In this daily series, Granthshala explores the steps that led to the January 6 Capitol riots.
Original permit application, filed on November 24, Demonstrations set in Washington on January 22 and 23, days after the inauguration and not long after the counting of electoral votes in Congress. Setting: Freedom Plaza and Lincoln Memorial. The expected attendance, the application said, was 5,000, even though 11,000 people attended the November 14 event, which was also sponsored by Women for America First.
In expected federal form filed that day, the organization said a “First Amendment rally” could be disrupted by “conservatives, Trump supporters, or anyone who opposes Republicans.” That was the only mention of Donald Trump. It seemed simple and straightforward, except that none of the federal or District of Columbia governments ever believed it would happen.
The National Park Service, responsible for protecting malls and monuments, including the Ellipse, began on November 14 in Washington with demonstration organizers on the day of the first Trump demonstration, which was attended by 11,000 people. “Right now,” an NPS official wrote in an email, “it seems like there may be more internet traffic than actual attendees but they are expecting pro-Trump groups and counter groups.”
On December 21, Women for America First said in an email to the NPS that they were dropping January 22–23 for the Lincoln Memorial and Freedom Plaza and requesting January 5–7 instead. Those who could disrupt the demonstration were now listed as “anyone who opposes election integrity, conservatives, Trump supporters or Republicans.”
Just two weeks away, organizers now predict 15,000 attendees. The Park Service wrote in an internal email that they needed to find “a suitable location for 15,000”, telling organizers that Freedom Plaza and the Lincoln Memorial were no longer available.
It is not clear in any document released by the NPS or leaked to the press since January 6 how the Ellipse, south of the White House and adjacent to the mall, emerged as a potential site. Officially, another application update was filed on December 29, this location has now shifted to Ellipse. Organizers said the demonstration would last from about 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Potential speakers included representatives from various pro-Trump organizations, members of Congress, Rudy Giuliani and Roger Stone. (Donald Trump had not yet announced that he would speak).
“Women shall not hold an organized march from the Ellipse at the conclusion of the Rally for America First,” the issued permit said. It was expected that some participants might leave the ellipses to attend additional rallies at the Capitol “to hear the results of Congress’s certification of the Electoral College counts.”
Organizers and the Park Service agreed that the event would take place in the southwest quadrant of Ellipse, south of the Christmas tree lighting site. During the duration of the rally, the Park Service said, “All areas are to remain open to the general public at all times.”
Demonstration organizers said they recognized “significant concerns for public health as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic”. They pledged to use CDC guidance and best practices, wear masks and practice social distancing.
The National Park Service record of determination clearly stated that the event: “will not adversely affect the natural, aesthetic or cultural values of the park and is not of a highly controversial nature.”
Thousands of emails about the rally were exchanged with the Park Service, within the federal government and with the District of Columbia government, all responsible agencies—there were many—and the organizers of the event. There is no evidence that the FBI or the Pentagon was involved in any coordination. It was all very friendly.
All internal correspondence considered concerns about structures that could be built on the ellipses, from the stage to the jumbotron screen, to seating, tents, lighting, flags and bunting, about fire and safety of participants, what would happen and What will not be allowed on park land, provision of porta-potties and hand-washing stations, crowd flow in and out of the event, presence of vendors, road closures and parking, emergency medical preparedness, food truck permits, recycling and the garbage container, photographer on top of the Washington Monument, Compliance of the Americans with Disabilities Act, protection of grass on park land, protection of steam lines running under the ellipsoid, protection of the “sanctity of the National Mall”, especially protection The line of sight that existed between the White House and the Jefferson Memorial, which could not be blocked by law.
An internal email from the Forest Park Service summarizes the federal government’s concern about structures being built. “I can’t help but think that if we don’t authorize (allow) the creation of hazards on our land and make reasonable efforts to ensure the minimum level of safety by qualified personnel with proper fire rules and regulations, So we are responsible.”
Liable for prosecution, not liable for consequences.