-judge panel of the appeals court ruled in March that rioters accused of assaulting officers, breaking through windows, doors and barricades, or playing leadership roles in the attack were in “a different category of dangerousness” than those who merely cheered on the violence or entered the building after it was breached.

Despite that, Trump and his allies have tried to shift the narrative on the violence of the day. First, some blamed attack on left-wing antifa antagonists, a theory quickly debunked. Then came comparisons of the rioters to peaceful protesters or even tourists. They’re now saying the protesters are being treated unfairly by the criminal justice system.

Rally organizer Matt Braynard, a former Trump campaign strategist, has been promoting the Saturday event and others like it in cities nationwide to focus attention on what he calls the “political prisoners” being unfairly prosecuted.

Police Prepare for Saturday Capitol Rally
Some social media chatter regarding a Saturday rally at the Capitol by allies of former President Donald Trump mentioned storming the Capitol again on Friday night, according to a DHS report. Violent protesters, loyal to then-President Donald Trump, storm the Capitol, Wednesday, January 6, 2021.
John Minchillo/AP Photo

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