U.S. boosts security, warns risk of violence at pro-Trump Capitol rally

·3 min read
The sun rises behind the U.S. Capitol, surrounded by a security fence ahead of an expected rally Saturday in support of the Jan. 6 defendants in Washington

By David Shepardson and Jan Wolfe

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Travelers arriving at the airport nearest Washington, D.C., will face increased security in the run-up to a planned Saturday rally supporting people charged with taking part in the deadly Jan. 6 riot, the Transportation Security Administration said.

"Travelers will notice increased law enforcement and canine presence along with a generally higher level of awareness in TSA’s intelligence-driven, risk-based approach to transportation security," a TSA spokesperson told Reuters, referring to Reagan National Airport in Virginia just across the Potomac River.

Hundreds of far-right demonstrators are expected in the District of Columbia for the "Justice For J6" rally, a reference to the Jan. 6 storming of the U.S. Capitol by supporters of Donald Trump in an attempt to stop certification of President Joe Biden's election victory.

On Thursday, the Department of Homeland Security warned about the potential for violence at the rally planned for Saturday, according to a memo shared with state and local authorities and obtained by CNN.

One U.S. official who read the warning told Reuters it said homeland security officials lacked "specific credible information" regarding any individual or groups' plans for violence. The official said the warning appeared to be based on social media postings rather than intelligence gathered from sources inside organizations involved in organizing Sept. 18 events.

Trump has maintained his false claims that his defeat was due to widespread election fraud, even after his assertion was rejected by multiple courts, state election authorities and members of his own administration.

The pro-Trump group organizing the Sept. 18 rally, Look Ahead America, has alleged that the more than 600 people facing criminal charges over the Jan. 6 riots have been mistreated and singled out because of their political views.

Police have ramped up security around the Capitol in response, mindful of the rioters on Jan. 6 who attacked police, smashed windows into the building and sent lawmakers and then-Vice President Mike Pence running for safety.

Four people died on Jan. 6, one fatally shot by police and three from medical emergencies. A Capitol Police officer who had been attacked by protesters died the following day. Four police officers who took part in the defense of the Capitol later committed suicide.

Workers were reassembling a fence that was put up around the white-domed Capitol following that day but had been taken down in July.

The fencing separated the lawns of the Capitol grounds from other government landmarks including the Supreme Court, the Library of Congress, congressional office buildings and the Capitol Reflecting Pool just west of Capitol Hill, where protesters were scheduled to gather on Saturday.

There were few other signs of beefed-up security, though plexiglass police shields could be seen stacked at police checkpoints inside doorways to the Capitol building.

On Wednesday, the U.S. Capitol Police said the Pentagon has been asked to provide National Guard troops if needed.

Trump referred to the upcoming protest in a statement on Thursday, saying, "Our hearts and minds are with the people being persecuted so unfairly relating to the January 6th protest concerning the Rigged Presidential Election."

Police and congressional leaders said they are prepared for Saturday's protest. Most members of Congress will be out of town.

House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi, participating at a forum in Britain on Thursday, said, "They have their plans. Everybody will be more ready for them."

(Reporting by David Shepardson and Jan Wolfe; Additional reporting by Mark Hosenball, David Morgan, and Richard Cowan; Editing by Scott Malone, Alistair Bell and David Gregorio)

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