Fence returning to Capitol amid ‘online chatter’ about rally
WASHINGTON (AP) — Congressional security officials have approved the reinstallation of a temporary fence around the Capitol as they prepare for a Saturday rally in defense of the rioters who stormed the building on Jan. 6.
The Capitol Police said in a statement that officials are “aware of concerning online chatter” about the demonstration. While it is still unclear how large the rally will be and whether members of domestic extremist groups will attend, security officials say they will be ready if there is unrest. They want to avoid the mistakes of Jan. 6, when officers were unprepared for the siege and were overwhelmed by former President Donald Trump’s supporters.
Police are preparing for potential violent clashes at Saturday’s rally and planning for the possibility that protesters may arrive with weapons, according to three people familiar with the preparations. Officers are monitoring hotel bookings, flights, car rental reservations and buses being chartered to bring groups into Washington.
Capitol Police Chief Thomas Manger said in a statement that his force “will enforce the law and not tolerate violence.”
The announcement came hours after Manger and other security officials briefed congressional leaders on the preparations and the plans for a temporary fence, which were first reported Thursday by The Associated Press. Leaving the meeting, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said he felt law enforcement is “ready for whatever might happen” on Saturday.
“I believe that they are well prepared, thorough, professional, and I think they are better prepared than people were before Jan. 6,” Schumer said.
It also came after Capitol Police arrested a man who had a bayonet and machete in his pickup truck outside of Democratic National Committee headquarters just after midnight on Monday morning. The man, Donald Craighead of Oceanside, California, had a swastika and other white supremacist symbols painted on his truck and told officers he was “on patrol.” Police said it was unclear if he was planning on attending any upcoming demonstrations.
The Capitol Police Board, a three-person panel of congressional security officials, approved the plan Monday to temporarily install the fence around the inner perimeter of the Capitol complex. A similar fence was erected just after Jan. 6 and taken down in July. The board has also issued an emergency declaration that will allow the department to deputize outside law enforcement officers if necessary.
“We want to reassure everyone these are temporary measures to ensure everyone’s safety,” Manger said in the statement.
Many in Congress applauded the fence’s removal in July, as it meant the public could again enjoy the Capitol grounds. While some lawmakers questioned the ongoing vulnerability of the complex, others argued the Capitol area should be open to all, regardless of risk.
House Appropriations Chairwoman Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., and Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Ohio, head of a spending committee that oversees the Capitol Police, said in a joint statement that they believe law enforcement agencies have developed “a clear plan – based on careful intelligence analysis – to maintain order and protect public safety.” They said they would support the temporary fence.
“Given the violent tendencies of the right-wing extremists who plan to attend, it is obvious that this rally poses a threat to the Capitol, those who work here, and the law enforcement officers charged with protecting our democracy,” DeLauro and Ryan said in the statement.
Police have been tracking intelligence indicating far-right extremist groups like the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers are planning to attend next week’s rally, which is designed to demand “justice” for the hundreds of people who have been charged in connection with January’s insurrection. Proud Boys leader Enrique Tarrio, however, has said he doesn’t expect his membership to attend.
Police are monitoring online chatter about the death of Ashli Babbitt, in particular, as they prepare for the rally. Babbitt was shot and killed by a Capitol Police officer during the Jan. 6 attack as she attempted to break into an area immediately adjacent to the House chamber while lawmakers were still trapped inside. Some of Trump’s supporters – and Trump himself – have painted her as a martyr, while both the Justice Department and the Capitol Police havecleared the officer who shot her.
There has been increased chatter about “justice” for Babbitt’s death and those who may be attending for the rally for that purpose may be more likely to commit violence, according to people familiar with the preparations. Police are also aware of some posts that threaten religious institutions, including Jewish centers.
Dozens of officers from the Capitol Police and Washington’s Metropolitan Police Department were brutally beaten as the hundreds of insurrectionists — including members of the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers — broke into the Capitol on Jan. 6. Investigations into what went wrong found that there was a lack of preparation, lack of command and lack of good intelligence predicting what was going to happen.
Manger, a former police chief in suburban Washington, took over as Capitol chief in July.