While a seven-foot security fence is being erected around the US Capitol and its police force requests National Guard support in anticipation of Saturday's rally to support the Jan. 6 insurrectionists, virtually no one except the organizer appears to be excited about it.
Tweets from Matt Braynard, the little-known political consultant behind the event, have been almost universally met with derision from people who scorn the hundreds of people facing charges for involvement in the Capitol attack.
Worse, most far-right groups like the Proud Boys, who played an active role in the assault, are forcefully urging supporters to stay away.
Beyond that, right-wing influencers associated with Donald Trump, the Stop the Steal effort and the events of Jan. 6 for the most part aren't even talking about it.
"People in DC are rightly worried about Sept. 18, but there is basically no evidence of right-wing mobilization," Cassie Miller, a senior research analyst at the Southern Poverty Law Center, assessed in a Twitter thread on Wednesday. "Groups like the Proud Boys are actively discouraging people from attending and online chatter is almost exclusively about why no one should attend."
People in DC are rightly worried about Sept. 18, but there is basically no evidence of widespread right-wing mobili… https://t.co/Y7dWFV7Jdv— Cassie Miller (@Cassie Miller) 1631734942.0
The central premise of the rally — that the people who stormed the Capitol were merely "patriots" making their voice heard, and those being held in pre-trial detention are "political prisoners" — enjoys wide support across large swaths of the GOP, Trump loyalists and the political right as a whole. The Proud Boys in particular have pushed the idea: Members dropped a banner reading "Free Our Political Prisoners" from an abandoned Kmart at the outset of an Aug. 22 far-right gathering in Portland, Ore. that erupted in violence and ended with an exchange of gunfire.
But paranoia about the negative consequences of attracting law enforcement attention at a time when people are still being arrested for involvement in the siege seems to have effectively neutralized any appeal for the event. As Miller noted, for many on the far right, "Sept. 18 looks like a trap set to catch people in a dragnet of surveillance and arrest. Many are calling it a false flag."
But the liabilities facing the "Justice for J6" rally go beyond legal repression.
"There are MANY factors working against rally organizers," Miller wrote. "People are fearful of legal repercussions, this is hosted by a largely unknown figure, there are no notable speakers to draw people in."
A "US Capitol Rally Guidance Video" posted on the rally website features Braynard promising that the speakers "are people you're going to be very excited to hear are joining their voices to ours," but as of Wednesday evening only three had been announced: a sitting Republican congressman from South Carolina (Ralph Norman), and two self-described "America First" Republican candidates for Congress from Georgia (Mike Collins) and Washington state (Joe Kent). The three speakers haven't been talking up the event, with the exception of Kent retweeting Braynard's announcement applauding him "for his courage in attending our rally."
Other GOP politicos who have conspicuously embraced Trump have been notably silent. The Twitter feeds of Pennsylvania state Sen. Doug Mastriano; Teddy Daniels, a congressional candidate from Pennsylvania; and Virginia state Sen. Amanda Chase — all present at the Capitol on Jan. 6 — haven't included a single mention of the "Justice for J6" rally, going back to the beginning of September.
The official Telegram account for the Proud Boys, the violent pro-Trump group with dozens of members facing charges related to the assault on the Capitol, trashed "Justice for J6" in a crudely homophobic post on Sept. 8. In essence, the post characterized the event as a gathering of clout chasers and federal informants, while warning that any members that attend would be "banished from the fraternity."
The Telegram channel for the Villain City Proud Boys chapter in Miami issued a warning on Sept. 9 claiming that the rally is a ploy to lay the groundwork for a domestic terrorism law, purportedly based on information "leaked" from "multiple agency informants."
"Their goal is to strip you of the right to gather and protest by using false flag planned violence and framing it as domestic terrorism," the post warned.
Braynard's effort to present the rally as a single-issue cause rather than culture-war mobilization is also likely to cut into its appeal. He urged people to leave signs, flags and shirts at home if they are "about anything other than the cause we've come together for," meaning the supposed violation of the Jan. 6 defendants' rights.
"If it's about a candidate or a cause or about the election — who won, who didn't won [sic], whether it's legitimate — that's not what this rally's about," he said. It's a novel approach for reaching a political constituency whose core attribute is fanatical loyalty to Trump, with dubious prospects for political crossover in a time of such sharp polarization.
Whether anyone shows up or not, the rally has, to at least some degree, already succeeded by pushing a narrative into the news cycle that recasts the defendants as heroes.
"This rally is about J6 'political prisoners,'" the SPLC's Miller wrote in her Twitter thread. "Powerful voices on the right are working to whitewash J6, repeating a narrative that casts insurrectionists as martyrs unjustly imprisoned. That idea has resonance within the right, which could compel some people to attend the rally."
In the video promoting the event, Braynard described it as an "effort to raise awareness of this tragedy, of this grave violation of civil rights of hundreds of fellow Americans."
It's worth pointing out that of the 600-plus people facing charges related to the assault on the Capitol, only about 260 defendants have been charged with obstructing a congressional proceeding, according to the Justice Department. About 40 have been charged with conspiracy, including obstructing a congressional proceeding, obstructing law enforcement, injuring an officer, or some combination. And the majority of the charges are narrowly tailored to specific offenses, such as assaulting an officer, or entering a restricted building or grounds.
The vast majority of the defendants are out on pre-trial release; the smaller cohort of Jan. 6 rioters were ordered to remain in detention following a specific judicial finding, typically that "no condition or combination of conditions of release will reasonably assure the safety of any other person and the community."
The tumbleweed-like response to "Justice for J6" hasn't deterred Braynard from thinking big.
"This event is expensive," he said in a fundraising pitch at the conclusion of the promotional video. "Security is expensive. Insurance is expensive. The coordination is expensive. There are a lot of requirements to do an event like this in DC. We expect to have a large stage, as large as we're allowed, with a giant screen."
Whether anyone shows up for the event or not, Miller said it should still serve as a reminder that political violence remains an ongoing threat.
"I remain concerned about lone-actor violence, especially since DC has been the site of multiple concerning events in recent weeks," she wrote. "Threats against lawmakers, elections officials, school board members, healthcare workers etc. by the far right are at frightening levels."
Since President Biden took office, far-right organizing has shifted to local-level politics, Miller noted.
"In other words, there are still a lot of reasons to remain vigilant," she said. "This is a widespread political movement that has remained mobilized since J6, and they're not going anywhere anytime soon."