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Ahead of right-wing rally, churches in Washington DC call for additional police protection

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WASHINGTON (RNS) – Places of worship in the nation’s capital will receive additional police protection ahead of a right-wing rally this weekend after members of the activist group Proud Boys destroyed and burned church banners in December 2020 .

In a letter sent to Washington Metropolitan Police officials Thursday, September 16, Asbury Methodist Church pastor Reverend Ianther M. Mills and Canardo M. Richardson church board chairman expressed concern after hearing about reports an internal Capitol Police memo warning that this weekend’s “Justice for January 6” rally could pose a threat to Jewish centers and liberal churches.

The rally is being touted as an effort to express solidarity with those arrested for their alleged role in the Jan.6 uprising on the United States Capitol.

After a protest against the election of President Joe Biden on December 12, several Proud Boys demolished a Black Lives Matter sign that was displayed outside Asbury. The leader of the group, Enrique Tarrio, was eventually arrested and sentenced to 5 months in prison for his role in the destruction of the sign, as well as charges related to the possession of weapons. Members of the Proud Boys have also been charged with participating in the insurgency.


RELATED: Proud Boys Leader Sentenced to Five Months for Burning Church Banner


In Asbury’s letter, which was shared with the media by officials affiliated with the Downtown Cluster of Congregations in Washington, church leaders said their staff had received harassing emails since Tarrio’s conviction.

Taken together, these conditions not only indicate that the physical property of Asbury United Methodist Church may be at risk of serious vandalism at the upcoming Justice for J6 gathering, but also that our staff and members are at risk of harassment and harm. The church leadership wrote. .

They asked the police to provide a plan to protect their church “as well as other targeted churches in the city center”.

A District of Columbia police spokesperson confirmed to Religion News Service that law enforcement plans to give “special attention” to the church on Saturday.

Terry Lynch, executive director of the Downtown Cluster of Congregations in Washington, said police had agreed to provide security for other churches in the area, including Metropolitan AME, another historic black church whose Black Lives Matter sign was demolished in December.

“The downtown cluster of congregations and its members have requested and appreciated the presence of the MPD in their congregations,” Lynch said in a statement. “Minorities – African Americans, Asians and others have suffered tragic hate crimes at unprecedented levels last year. We are working to make tomorrow safe for all and not suffer what we saw on January 6 and during the MAGA events. Indeed, together we will overcome hatred and violence.

This is at least the second time this year that police have stepped up security in Asbury and nearby places of worship. The officers were parked outside the church and other religious communities in the city center on January 6, when religious leaders voiced concerns to the city about the presence of right-wing groups.

Even so, a group of clergy gathered in prayer around a Black Lives Matter sign outside a Lutheran church were harassed by Trump supporters as they walked down to attend his rally that day.

An interfaith group of religious leaders pray outside Luther Place Memorial Church on January 6, 2021, in Washington. RNS Photo by Jack Jenkins

Hate group watchers said they doubted the weekend rally would come close to the numbers seen on January 6. Many right-wing leaders are dissuading their supporters from attending over concerns over the heavy law enforcement presence, and FBI Deputy Director Paul Abbate said earlier this week that his agency did not given specific credible threats of potential violence.


RELATED: DC Church Replaces Destroyed ‘Proud Boys’ Black Lives Matter Banner


But organizers may have received a boost on Thursday when former President Donald Trump appeared to express his solidarity with rally fans.

“Our hearts and minds are with those so unfairly persecuted in connection with the January 6 protest over the rigged presidential election,” he said in a statement, referring to widely discredited allegations about the accuracy of the 2020 elections.

“On top of everything else, it has conclusively proven that we are a two tier justice system. In the end, however, JUSTICE WILL PREVAIL!

The local application must be on high alert before the rally, and fences have been re-erected around the United States Capitol.