On Saturday, Sept. 18, a rally held by supporters of former President Donald Trump took place outside the U.S. Capitol. It was in support of defendants charged with “nonviolent offenses” after The Capitol riot of Jan. 6.
Compared to the riots in January, it was far less violent. January’s riot was an attack that broke windows and offices in The Capitol building, leaving legislators fearful for their lives. It disenfranchised thousands of Americans whose legislators were too afraid to come to work.
Officials in The Capitol worried for another rally and ensured heavy police presence. Former Trump campaign official Matt Braynard reassured them the protest would be a peaceful support for those unfairly arrested on Jan. 6. This was hard to believe after there were more than 1,000 physical assaults from protestors who beat and used mace against police officers. Far-right figures discouraged supporters from attending, warning it was a “set up” for more arrests of Trump supporters. Many Republican officials also distanced themselves from the protest.
There were about 400-500 protestors there and only four arrests, fewer than what the Department of Homeland Security predicted. Protestors were grossly outnumbered by officers and the media. Many supporters feared it was a “false flag.” The sparse crowd brought relief across the country. The rally was billed to downplay and excuse the actions on Jan. 6. It was only fueled by Trump, who accused the government of “unfairly persecuting” his supporters.
The past President also said the protestors on Jan. 6 were “hugging and kissing” the police and National Guard. There are more than 600 defendants who are now facing the law for overwhelming The Capitol with violence and leaving several dead. Of these 600, only 60 have pleaded guilty. It raises the question of what next? Sept. 18 was not Jan. 6, but it is a threat. Representative Ted Liu tweeted the small crowd reflected the “waning influence” of the past President, but he may have jumped the gun.
The small crowd reflected a fear from Trump supporters of more arrests and a belief of a “false flag.” The influence of the past President is far from waning. There continue to be millions of Americans who stand against the validity of the Presidential election. While President Joe Biden was sworn into office, they question whether he tampered with the election or if the election was fair. Whether we wish to believe it or not, Trump has had a lasting effect on our democracy and the Republican party. Bret Stephens, from the New York Times, referred to it as the “Mar-a-Lago” virus, after Trump’s Florida coastal resort.
Trump’s movement has the power of spreading uncontrollably and wrecking the country. From his example, there is only so much we can do to put a stop to it. But we need to try. After the events on Sept. 18, action needs to be taken to ensure there will not be another Jan. 6. It needs to be said that protestors were not “patriots defending freedom” but people who stood against their country and what it stands for.
They need to be set as an example to prevent another attack on The Capitol from taking place. We are learning more and more of what took place on Jan. 6, but we are condemning the actions of the protestors less. The riot has been downplayed and treated as a heroic act. One Capitol officer spoke out saying, “I felt like I was fighting for my life. I can tell you, legitimately, I did not think I was going to make it home.”
There is no question it can revoke anger, frustration and fear. It was seen as one of the darkest days of our democracy, but it cannot be pushed under the rug.