Preparing for the potential for violent protests in the days leading up to the presidential inauguration on January 20, state officials call in National Guard troops, erect towering fences, and close Capitol grounds in response to the warning of the FBI that armed protesters could be capital cities across the country.
A New York Times survey of all 50 states found at least 10 – California, Oregon, Michigan, Wisconsin, North Carolina, Washington, Kentucky, Maine, Illinois and Florida – that activate National Guard troops in their capitals. Texas, Virginia and Kentucky are among the states that plan to close their Capitol lands at various times in the coming days.
Some states where legislatures are preparing to meet, such as New Mexico, have placed protective fences around their capitals. Michigan and Indiana have made the extraordinary decision to cancel their legislative activities next week due to the possibility of violence.
Actions taken by state officials underline growing fear of continued violence in the country following last week’s popular attack on the U.S. Capitol in which assailants back the president’s efforts Trump to overthrow the presidential election broke into the building.
“If you are planning to come here or to Washington with a bad intention in your heart, you must turn around now and go home,” Ralph Northam, Governor of Virginia, said at a press conference Thursday. “You are not welcome here and you are not welcome in our nation’s capital. And if you come here and play, Virginia will be ready.
Virginia officials took the unusual step of closing the Capitol Square grounds on Monday in Richmond, where an event called Lobby Day is held annually to allow people to meet elected officials. An estimated 22,000 people attended the event last year, many of whom were gun rights activists. This year, in addition to the closure of Capitol Square, authorities canceled permits for gatherings scheduled for Lobby Day.
An example of the volatility of the situation emerged in Florida on Friday, where the FBI arrested former U.S. Army infantryman Daniel Alan Baker, 33, from Tallahassee, the state capital. Mr. Baker “specifically called on others to join him in surrounding protesters and confining them to the Capitol compound using firearms,” the FBI said in an arrest report.
Tallahassee mayor John Dailey on Friday called on Florida Governor Ron DeSantis to activate the National Guard in preparation for the weekend’s protests. Shortly after, Mr. DeSantis, a Republican, announced that he was activating the Guard “in response to reports of potential civil unrest.”
Concerns are particularly acute in Michigan, where Governor Gretchen Whitmer has activated the Michigan National Guard to assist with security around the State Capitol in Lansing. The move follows the flooding of the Michigan Capitol last year by armed extremists protesting the state’s coronavirus restrictions.
Fourteen people have been indicted in Michigan on charges of terrorism, conspiracy and weapons. At least six of them, officials said, had developed a detailed plan to kidnap Ms Whitmer, a Democrat who has become a focal point of anti-government views and anger over the coronavirus control measures.
In Lansing, a six-foot-high fence has been erected around the State Capitol and the windows of state office buildings have been barricaded to guard against potentially violent protests that are expected Sunday and Wednesday.
The state legislature, which has just held its first session of the year and is scheduled to meet several times next week, canceled those sessions after hearing of “credible threats” received by state police from Michigan.
The increased law enforcement presence will continue at least until mid-February, Michigan State Police Director Col. Joe Gasper said. He declined to reveal how many other police and National Guard members would be in place to guard against the violence.
Yet not all states see the need for increased security. In North Dakota, for example, Kim Koppelman, a Republican who is the speaker of the state House of Representatives, said, “Suffice it to say that security is in place and adequate to meet all the challenges expected. . “
“No major changes have been implemented in response to riots, property damage and attacks in the country last year, or in response to the violence on the US Capitol last week,” Koppelman said.
But other states are taking different steps. California Governor Gavin Newsom on Thursday authorized the deployment of 1,000 National Guard troops and surrounded the grounds of the State Capitol in Sacramento with a six-foot chain-link covered fence to “prepare for and respond to” credible threats ”.
In Illinois, Governor JB Pritzker activated 250 members of the National Guard in response to FBI warnings about potential armed protests, in addition to the 300 Illinois troops already activated in support of the inauguration in Washington.
Illinois officials have said their goal is for the soldiers to help local authorities enforce designated street closures and perimeters.
“Our Soldiers and Airmen come from every community in Illinois, and each has sworn to protect their communities, state and nation,” said Maj. Gen. Rich Neely, Illinois adjutant general and commander of the Illinois National Guard.
Shawn hubler, Mitch smith, John yoon, Michael hardy, Alex Lemonides, Jordan allen and Alyssa Burr contributed to the reporting.