Dueling vigils were held in Washington DC Thursday night to mark the one-year anniversary of the Capitol riot, emphasizing a larger clash over what people believe really happened that day.
A small group sympathetic to the rioters gathered outside a jail where some of them are being held. Attendees reflected the effort of some to downplay the seriousness of the siege on the Capitol last year that disrupted certification of the 2020 presidential election.
At the Capitol Reflecting Pool, a much larger anti-Trump crowd gathered, criticizing the ex-president’s efforts to undermine the results of the race he lost and calling the philosophy behind the riot a danger to American democracy.
Fewer than 20 people gathered at a “Justice 4 J6” rally at Washington DC Central Detention Facility, where organizer Matt Braynard likened people arrested for Jan. 6 to political prisoner-turned-South Africa President Nelson Mandela.
“Mandela was imprisoned but he emerged stronger,” Braynard said. “What great statesman is in the prison behind us right now, who will overcome this grave injustice and will one day become a great leader?”
Braynard, who said he’s a former Trump campaign aide, also shrugged off the small turnout at the rally — saying it was the start of a bigger movement.
“The anti-apartheid movement was dismissed because of small vigils just like this one, but we are going to persist,” he said. “We are not going to let these people’s suffering be forgotten.”
Mary Pollard, 68, said she traveled from Mexico, NY to demand rioters’ release.
“I believe something is very wrong when people are being detained without due process of law,” Pollard said. “A year is a long time to be held in a cell without knowing what you’re accused of.”
There did not appear to be any cases of rioters detained without charges.
Looking back, Pollard remembered the Capitol siege fondly, saying “I was there on Jan. 6 and I loved it.”
The day meant something very different to some of the few hundred gathered across town on the banks of the reflecting pool.
“I was here a year ago, on Jan. 6, where I was mobbed and assaulted by Trump supporters,” said Nicky Sundt, 67. “I am transgender and I was the subject of transphobic remarks. But if you live in fear, they win, which is why I am back today.”
Sundt clutched a placard with a cartoon depicting Trump tattooed with a swastika and a message that read “a clear and present danger.”
“Trump and his supporters pose a danger to our democracy,” Sundt said.
Maryland resident Bill Wood held a sign with a cartoon of Trump getting flushed down a toilet.
“If I brought this sign to that ‘loonfest’ last year they would have beaten or killed me,” Wood, 69, said. “We’re here to say democracy is important and Trump cannot get away with criminally inciting a riot.
“Trump and his followers believe they can stage an insurrection and get away with it because they’re white and middle class,” he went on. “If they were young they would have been beaten up and if they were black they would have been shot dead.”
The fissure between Democrats and Republicans was also evident in the marking of the Jan. 6 anniversary as US politics remains highly polarized a year after the riot.
Democrats held many events and accused Republicans of failing to condemn Trump’s efforts to undermine the election. Republicans accused Democrats of trying to use the day to fuel their own political agenda.
More than 700 people have been charged in the riot so far and more charges may still be on the horizon. Seventy-one people have sentenced so far, many of them on misdemeanor charges, according to the Associated Press.
More than 140 police officers were injured by the mob.