A protest at the U.S. Capitol, which organizers said was to protect American’s civil rights, ended without incident on Sept. 18, despite verbal clashes between protesters and counter protesters, and four arrests before and after the rally.
Event organizer Matt Braynard, a former Trump aide who now heads the non-profit “Look Ahead America,” said the event was a civil rights protest calling for attention to the disparate treatment of non-violent Jan. 6 protesters when compared to others, such as those protesting Justice Brett Kavanaugh—who also entered congressional buildings on Capitol Hill to exercise their First Amendment right while public servants were there working.
He pushed back on many media outlets’ characterization of the event, which he said described the rally as being “in support of the violent people who attacked and killed police officers on Jan. 6.”
“That is absolutely not what this is about. That has been misrepresented continuously,” he told attendees, while also pushing back against pundits claiming that his event would be a “false flag event.”
Braynard said that “Look Ahead America” stood alongside Americans supporting the trial and imprisonment of Jan. 6 rioters who had committed acts of violence. But he said that a subset of those arrested on Jan. 6 were charged with non-violent crimes, but have been held for more than eight months after Jan. 6 without due process. He said the event was to call for fair trials and for their civil rights to be respected.
The event began with a prayer: “No matter which side of the political spectrum you’re on … you understand and know that God is in our presence, and that we understand and feel his presence in our lives, and accept His peace and His goodness and His love in our lives.” This was followed by the Pledge of Allegiance and singing of the national anthem.
Braynard didn’t mince words at the rally. He told the audience that while many Americans were upset on Jan. 6, the reaction at the Capitol “was stupid and it was wrong.”
“We condemn political violence in all of its forms. We condemn the political violence that happened on Jan. 6,” he said.
“Anybody who engaged in violent or property destruction that day deserves to be tried with a speedy trial, and if found guilty, locked up for a long time,” he told a crowd of over 400 people, not including law enforcement and news media who appeared to outnumber protesters. “There’s no argument from anybody on this side on this issue.”
The United States Capitol Police (USCP) estimated that approximately 400 to 450 people had gathered inside the police perimeter for the rally. Earlier in the week, a Department of Homeland Security official said around 700 were expected to attend.
The USCP said on Sept. 13 it was joining forces with local and federal law enforcement agencies to secure the Capitol on Sept. 19 in response to “concerning online chatter” about the protest. Department Chief Tom Manger urged any potential trouble-makers to “stay home,” while promising to “protect everyone’s First Amendment right to peacefully protest.”
Temporary fencing was re-erected around the Capitol Building ahead of the protest, similar to what was erected after Jan. 6. Early on Sept. 18, roads were closed by the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD), USCP officers were deployed in full riot gear, and the National Guard was put on standby.
According to the USCP, their officers made two arrests on the morning of the event related to outstanding felony extraditable warrants from Texas, and two arrests for possession of a knife and possession of a firearm—which are prohibited on Capitol grounds. One of the arrests, captured by Braynard’s cameraperson, was of a masked man shortly after the rally finished.
No sitting members of Congress attended the rally. Former President Donald Trump did not endorse the event, but did say in his own statement on Thursday that he supports “the people being persecuted so unfairly relating to the January 6th protest.”
Two Republican House candidates did speak at the event despite pressure from political leadership not to participate, Braynard said.
Joe Kent, a retired Green Beret and Gold Star husband who is challenging Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler (R-D.C.) who voted to impeach Trump in the 2022 midterm elections, said that he was “extremely grateful” to the USCP officers present on Jan. 6.
“They are not our enemies. Our enemies are those that will deny people of their Constitutional rights and then take a narrative that labels all of us as terrorists or insurrectionists for just questioning things,” he said.
“It’s our God-given right and duty as Americans to actually question things, to question their narrative,” he added, warning that America is on its way to becoming a “banana republic.”
— Joe Kent for WA-3 (@joekent16jan19) September 18, 2021
“That happens overseas all the time,” Kent warned. “Unfortunately, we conducted operations like that when I was in Iraq serving overseas, and it did nothing but further radicalize people. It is very dangerous … This is a slippery slope and we are on it right now.”
“Our fellow Americans, regardless of what walk of life they’re from, what political party they’re from, have the God-given right to due process. That’s in our Constitution. Those rights were given by God, not by man. Man cannot take them away,” he said.
Mike Collins, who is running for Congress in Georgia, said that rule of law in American should mean that “laws apply to each and every American equally, not politically.”
“I don’t want to pretend to know who’s innocent and who’s guilty,” he said of Jan. 6. “But I’ll tell you what I do see: I see people who are being held for non-violent crimes and they deserve their day in court … they deserve to have their Sixth and Eighth Amendments upheld. Otherwise, they are political prisoners and they are being using to suppress law-abiding American citizens from expressing their First Amendment rights.”
Ahead of the rally, Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.), who also voted to impeach Trump, had characterized the event as a Republican celebration of “cop killers.” Meanwhile, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said in a Sept. 15 statement that “there is a wish by some to continue the assault on the U.S. Capitol with misinformation and malice,” alluding to the event as “another attempt to defile our national purpose.”
Rally co-host Cara Castronuova, former Golden Glove boxer-turned-investigative reporter for Newsmax, expressed her disappointment at Congress’s response to the event.
“I’m sick and tired of the narrative that the people that support these prisoners and that the people who support justice in America are white supremacists,” she said, noting that she is a feminist of Chinese and Italian heritage who has voted Obama, Clinton, and Trump. “It’s a means to distract and divide us. I’m asking the mainstream media to please stop distracting and dividing the American people. We have more in common than different. According to you, we should be enemies.”
Two officers and four protesters died during and following the Capitol breach. USCP officer Brian Sicknick died from natural causes on Jan. 7, and officer Howie Liebengood died of suicide on Jan. 9. Two older male protesters, Kevin Greeson and Benjamin Phillips, died from hypertensive atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease on Capitol grounds, while two female protesters, Ashley Babbitt and Roseanne Boyland, died at the Capitol building in the chaos of the breach.
Boyland’s death was reported by the D.C. police department’s chief medical examiner, Dr. Francisco Diaz, as an accidental “acute amphetamine intoxication.” According to media reports, Boyland’s family members said she took prescription Adderall daily, which contains amphetamine. Castronuova told the rally that she had reason to believe that Boyland’s death may have been due to other factors. According to media reports, Boyland had also been crushed by people trampling over her in a clash between police and protesters, and paramedics were unsuccessful in reviving her. The Epoch Times has reached out to D.C. police for comment.
‘This Is What Terrifies Them’
Braynard concluded the rally by saying that their demands were not about Trump, Biden, or the election, but justice and equal treatment under the law, no matter a person’s political views.
According to The Associated Press, around 63 Jan. 6 defendants are being detained in federal custody awaiting trial or sentencing hearings.
Braynard also urged his fellow Americans to embrace peaceful protests going forward to “help us make this a better country.”
“This is a dirty secret, OK? When you are upset about a political problem, you’re angry, [the political leadership] actually want you to do what happened on Jan. 6. They want violence from us, they want us to cross the line.
“It’s easier to deal with the political opposition when it’s violent,” he explained. “But what’s the thing that we’ve learnt from people like Gandhi, or Martin Luther King, or the civil rights movement in this country? I’ll tell you what terrifies them: this is what terrifies them—a peaceful assembly of the America First right.
“We’re operating within the law, we respect the Constitution, we love the First Amendment, we love our police officers who had a very difficult job. When we show up at school board meetings and use our First Amendment rights, when we educate our legislators, when we come to Washington and demand justice, peacefully, orderly, this is what terrifies them. This is why they didn’t want you to come,” Braynard said.