Guest Commentary / September 20, 2021

The J6 Rally Was a Bust

One Internet wag quipped, “I had more people at my garage sale.”

By Jack DeVine

For weeks, national media floated ominous predictions that Saturday’s planned and permitted rally in Washington, DC, intended to call attention to our government’s extraordinarily harsh treatment of the January 6 rioters, would blossom into a repeat of that infamous riot. Duck and cover, everyone, here comes more right-wing violence!

Out came the fencing and battalions of defenders, once again turning the Capitol into an armed camp.

Alas, the rally was a total bust, with just a few hundred protesters milling about peacefully, surrounded by a cordon of riot police at six-foot intervals. One Internet wag quipped, “I had more people at my garage sale.” As far as mobs go, this one was pretty lame.

But even though it turned out to be a non-event, the J6 rally begs important questions:

First, was the city really on edge, fearful of impending mayhem? Or were our leaders and media simply pumping up yet another specious threat of right-wing extremism — per Joe Biden, the most serious threat facing our nation?

That’s a political question with a political answer. My guess is that everything related to January 6 is contrived, intended to extract maximum mileage from the narrative of Trump-inspired insurrection. It’s no different than Nancy Pelosi’s congressional investigation, now being slow-walked so that it will garner headlines in the lead-up to the 2022 midterms.

The more serious question is whether our own government’s over-the-top actions — nationwide dragnet, arrests, incarceration without bail, solitary confinements — had the effect of spooking many who might have attended Saturday’s rally but who, seeing the plight of the January 6 protesters, decided to give it a wide berth.

That’s a plausible — and ominous — explanation for the sparse rally attendance, an eerily totalitarian turn for our democratic republic.

At its core, January 6 was a protest run amok. We spent much of 2020 watching aghast the nightly mayhem — burning buildings, looting, police under fire — perpetrated at social justice protests following the George Floyd killing. And through it all, we were lectured about Americans’ sacred right to protest.

Maybe that right is not so sacred for those who dare to protest for the wrong cause.

In anticipation of the J6 rally, The New York Times dutifully ran a lengthy piece to (in its words) debunk the “Trump-Right claims about January 6th.” As usual, the Times piece is well written but one-sided, stuffed with righteous indignation and pushing standard liberal talking points.

The Times argues that the DOJ’s treatment of the J6 protesters is really not so bad — most were charged only with misdemeanors such as trespassing or disorderly conduct, punishable by “fairly modest” sentences of six months or less. Terrific — get investigated, arrested, jailed, lose your job, live with a lifetime rap sheet, be an embarrassment to your family and neighborhood pariah. No big deal.

In San Francisco these days, you can grab a shopping cart, roll it into your local CVS, load it down with $949 of merchandise, and roll it right out the store in full view of store management, without paying a penny and with zero concern of arrest. That’s also a misdemeanor, but below the threshold for any consequences. It’s fun — do it again tomorrow. But wander into the U.S. Capitol on January 6, and your life is ruined.

Per the Times’ assessment, the DOJ views the January 6 riot as “a threat to democracy itself” and therefore deserving of uniquely severe treatment. But it points out as well that the DOJ has not pursued “hard-to-prove” charges like sedition or insurrection, instead concocting the novel “obstruction of official proceedings.”

But isn’t all protest intended to be disruptive? Were not the throngs of protesters who invaded the Capitol in 2018 trying to derail an imminent Senate Judiciary Committee vote on Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s SCOTUS nomination? In fact, they succeeded, convincing the committee to inject into the proceedings further FBI examination into alleged Kavanaugh misdeeds.

That’s entirely comparable to the January 6 protesters’ ill-conceived attempt to forestall congressional certification of the 2020 election results.

Yes, on January 6 there were violent yahoos who broke into the Capitol and fought with police. We’ve seen the videos. They deserve punishment. But we’ve also seen the videos of others who later naively walked through the building entrance as police courteously stepped aside.

The FBI has uncovered no evidence of orchestrated insurrection on January 6. Nevertheless, every protester who set foot in the Capitol that day is being prosecuted. One offender was convicted for being inside the building for a single minute. Meanwhile, the Capitol police officer who shot and killed Ashli Babbitt, an unarmed female trespasser, gets a free pass.

Does that feel like justice?

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