On Saturday, Republican lawmakers will once again have to confront the role they played in the Capitol riot, as pro-Trump protesters are descending on Washington, D.C., in support of those being prosecuted for alleged January 6 crimes. Many Republicans would rather forget the insurrection, having voted against a bipartisan panel to investigate it, while some have tried whitewashing the events of that day, even suggesting the deadly attack was like a “normal tourist visit.” But a number of Donald Trump’s most ardent supporters in Congress have grabbed the microphone in recent months to defend the Capitol rioters as “political prisoners” and accuse the Justice Department of unfairly prosecuting them. And while the “Justice for J6” rally, which is being organized by a former Trump campaign aide, has adopted this “political prisoners” line of argument, the Republican lawmakers who ramped up that rhetoric seem unwilling to join the crowd.
During a speech given on the House floor in May, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene accused federal law enforcement officials of physically abusing detained Capitol rioters and keeping them “held for 23 hours a day in solitary confinement,” before suggesting that there is a constant “witch hunt” targeting Americans who support Trump. Rep. Madison Cawthorn reportedly made similar claims while speaking at a North Carolina GOP event last month, referring to jailed January 6 rioters as “political prisoners” and saying that he wants to “try and bust them out.” Despite all their bluster, both lawmakers have said that they will not be present at the “Justice for J6” rally, according to Politico.
Cawthorn’s like-minded colleagues, representatives Matt Gaetz, Paul Gosar, Louie Gohmert, as well as Greene, penned a letter to Attorney General Merrick Garland in July voicing their “concerns about reports of the conditions of the prison where these detainees are being held and whether, in fact, there have been instances of abuse inflicted by other prisoners or guards…[and solitary confinement] for the purpose of punishment or as a means of cruel and unusual punishment.” But when asked by Politico if they plan on attending the rally, the offices of Gaetz, Gosar, and Gohmert declined to respond.
All of the aforementioned representatives were among the 139 House members who tried on January 6 to overturn the 2020 election results, an antidemocratic scheme fueled by the same election lies that animated the deadly attack just hours earlier. Josh Hawley, who helped lead efforts to subvert the election on the Senate side, and even raised a fist to pro-Trump protesters during the January 6 rally, stated this week that he didn’t “know anything about” the “Justice for J6” demonstration, and confirmed that he will not be present on Saturday. In anonymous remarks to Politico, one Republican member attempted to explain the bind that the party is in when it comes to January 6: “The majority of the Republican base feels that Jan. 6 was justified. And because those people didn’t have arms, they shouldn’t be incarcerated right now.” The lawmaker went on to say that they hear “the word ‘Civil War’” every day amid the fallout of January 6.
While it is likely that this weekend’s rally won’t be anything like the Capitol riot, law enforcement officials will reinstall fencing around the U.S. Capitol “a day or two” before the rally and take it back down shortly afterward. “I urge anyone who is thinking about causing trouble to stay home. We will enforce the law and not tolerate violence,” said Capitol Police chief J. Thomas Manger in a Monday statement, which also warned of “concerning online chatter about [the ‘Justice for J6’ rally] planned for September 18.”
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