The DC Jail protest that Donald Trump supports

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They now have a nightly ritual, as summer draws to a close.

“We light the candles, we do the songs, the prayers, the pledge of allegiance,” said Caroline Birk, who told me she never imagined she would be standing outside an American prison, demanding better conditions for inmates – nutritious food, cleaner cells, kinder guards, more liberal visits.

The scene resembles a hippie rally for peace. Yet the attendees are die-hard Trump supporters, rallying nightly to support those jailed for their role in the Jan. 6, 2021, uprising. Sometimes former President Donald Trump himself calls them out.

The group – focusing on its brothers – demands the same human dignity that inmate advocates have been demanding for decades, hiding in patriotism to resist oppression only now that he feels he has landed on his doorstep. In other words, the political spectrum may not be a line, but rather a circle. Go far enough to the right, you are on the left.

Every night, inmates call to speak to those present at the wake.

“Here’s my guy, he’s on!” said Nicole Reffitt, as she pressed the speakerphone button on her phone and played her incarcerated husband’s voice over a loudspeaker and around the Capitol Hill neighborhood. Residents five blocks away say they can hear it every night.

Nicole Reffitt: “How’s the prison going?”

Guy Reffitt: “It’s definitely interesting… Not fun.”

Crowd: “We love you, patriot!”

Then it’s the turn of the inmate with the voice of DJ Wolfman Jack. “Hello from DC, Guuuuuulaaaag!” he grunts, then reports on the food they had that day, the upcoming trials of the Oathkeepers, the Proud Boys, and other inmates.

Sometimes they have guests. Like Trump.

“It’s a terrible thing that has happened to a lot of people who are being treated very, very unfairly,” he told inmates and the crowd as his familiar voice once again filled part of Capitol Hill. .

Trump is talking about the January 6 detainees, of course. His motorcade never stopped at the DC prison to offer support to inmates prior to the insurgency. Now the DC inmates who heeded his call to come have a “wild” time on Jan. 6 have become a small industry, creating blogs and live streams, fundraisers that have generated more than a million. of dollars.

Trump phoned the group’s matriarch, Micki Witthoeft, last Tuesday. She is the mother of Ashli ​​Babbitt, the 35-year-old Trump supporter who was shot by a police officer as she tried to enter the US Capitol and later died in hospital.

“He calls me,” Witthoeft told me, petting his 19-year-old big-eyed little dog named Fuggles, “from time to time.”

Did you see how the police prepared for the January 6 riot? This is what white privilege looks like.

After calls, announcements and songs, the group ends at 9 p.m. with the singing of the national anthem and a solemn reading of the names of the prisoners and their days behind bars, punctuated by the tinkling of a tambourine:

“Shane Jenkins, 558 days.” Tink.

“Darryl Johnson, 460 days. Tink.

“Cody Mattis, 342 days.” Tink.

The inmates respond by turning their unit lights on and off in a dark-light-dark version of applause.

This right-wing, protest variety show has been running nightly since early August in this corner of Capitol Hill, where DC’s long-troubled jail, historic Congressional Cemetery and renovated townhouses sell out north of $1 million form a triangle of worlds clashing.

They are unlicensed, but DC police maintain a heavy presence there each night, “monitoring and evaluating activities and planning accordingly with our federal and local law enforcement partners,” the official said. Public Information Sean Hickman.

Protesters say they are not trying to stir up trouble. They are simply asking for basic human rights for people regardless of their criminal charges.

“I always thought the system worked,” said Birk, who drove across the country from Mt. Shasta, Calif., and is camping in the DC area so he can attend the nighttime protests. “But it doesn’t work here.”

Some of the detainees – like many across the country whose trials have been delayed by a covid backlog – have not had a trial. Some have been convicted and are awaiting appeal.

Reffitt, with his helmet of Texas blonde hair, Colgate smile and pastel cardigan, left his life in a Dallas suburb so he could be in this little pocket of Capitol Hill at 7 p.m. sharp.

“It’s really hard to be so close to him,” Reffitt said. “I hope he sees me. The best I get is flickering light.

“It’s really awful in there,” she said.

She is an unlikely voice for change at a detention center that is 93% black and poor, according to the DC Department of Corrections.

“People at J6 are predominantly white and middle class. It’s very different from how they’re used to being treated,” said Tammy Seltzer, who has been fighting for more than a decade for better treatment of inmates with mental health issues in the DC prison as a as Warden of the DC Jail and Jail. Advocacy project at University Legal Services.

“Very unfortunately, people of color, poor people are used to being mistreated,” she said. “If the conditions are a shock for the detainees of J6, it is because they did not pay attention to them.”

While some prison reform advocates are pretty happy about it all, it’s probably not easy to support people like the Reffitts.

Reffitt was found guilty by a DC jury in March of five felonies, including carrying and carrying a firearm on Capitol grounds, interfering with US Capitol police and obstructing to an official procedure.

Guy Reffitt’s January 6 sentence is the longest yet

Three Capitol Police officers testified that they failed to stop Reffitt from entering the building with rubber bullets and chemical sprays. He was wearing an AR-15 and flexible plastic handcuffs. He wore a bulletproof vest and a motorcycle helmet equipped with a camera.

As Capitol Hill protesters tell him “We love you, patriot!” a Capitol Police officer who confronted the armed Reffitt on Jan. 6 had something else to say.

“His actions were not the actions of a patriot,” said officer Shauni Kerkhof, when she testified at her trial. “These were actions of a domestic terrorist.”

When he returned from Washington after January 6, Reffitt told his children not to report him. “Traitors get shot,” he said.

If January 6 had been a movie, the cops would have been the heroes

Inside, Trump supporters are beginning to find solidarity with others behind bars.

Jonathan Mellis is still awaiting trial after police body camera footage captured him shoving a large stick at officers on January 6, aiming for the spot on their necks between their helmets and body armor .

He started a Christmas fundraiser for the children of inmates outside the prison’s ‘Patriot Pod’ because ‘we know how awful the conditions are here’, he wrote in a letter . “So we have a soft spot for our brothers in the general population. These inhuman conditions are only one aspect of the nightmare that this city is causing our brothers to live through. They grew up in DC, went to school here, got their first job here, and have kids here. The opportunities and security that this city offered them are slim to none. Now, as a result of that, they’re in this disgusting, inhumane DC prison with us. Who’s supposed to give their kids a happy holiday season if they’re trapped here because of a system that doesn’t care? »

It is strange that human rights defenders hear their causes championed by such unlikely allies, when this political circle unites around common goals.

“We and other activists, family members, formerly incarcerated people complained and implored the DC government, whether it was the Board or the Department of Corrections to address these issues,” Seltzer said. “Now we have the January 6 people complaining about the same things.”

We spoke on the phone, but I imagine Seltzer shrugged his shoulders then.

“Bad messenger,” she said. “But good message.”

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