States across the country are taking steps to tighten security at their capitol buildings following a warning by the FBI this week about potential armed protests ahead of President-elect Joe Biden's Wednesday inauguration.
Several states such as Georgia, Michigan, and Pennsylvania have already seen demonstrations by frustrated pro-Trump supporters who believe the November election was rigged. Though most have been peaceful, the destruction and chaos that took place on Jan. 6 at the nation's Capitol have authorities worried about a repeat performance.
In the deadly siege, armed rioters pushed their way into the Capitol building, destroyed property, and tried to hunt down members of Congress. In all, five people were killed, including one officer.
President Trump released a statement on Wednesday, responding to reports of more demonstrations.
“I urge that there must be NO violence, NO lawbreaking and NO vandalism of any kind,” he said in a written statement. “That is not what I stand for and it is not what America stands for. I call on ALL Americans to help ease tensions and calm tempers.”
Ahead of his statement, the FBI issued a warning, alerting states to potential threats of violence by disgruntled and angry people.
In response, statehouses across the country have upped security measures, fenced off capitol complexes, and called in reinforcements. In Michigan, state Attorney General Dana Nessel didn't mince words.
“My job is not to provide state employees & residents or other visitors to our Capitol with a false sense of security, especially given the current state of affairs in Michigan and around the nation,” Nessel tweeted Tuesday. “I repeat- the Michigan Capitol is not safe.”
My job is not to provide state employees & residents or other visitors to our Capitol with a false sense of security, especially given the current state of affairs in Michigan and around the nation.
I repeat-the Michigan Capitol is not safe.
— Dana Nessel (@dananessel) January 12, 2021
The ominous warning comes as a self-described militia announced it was planning an armed demonstration in Lansing on Sunday.
Michael Lackomar told Fox 2 Detroit that his group, the Southeast Michigan Militia, would be there. He said the group didn't expect any trouble but that it would defend itself if necessary. Among the group's grievances is the way the Nov. 3 election played out as well as state restrictions in response to COVID-19.
In preparation, the Michigan Capitol Commission announced it would erect a 6-foot-high chain-link fence around the state Capitol on Friday.
Last month, six men were indicted on charges of conspiracy after planning to kidnap Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. In response, a state commission banned the open carrying of weapons inside the Capitol, though the message hasn't seemed to resonate with Lackomar's group.
Regardless, Michigan State Police spokeswoman Shanon Banner said Thursday that they will “be prepared for any groups who show up on Sunday.”
Earlier this week, Nessel's office claimed victories in two separate court filings related to unresolved election fraud lawsuits.
The Supreme Court ruled Monday that it would not fast-track the hearing of a federal lawsuit filed by Trump voters against Whitmer, Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, and the city of Detroit related to unfounded claims of election fraud. The second suit involves a motion filed in state court and claims Dominion Voting Systems counting machines contributed to alleged inaccurate and flawed election results.
In Pennsylvania, the agency in charge of protecting the Capitol building in Harrisburg said state officials were not aware of specific threats but that security measures would be increased as a precaution.
Troy Thompson, press secretary for the Department of General Services, said additional security officers would be stationed inside the Capitol and its perimeters and added that barriers have been erected in the past few days.
Thompson said Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf hasn't issued an order to close the Harrisburg complex but that it could change. Pennsylvania, like Michigan, is a state where Trump and his allies repeatedly claimed election rigging had taken place.
State Republican Sen. Doug Mastriano, a former colonel in the U.S. Army, organized a bus trip from Pennsylvania to the nation's capital last week for the rally-turned-riot. He is among one of the state's most vocal Trump supporters and had pushed several bogus theories about voter fraud. However, Mastriano told his supporters to “stand down” and stay away from any protests.
“Please do not participate in rallies or protests over [the] next 10 days,” he posted on his Facebook and Twitter accounts. “Let's focus on praying for our nation during these troubling times.”
In Virginia, Capitol Police were busy Thursday beefing up security measures that included stationing more officers around the Richmond building.
“Because it's a State Capitol, we understand that it's a high targeted area, and that's part of the job,” Joe Macenka, a spokesman for the Virginia Capitol Police, said.
He added that Capitol officers have been meeting with the FBI, Virginia State Police, and Richmond Police regularly to ensure public safety. “It's been a constant planning thing going on around here,” he said. “We're just making sure we're ready and prepared for all possible scenarios.”
Virginia law enforcement officers are also preparing for Lobby Day. The annual event, taking place on Monday, allows Virginians to meet with their legislators.
Last year, more than 20,000 gun rights activists showed up and peacefully protested a push by Virginia Democrats for comprehensive gun control. Threats of violence had escalated in the days leading up to the rally after reports that white supremacists, armed militias, and other extremist groups were planning to attend. In the end, the rally ended without any major incidents.
State and local law enforcement agencies in Georgia said they are prepared to “do what is necessary” to maintain security. However, no protest permits have been requested for the Capitol complex this weekend, the Georgia Building Authority said.
Trump and his allies, including attorneys Lin Wood, Sidney Powell, and Rudy Giuliani, have regularly cast doubt on the integrity of the state's voting system. They have claimed without proof that Trump had won the state.
In Arizona, a fence has been placed around the Capitol's perimeter. State police have also been working with local law enforcement officials, and the Arizona National Guard is on call in case something unruly goes down ahead of Biden's inauguration.
State Senate President Karen Fann told AZcentral.com that some lawmakers were on edge and that many had received threats. “The fact we have to put up this type of temporary fencing for any period of time — it's sad,” she said. In neighboring Nevada, the Las Vegas Sun reported law enforcement is on “high alert.”
The state is among 30 that are sending National Guard members to Washington, D.C., to help with security, logistics, and communications for Biden's inauguration.
The Reno Gazette-Journal reported there had been a demonstration in Carson City on Jan. 6, the same day of the Washington, D.C., riot, but that protesters mostly drank beer, sat around, and sang classic rock songs.
“Fortunately, unlike what occurred in D.C., the demonstration that occurred here in Carson was largely cooperative, and we had no reason to escalate our response,” Carson City Sheriff Ken Furlong said.
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