Pentagon OKs National Guard Troops for Pro-Trump Rally

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The U.S. Capitol is seen behind the razor fence
The U.S. Capitol is seen behind the razor fence around the U.S. Capitol Thursday, Feb. 18, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

The National Guard will deploy 100 troops near the U.S. Capitol on Saturday during a planned pro-Trump rally in support of rioters who stormed Congress in January.

The soldiers will form a physical security task force and be stationed at the D.C. Armory, less than two miles east of the rally site on the National Mall. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin signed off on the request for assistance by the U.S. Capitol Police on Friday.

Capitol Police said it wanted backup "should the need arise" during the Justice for J6 event. Its security force was badly overwhelmed Jan. 6 by hundreds of protesters who marched from a speech by then-President Donald Trump to Capitol Hill, where they broke into the building and congressional chambers in an attempt to stop the certification of the 2020 presidential election.

More than 600 have been criminally charged, and four police officers on duty that day have since committed suicide.

"Should the Capitol Police require assistance, they will first utilize local, state, and federal law enforcement capabilities before requesting the deployment of the physical security task force," according to the Pentagon statement released Friday.

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The task force may be used only to protect the Capitol building and the surrounding congressional office buildings by securing entry points and verifying credentials required to enter the buildings, the Pentagon said.

The Saturday rally is billed as an opportunity for attendees to show solidarity with the people arrested by federal officials for their actions during the Jan. 6 riot.

The event is being organized by "Look Ahead America," a group run by onetime Trump campaign staffer Matt Braynard. Although the group was started as a tax-exempt organization, it lost its 501(c)(3) status last year after failing to file required tax forms.

The Department of Homeland Security issued a warning of potential violence ahead of the rally, according to CNN. However, experts said attendance may lag based on early data.

Kristofer Goldsmith, who runs a company that tracks online disinformation and extremist groups, said it will not come anywhere close to matching Jan. 6, although there's always a threat of a lone actor creating disruption or violence.

In online chat groups, many organizations involved in the earlier riot see the planned rally as a likely "honeypot," meaning an event designed by law enforcement to draw them out for identification or arrest.

Trump told the conservative publication The Federalist that he thinks the event is "a setup." "If people don't show up, they'll say, 'Oh, it's a lack of spirit.' And if people do show up, they'll be harassed," he told Federalist writer and co-founder Sean Davis.

-- Travis Tritten can be reached at travis.tritten@military.com. Follow him on Twitter @Travis_Tritten.

-- Konstantin Toropin can be reached at konstantin.toropin@military.com. Follow him on Twitter @ktoropin.

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