WASHINGTON, DC — The first anniversary of the Benghazi tragedy was supposed to be the time for conservatives around the country to descend on the Capitol by the thousands, demanding that Congress reveal the truth. Less than one hundred bothered to show up.
The “Justice for Benghazi” rally was meant to be a joint effort between the Patriots4America and Special Operations Speaks — two groups that have for months now been hammering establishment Republicans for what they see as not enough action to unveil what really happened in Benghazi, Libya last year. Special Operations Speaks was behind a series of ads and petitions demanding that Speaker of the House John Boehner appoint a special committee to investigate the supposed Obama administration cover-up of its involvement in the attack and the deaths of four Americans including Ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens. According to organizers, as many as 5,000 people were expected to show up on the Hill and make their voices heard.
At the 12:30 PM start time for the rally, though, there wasn’t very much rallying going on. Instead, there were only a handful of people gathered near the open lawn that was meant to be barely containing thousands of supporters. Many of them were hiding from the ninety-five degree weather in the shade, jostling to have their picture taken with former Rep. Alan West (R-FL) who was there for an earlier event. Several of those milling about lamented that technical difficulties had prevented the organizers from setting up their audio equipment until the time when the protest was supposed to begin.
Even among those near the rallying point, not everyone present was even there for the rally itself. Several standing on the curb of the nearby traffic circle were there to support the thousands of motorcyclists who had intended to drive by en masse as a counter to a protest of how Muslim-Americans have been treated since 2001. Due to permit issues, however, the motorcycles only drove by at a rate of one every few minutes, leaving the onlookers to mingle with the Benghazi protesters.
The ages of the participants varied with old and young alike present and wielding signs calling for Obama’s impeachment. Among the latter was a young man named Jeff, who was there with Rebels for Liberty, a company devoted to promoting conservative values to youths. “I definitely think there needs to be a full investigation, that the investigations need to be open to the American people,” Jeff said when asked about Benghazi, adding that “they need to let the other witnesses that were there speak and let them say their piece.” When ThinkProgress asked him what he thought of CIA Director John Brennan’s written assurance that no CIA employee or contractor was being muzzled, Jeff scoffed. “Did you see [Director of National Intelligence James Clapper] when he sat before a hearing and tried to scratch the lies away?” he said.
As the speakers finally prepared to start, one Florida woman, Sheril Swanson, told ThinkProgress that she thought that Congress was doing “nowhere near enough” to get the truth out about Benghazi. Swanson had driven up the night before to attend the rally and was heading back to Florida the next night, but was there to demand answers on Benghazi.
“How did they know that it wasn’t going to last that long?” she asked when speaking to ThinkProgress. “How did they know that? That’s all they kept saying, they didn’t have enough time to send help? They were being attacked, they were being brutally murdered.”
Swanson does have a theory, though, about why help wasn’t sent: it was an inside job. “That tells me that they were involved,” she confided, referring to the withdrawal of security forces from the Benghazi annex. “I believe that guns were being run to Syria through Benghazi, I think the heat was coming down and our administration was ready to end our arms transfer, and the attack was scheduled.”
Once the rally finally got under way, the true number of those present was revealed, showing themselves to be less than a hundred total. That didn’t stop the speakers from trying to get the crowd riled up, asking them what they thought of claims that Benghazi was a “phony scandal.” “Obama’s a phony president!” one crowd member yelled back in response, his lone voice highlighting just how quiet what was meant to be a massive rally was.
Inside the building, however, the story is considerably different. There Speaker Boehner is still facing a full-throated rebellion from members of his caucus, who are insisting that he give them the ability to investigate Benghazi more fully. Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA), the leading advocate for the creation of a special committee, filed a bill to do just that, lining up more than a hundred cosponsors to H.R. 36. Boehner has refused to allow that bill to hit the floor, however, leaving it for now in the House Rules Committee.
“What people were saying is, ‘we’re willing to go through regular order but now it’s been a full year’,” Wolf told The Hill, noting that his bill keeps gathering cosponsors even as it languishes. “We’re going to get to 218. We’re at 170 and we’ll continue to keep pushing it.” Even as the protests outside failed to materialize, Republican Congressmen continued to send out their press releases marking the anniversary of Benghazi, a sure sign that they don’t intend to give up the issue soon or stop demanding that their leadership follow the fringes.