Any passing American could have been forgiven for believing that they had fallen over one of the great human rights struggles of our time.
The speakers managed to mention Martin Luther King, Gandhi and the Nazi persecution of Jewish people. They told of prisoners being held under conditions of echoes by the Soviet gulags.
Then there was the sheer injustice of roundups. Innocent people breathed away by secret police to dare to criticize the government.
Apart from this, there was a protest demanding the release of hundreds of people arrested for their part in the storming of the US Capitol on January 6, in an attempt to stop Congress from confirming Joe Biden’s victory in the presidential election in 2020.
While the Republican Party and Donald Trump’s more ardent supporters are working to rewrite the story of the coup attempt, supporters of those arrested over it tried to turn it from a political to a human rights issue with the “Justice for J6” meeting near the Capitol on Saturday .
As a protest, it was a flop.
Turnout was at best half of the 700 that the organizers predicted, which in itself fell far short of the many thousands who stormed Congress in January. The organizer, Matt Braynard, a former Trump campaign activist, blamed the poor turnout on the government’s intimidation and lack of press.
“To those who showed up, congratulations on your courage,” he said.
It set a broad tone for a rally that sought to portray the detainees as brave Americans who stood up for their democratic right to protest. There was no mention of the role that Trump played on January 6, when he urged supporters to “fight like hell” to defend his claim to have won the election.
About 650 people have been charged with rioting offenses, and nearly 60 have pleaded guilty, mostly to relatively minor crimes, including obstruction of justice and illegal demonstrations in the Capitol. Some are detained without bail.
Four people died during riots, including a woman shot by a police officer as she tried to get on the floor of the house. Brian Sicknick, a Capitol police officer who was attacked by protesters, died the next day. Other officers were beaten.
Braynard insisted he had no truck with those arrested for violence against police.
“That’s not what this rally is about,” he said. “It’s not about the people who were violent.”
Instead, he attacked a “two-tiered justice system” that allowed liberals like Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and environmentalists to protest inside the Capitol by occupying Nancy Pelosi’s office, but gathered a few hundred people just to get the government to hear their complaint about the election speech. .
“This is about different treatment of the non-violent people,” he said.
Braynard lamented the system’s violence against protesters who “had their lives ruined”. It was time, he said, for good men and women to cry, “Let them go.”
Speakers told of family members arrested by the FBI who were now “political prisoners” and “prisoners of conscience.”
A woman who identified herself as the girlfriend of Jonathan Mellis, a man accused of crimes including assault, said he was being held in solitary confinement. She read a letter in which he claimed, “This reminds me of how the Jews were treated by the Nazis.”
The rally organizers, Look Ahead America, told attendees not to wear accessories in support of Trump or political groups to maintain focus on the claim of human rights.
Braynard discovered a man who identified himself as Adam from Florida, who had an American flag with the Roman numeral III in the corner. That, Braynard said, was a symbol of a far-right militia, the three percent.
“It’s an external group and it makes the optics look bad,” he said, asking Adam to put the flag away. “Anyone who does not agree to take it down, we must assume, is an infiltrator.”
Adam confessed ignorance of the association – but rolled up the flag.
Anders Bruce, a 30-year-old organizer of Look Ahead America, said he was there to seek justice for “prisoners of conscience” subject to political persecution.
But who is responsible for that persecution when the prosecutions began under the Trump administration?
“It shows that there is a problem with the government under both political parties,” he said.
Others turned out to protest against the protesters.
Doug Hughes stood among the prisoners’ supporters with a sign: “There is no right of revolt.”
Hughes, a former postman, went to jail for four months for landing a gyrocopter in front of the Capitol in 2015, trying to deliver letters to members of Congress making objections to corporate money destroying U.S. politics.
“I knew it would have consequences. I am a criminal, I lost my job and I do not regret anything I did, ”he said. “Now the people who broke the law on January 6 must accept the consequences.”
Was he worried about his safety in the midst of an unwelcome crowd?
“Yes, but I feel more strongly that we must respect democracy. The loser of the election is presumed to accept the results. ”
As it turned out, no one was bothering Hughes or any of the other disagreements that were scattered through the crowd.
Notable for his absence was Trump. The ex-president played golf in New Jersey, but the usual Trump hats and T-shirts were also missing. The only flag with his name was flown on the edge of the rally by a protester of Black Lives Matter. “Fuck Donald Trump,” it said.
An African-American man selling Trump hats on the brink of the convention did not do much business. Asked if he was sympathetic to the former president, he smiled.
“It’s money,” he said.