Violent insurrection? What violent insurrection? The Jan. 6 Capitol attack was more like “a couple of boomers doing a self-guided tour of a public building.”
At least, that’s according to Matt Braynard, the former director of data and strategy for the 2016 Trump campaign and the organizer behind a protest at the Capitol Saturday on behalf of Jan. 6 “political prisoners.”
Braynard’s event has law enforcement spooked: Capitol Police have resurrected the temporary fencing surrounding Congress and are installing new surveillance cameras nearby. But Braynard, who leads a group called Look Ahead America, thinks it of civilizational importance to retell the riot as a lighter affair.
“What happened on the sixth, by and large, was just an aggressive exercise of First Amendment rights in a public building,” Braynard told the conservative Catholic outlet Church Militant recently.
The Trump campaign alum, who was also cited in several unsuccessful lawsuits alleging election crimes, isn’t just concerned with textbook retellings of that day. Reframing the Capitol attack as fundamentally peaceful is central to his political project.
Beyond the so-called political prisoners, Braynard is trying to convince conservatives that the mainstream media’s depiction of Jan. 6 as a “white supremacist insurrection” threatens to provide the foundation for gun grabs, purges from the military, and even critical race theory.
Speaking to Church Militant, Braynard laid out the cost of failure.
“The stakes are the future of the country,” he said. “And I believe on the future of this country rests the future of humanity.”
‘When Was Insurrection 1.0?’
Saturday’s rally will likely be a quieter event than the attack that aimed to overturn American democracy. Donald Trump, for one thing, isn’t beckoning his millions of supporters to the nation’s capital. What’s more, some of the groups under the heaviest scrutiny for that riot have said they’re staying away from D.C. this time.
Far-right leaders and their rank-and-file believers have determined, at least publicly, that the event will be rife with “glowies,” or undercover federal agents.
“We are going and you shouldn’t either because errbody going to jail. Sounds like bait,” the Proud Boys account on Telegram announced earlier this month, as the Washingtonian noted. Oath Keepers lawyer Kellye SoRelle, who herself had a recent encounter with federal law enforcement, told Mother Jones, “I do not know of any specific plan to attend, other than what we are watching the media fabricate.”
But bringing out the muscle, at least for one day in September, isn’t the point. Rather, Braynard wants to change the narrative of the Capitol attack, softening the spotlight that for months has pointed at the violence on display that day.
“This is really about fighting the narrative about what actually happened on Jan. 6,” he told Steve Bannon in one recent interview, adding later: “This protest is not about elections, it’s not about who won, it’s not about voter fraud. It’s about the abuse of these political prisoners and the scapegoating of them for this grand insurrection narrative.”
“They’re trying to call our protest on Sept. 18 ‘Insurrection 2.0,’ but my question is, ‘When was insurrection 1.0?’” Braynard said.
“This is a tactic we’ve seen from the far right throughout the Trump years,” said Michael Edison Hayden, a spokesperson for the Southern Poverty Law Center, who compared the effort to rewrite the history of Jan. 6 to similar historical revisionism after the violent white nationalist rally in Charlottesville in 2017.
“It is to broaden the appetite for violence. If you don’t feel a sense of disgust and horror — if you consider this to be normal politics — then you’re willing to accept much more.”
Jared Holt, a researcher at the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab, told TPM that Braynard could use an uneventful protest to his advantage. Holt has criticized reporting on the upcoming event, largely based on law enforcement sources, that has cast Braynard’s crew as a second-coming of the Capitol attackers.
“If things go smoothly, and people who attend his rally comply with police and behave themselves, Matt Braynard will be able to turn around and use that to be able to further his own attempts to recast Jan. 6,” Holt said.
“If they lied about us,” Holt speculated the organizer might say, “do you think maybe they lied about Jan. 6?”
A ‘Peaceful And Upbeat’ Day
Case in point: Braynard wrote a letter to the United Nations last month alongside the right-wing media personality Cara Castronuova, who’s co-hosting on Saturday and who co-founded a group that advocates for jailed Jan. 6 defendants.
The letter compared Jan. 6 rioters to protesters jailed by the Cuban government and contrasted them with 2020 Black Lives Matter protesters who were “burning down buildings and churches in the name of BLM.”
Describing the attack itself, the complaint narrated a generally “peaceful and upbeat” day that culminated in a march to the Capitol, where “a small percentage” of people are alleged to have been violent.
The complaint concluded by citing letters from family members of two jailed defendants: The first, Guy Reffitt, allegedly carried a pistol onto Capitol grounds and later wrote from jail that if the Jan. 6 rioters really wanted to have overthrown the government, “it would have no doubt been overthrown.”
The other detainee discussed in the complaint, Jake Lang, is alleged to have battled police with a baseball bat at an entrance to the building.
Contrast the sympathetic light on those characters with Castronuova and Braynard’s portrayal of law enforcement officers’ actions: Ashli Babbitt, who became a right-wing martyr after she was shot and killed by a Capitol Police officer while trying to storm a hallway mere feet from evacuating lawmakers, was actually “sort of trying to reach over a door or something,” Braynard told Church Militant.
And while Capitol rioter Roseanne Boyland was declared dead of an amphetamine overdose by the D.C. Medical Examiner’s Office — and video from the event showed her being trampled by fellow rioters — Castronuova asserted in the Gateway Pundit last week that video showed a Capitol Police officer beating an unconscious Boyland with a stick.
“This discovery undoubtedly changes the narrative that all protesters were attacking police unprovoked,” she concluded.