US brace for pro-Trump protests at state buildings
BRENDAN O’BRIEN and RICH McKAY
US law enforcement officials have battened down statehouses across the country in anticipation of potentially violent protests by Trump supporters who believe the baseless claim that electoral fraud robbed the president of a second term.
More than a dozen states have activated National Guard troops to help secure their capitol buildings following an FBI warning of armed protests, with right-wing extremists emboldened by the deadly attack on the U.S. Capitol in Washington on Jan. 6.
Security officials have eyed Sunday as the first major flashpoint, as that is when the anti-government “boogaloo” movement made plans weeks ago to hold rallies in all 50 states.
“Following the siege at our nation’s Capitol and reports on threats to state capitals, I’m bringing all resources to bear to protect our residents and democratic process,” Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker wrote on Twitter on Sunday, adding that he was activating the state police and national guard to protect the state’s capital, Springfield.
Capitals in battleground states, where Trump has directed his accusations of voter fraud, were on especially high alert.
Several hundred law enforcement officers and National Guard troops milled around Georgia’s state house in Atlanta early Sunday. Chain-link fences and cement barriers protected the Capitol grounds and multiple armored vehicles were stationed nearby.
In Lansing, Michigan, crews were setting up barricades, blocking off streets around the capitol building as snow flurries fell on Sunday morning. Office buildings around the capitol had boarded up their windows.
In addition to increasing police presence, some states, including Pennsylvania, Texas and Kentucky, have taken the further step of closing their capitol grounds to the public.
It is just days until Wednesday’s Inauguration Day, when Democrat Joe Biden will be sworn in as president amid extraordinary security efforts in Washington, D.C.
The nationwide security scramble followed the attack on the U.S. Capitol in Washington by a mix of extremists and Trump supporters, some of whom called for the death of Vice President Mike Pence as he presided over the certification of Biden’s election victory.
The FBI and other federal agencies have warned of the potential for future violence leading up to the inauguration, as white supremacists and other extremists look to exploit frustration among Trump supporters who have bought into falsehoods about electoral fraud.
It was not clear whether the FBI warning and ramped up security presence around the country might lead some protesters to stay at home.
Following the January 6 violence in Washington, some militia members said they would not attend a long-planned pro-gun demonstration in Virginia on Monday, where authorities were worried about the risk of violence as multiple groups converged on the state capital, Richmond.
Some militias and extremist groups have told followers to stay home this weekend, citing the increased security or the risk that the planned events were law enforcement traps.
Bob Gardner, leader of the Pennsylvania Lightfoot Militia, said his group had no plans to be in Harrisburg this weekend, where the Capitol has been fortified with barricades and will be protected by hundreds of members of its National Guard.
“We’ve got our own communities to worry about,” Gardner said earlier this week. “We don’t get involved in politics.