WASHINGTON — The Department of Homeland Security is estimating roughly 700 people will attend the “Justice for J6” rally in Washington, D.C., on Saturday and has taken steps to make sure law enforcement is better prepared than it was prior to Jan. 6, said Melissa Smislova, deputy undersecretary for intelligence enterprise readiness.
Saturday, Sept. 18, is the date supporters of former President Donald Trump, many with ties to groups that stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 in protest of his election loss, will return to Washington for a rally. Smislova said DHS has also learned via social media that similar protests are planned in other cities across the country.
Smislova, speaking at the Homeland Security Enterprise Forum on Tuesday, estimated “tens of thousands” of protesters attended the pro-Trump rally that turned violent in January.
DHS expects a much smaller turnout this weekend. To gauge the potential size of Saturday’s crowd, she said, DHS has been tracking publicly available information on protesters, U.S. Park Police permit applications for large gatherings and hotel reservations across the U.S.
Federal law enforcement agencies, namely DHS and the FBI, have been pressed by members of Congress on why they did not more actively warn local law enforcement in Washington about the risk of violence ahead of Jan. 6.
DHS has been more proactive in sharing intelligence leading up to potentially violent events with law enforcement, something Smislova said was lacking before Jan. 6.
“What we realized after Jan. 6 is that we had gotten a little bit lax in some of the aggressive conversations,” Smislova said, speaking of DHS’ biweekly calls and outreach to state and local law enforcement about threats in their area. “Some of it was a lack of discipline, complacency maybe, even. … The information was still out there, but you had to actually seek it out as opposed to having it brought to you.”
She added that the department saw the events of Jan. 6 as a “failure on our part” to communicate within the department and to other agencies.
More than 600 people have been charged for their connection to the Jan. 6 riot, and both congressional and federal criminal inquiries on what led to the riots, the people involved and the delayed response from local and federal law enforcement continue.
Julia Ainsley is a correspondent covering the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice for the NBC News Investigative Unit.