Alarm spread across Washington, D.C., when a rally in support of the Jan. 6 insurrectionists was announced for Sept. 18, planned to take place in the square in front of the U.S. Capitol. Organized by Look Ahead America, an “America First” group that claims to “organize and guide patriotic citizens,” the “Justice for J6” rally aims to reset the narrative of Jan. 6, asserting that those who are currently being held in jail for storming the Capitol are political prisoners whose main crime was supporting the former president.
The Capitol Police Department will not be ill-prepared this time. Bracing for another rally in the vein of the one held on Jan. 6 before Trump loyalists stormed the Capitol, the Capitol Police Board ordered fencing to surround the Capitol building, and by Wednesday night, concrete blockades were being transported to the Capitol grounds. The municipal Metropolitan Police Department’s entire force will be working Saturday, ready to snuff out any violence should the event get unruly.
But Saturday’s rally is unlikely to turn out the crowds that the so-called Stop the Steal rally held Jan. 6 did, when Trump loyalists came to the city to pressure—in some cases, violently so—legislators to refuse to certify Electoral College votes won by Joe Biden. According to the Washington Post, the permit application for the rally is for 700 attendees, and some experts expect even fewer.
There’s a few reasons we may not see the crowd the nation’s capital is bracing for: the pressure is too hot on the groups most loyal to Trump; the optics aren’t great—most GOP leaders want to play down the failed insurrection and move on ahead of the 2022 midterms; and the host of the rally, Matt Braynard, is seen as a C-list influencer in Trump world.
Braynard, a one-time Trump campaign staffer who lasted a mere five months on the job, has been described by Buzzfeed as “Forrest Gumping his way through the postelection Trump universe.” Since attending Nick Fuentes’ white nationalist America First Political Action Conference this spring, Braynard has tried to position himself at the head of the counternarrative to Jan. 6 by hosting smaller protests for Jan. 6 defendants, telling Buzzfeed, “This is the modern civil rights struggle of our time.” Still, none of his rallies turned out the MAGA star power as did the so-called Stop the Steal rallies that led up to Jan. 6.
Among those politicians who will be attending his rally, whom Braynard applauded for their “courage,” are Joe Kent, a Trump-endorsed congressional candidate for Washington state’s 3rd District, and Mike Collins, a congressional candidate for Georgia’s 10th District. In the past, politicians like Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene and Matt Gaetz have attended Look Ahead’s events, but House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy told reporters that he did not expect any members to be in attendance. Most House Republicans have shown no desire to investigate what happened on Jan. 6, viewing the House select committee and other efforts to investigate as politically fraught ahead of the midterms. Braynard’s rally only draws more attention to Jan. 6.
On Aug. 9, Braynard took to YouTube to share the rally’s schedule and objectives, asking supporters to remain peaceful and leave apparel and flags at home that support any one candidate or distracts from their main message: “We’re going to raise our voices in defense of our fellow Americans who have their rights and due process violated, we’re going to raise our voice demanding justice for Ashli Babbitt and for the government to come clean about on whatever involvement the FBI might have had in the events of Jan. 6.”
With more than 600 people charged in connection to the insurrection, right-wing groups have pushed the conspiracy theory that the people who stormed the Capitol weren’t Trump supporters but federal agents, anti-fascist activists, or Black Lives Matter protesters. In social media posts, some express fear of ”glowies,” the term used by extremists to describe those whom they believe to be federal agents in their midst. And it’s in part why the leadership of groups like the Proud Boys have urged their people not to attend.
The main Proud Boys account posted on Telegram Sept. 8:
We (Proud Boys) ARE NOT going to this. It is a glow fest for try-hard clout fags that have erectile disfunction and others that are completely repulsive to the opposite sex.
Clearly confused about whether it wanted to be homophobic or not, the account added later that day:
Not only will we NOT be attending this glowing clout trap for the mentally disabled, but if any PBs do attend, they will be violently, but also sensually butt-fucked on a live stream and then banished from the fraternity
Comments among followers echoed that message: the whole thing must be a setup.
“Nonetheless, I suspect that there will be PBs in attendance who aren’t actually Boys, but glowies. Their playbook isn’t exactly varied,” one account responded.
In response to an article about the fence’s installation, another account asked, “Does the FBI need a fence for its own rally?”
Trump echoed that belief, telling the Federalist Thursday, “On Saturday, that’s a setup.”
“If people don’t show up they’ll say, ‘Oh, it’s a lack of spirit.’ And if people do show up they’ll be harassed,” the ex-president added.
At least one Proud Boys follower was confused, posting on Telegram Sept. 12, “I’m not sure if this means we aren’t going wink wink or really not going. What the fuck am I supposed to do.”
Even if the rally fails to draw a crowd of more than a few hundred, it won’t mean the movement has stalled; rather leaders have made a conscious decision to focus their efforts elsewhere, even if that means hanging Trump’s most loyal supporters—those who stormed the Capitol to keep him in office—out to dry.