D.C. police are on high alert ahead of a planned September rally in support of imprisoned Jan. 6 riot suspects, but those close to the ringleader of the original rally want nothing to do with it.
Playing on popular pro-Trump talking points, the rally scheduled for Sept. 18 calls for the release of alleged Capitol rioters currently held in a Washington, D.C., jail, whom it characterizes as “political prisoners.” The event has the city’s police planning a “full activation,” with all officers ready to respond.
But despite its popularity with Proud Boys, and its origin with a former Trump campaign official, in the upper ranks of Trumpworld the event isn’t even on the radar. Of the eight individuals—close associates of the ex-president, as well as former Trump White House officials and 2020 campaign brass—most of them hadn’t even heard of the Sept. 18 rally until The Daily Beast contacted them this week. Almost all of them said they wanted nothing to do with it. “I hadn’t heard [about it],” said a former senior aide on the Trump re-election campaign. “I think Jan. 6 defendants are being massively abused, for sure. But doubt I’d partake in any event.”
Furthermore, two people familiar with the matter say they aren’t aware of former President Donald Trump—who since leaving office has defended Jan. 6 rioters—even receiving an invitation to the Sept. 18 demonstration.
Matt Braynard, the event’s organizer, used to have an official link to Trump, acting as director of data and strategy during the early months of Trump’s first presidential campaign. He was canned five months in. (In an interview with BuzzFeed, Braynard attributed the firing to his requests for a raise. Other voices from Trump’s first campaign confirmed the pay dispute but told BuzzFeed that Braynard “wasn’t really qualified” for the job.)
Still, Braynard remained a vocal Trump advocate, and joined the crusade of conservatives hoping to prove the baseless theory that massive voter fraud cost Trump the 2020 election. Although his attempts to contact the Trump campaign about “illegal ballots” were unsuccessful, he managed to catch Trump’s sons’ attention on Twitter, and he was invited to Trump’s campaign headquarters, where he was refused entry and sent home, he told BuzzFeed.
Reached for comment about the Sept. 18 rally, Braynard declined to say whether he had any support from Trumpworld.
“I think that those types of conversations, if you understand, we keep those confidential for a good reason,” Braynard told The Daily Beast. “Any kind of conference, any kind of conversation, anything of prominent individuals we've had, we're not going to comment on that.”
Asked about Trump associates’ disinterest in the rally, Braynard said that he had invited the public via his Twitter feed and his organization’s mailing list, not via personal outreach. “I don't get it,” he said of the question. “Were these people expecting a handwritten or hand-engraved invitation?”
“The right people who need to know about this event are aware of it and are very aware of what we're doing,” he continued.
He also declined to name any of the event’s speakers.
“We are working with elected officials to bring them to the event,” he said. “I'm not going to name names except for one. We did in fact reach out to Jesse Jackson, but I understand he's suffering from COVID right now. So I mean, you know, prayers for him recovering from that. But other than that, we're going to keep our own counsel on the folks that we've reached out to.”
Asked about the upcoming rally, D.C. Metropolitan Police Officer Michael Fanone, who has been outspoken about how he and others were attacked by the pro-Trump mob, said in a brief interview on Tuesday, “I’m shocked but not surprised.”
“My concern is the safety and well-being of myself and of any of the other officers who have chosen to come forward publicly about their experiences on Jan. 6. I find the hypocrisy in it interesting, in that you have… these conservative groups or conservative politicians who were angered by the fact that you had more liberal or left-wing groups that were protesting the incarceration of individuals who had participated in the Black Lives Matter protests [in summer 2020],” Fanone said. “It’s hypocritical that they are now protesting the incarceration of individuals who participated in the Jan. 6 insurrection.”
However, the Sept. 18 demonstration has already received backing from the far right. During a Sunday night rally in Portland, Oregon, a New York City-based Proud Boy took the stage to promote the September event. The Portland rally soon devolved into chaos as Proud Boys clashed with the left, overturning a van and spraying mace into cars.
Members of the Proud Boys frequently travel interstate for events that turn violent. Those events include the Jan. 6 Capitol riot and this weekend’s chaos in Portland, where Proud Boys from Washington and New York mingled with far-right figures from California.
Randy Ireland, the New York-based Proud Boy who promoted the Sept. 18 rally, is the co-founder of Citizens Against Political Persecution, a newly formed group that has held New York City rallies calling for the release of Jan. 6 defendants. CAPP’s other co-founder, a former boxer who hosts a podcast with a Proud Boy-promoting gubernatorial candidate, previously promoted one of Braynard’s July rallies on Twitter.
Other groups have also hosted events in support of Jan. 6 defendants. Republican Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene and Matt Gaetz hosted their own, disastrous stunt last month which culminated in both politicians leaving, pursued by hecklers.
Asked about support from Proud Boys, Braynard said he had no knowledge of their backing, and that he is asking rally attendees not to bring clothing or signs with political branding.
If attendees show up in Proud Boy gear or other off-message apparel, Braynard said his backup plan is “politeness. We were at a rally—we had one at the D.C. prison and somebody had hoisted a flag, a very large flag that was candidate- and election-related. And I politely asked him, ‘We want to keep the focus on this day on the political prisoners. So would you mind maybe taking it down or swapping it out?’ No argument.”
CAPP’s co-founder, Cara Castronuova, told The Daily Beast that while her group was not an event organizer, she would be personally attending. Ireland could not be reached for comment. Ireland has previously described the Proud Boys as violent, although he claimed the group does not initiate attacks.
“Are we violent? Absolutely. But this violence — in every scenario — is wholly justified by our constitutionally-protected right to self defense,” Ireland told the Staten Island Advance last year, after his Proud Boys chapter rallied in support of a pub owner who defied anti-COVID measures. (New York City-based Proud Boys were previously convicted for their role in a 2018 fight with anti-fascists. Footage obtained by the New York Times revealed that Proud Boys initiated the attack.)
Other fringe circles, like Telegram groups for Arizona’s ongoing election “audit,” have promoted the Sept. 18 event. But the event might have competition amid the current maelstrom of right-wing grievance rallies.
The latest iteration of a “Worldwide Freedom Rally” is also scheduled for Sept. 18. The events, which are organized every few months in far-right and anti-vaccine groups, attempt to martial supporters in individual cities across the world. Some, like a March event in North Carolina and a July event in Florida, have attracted their own Proud Boy presence. A Proud Boy who previously attempted to start a breakaway Proud Boy sect in Indiana promoted the Sept. 18 “Freedom Rally” instead of Braynard’s event that same day.
Braynard, for his part, said he did not know why D.C. police were planning an increased presence for the event.
“I have no idea,” he said, noting that he’d held other D.C. rallies in support of alleged Capitol attackers, including “one right in front of the Department of Justice, one at the prison where these people are being held. We could actually see them through the window, waving at us. There've been no incidents, no suggestions of incidents.”