FBI warns armed protests across US; National Guard in DC
In California, Gov. Gavin Newsom says “everyone is on high alert.” In New Jersey, Gov. Phil Murphy says “we do not want to underprepare.” In Washington state, Gov. Jay Inslee warns that his state “cannot tolerate any actions that could result in harm.”
At least 10,000 National Guard troops are scheduled to provide supplemental security in coming days at the U.S. Capitol, scene of last week’s deadly riot. But similar steps are being taken in capitals across the nation amid FBI reports of possible armed protests starting this Sunday through the Jan. 20 inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden.
In Michigan, where six men were indicted last month on charges of conspiring to kidnap Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, a state commission banned the open carrying of weapons in the Capitol building in Lansing. Attorney General Dana Nessel warned people away.
“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,” Attorney General Dana Nessel tweeted Tuesday. “I repeat – the Michigan Capitol is not safe.”
Washington, D.C., remains the center of the universe for the protests. Last week’s rally- turned-violent-siege was viewed as a free speech event in the days before, despite multiple warnings about the potential for violence from right-wing extremist groups.
Driven by President Donald Trump’s debunked claims that the election was stolen, the mob marched from the White House to the Capitol, where they occupied the building for hours to try to stop lawmakers from certifying Biden’s win. Five people died, including a police officer.
Now authorities say they are ready. The inauguration is designated as a “national special security event,” allowing close coordination among the Capitol Police, Pentagon, Homeland Security and District-area police.
Acting Capitol Police Chief Yogananda Pittman promised a “comprehensive, coordinated” plan to keep the Capitol safe. Gen. Daniel Hokanson, chief of the National Guard Bureau, said 10,000 National Guard troops would be in Washington, and an additional 5,000 troops will be ready to be called up if needed.
Michael Plati, U.S. Secret Service special agent in charge, is leading inauguration security.
“We will have the adequate resourcing, personnel and plans in place,” he said.
Preparations are underway across America. At the New York State Capitol in Albany, concrete barriers now block the street that encircles the seven-acre statehouse. In Pennsylvania, the state Capitol Police in Harrisburg was ” enhancing its visible presence” – even though the Capitol is closed to visitors because of COVID restrictions.
In Delaware, the capital of Dover is less than 100 miles from Washington, D.C.
“We’re aware of the protests planned in Dover,” said Gov John Carney’s spokesman, Jonathan Starkey. “Law enforcement will monitor conditions on the ground. I don’t have any comment about additional Guard deployments.”
In New Jersey director of homeland security, Jared Maples, said his agency has not identified specific threats, just “a lot of fliers” and “chatter online” about protests.
“We’re vetting through every single lead that we get, we’re making sure that we follow all those down.”
The FBI said it is supporting local, state and federal law enforcement while respecting the peaceful exercise First Amendment rights.
“Our efforts are focused on identifying, investigating and disrupting individuals that are inciting violence and engaging in criminal activity,” the agency said in a statement. “Our focus is not on peaceful protesters, but on those threatening their safety and the safety of other citizens with violence and destruction of property.”
America appears to be backing the effort. Sixty-five percent want the government to do more to address the rise of far-right extremism, according to a survey released Tuesday from the Anti-Defamation League.
“Violent domestic extremism is a global threat that will outlast President Trump’s time in office,” ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt said. “The incoming Congress and Biden-Harris administration must work together proactively, deliberately and swiftly (to) dismantle this domestic terror threat.”
The inauguration theme will be “America United,” an issue that’s long been a central focus for Biden but one that’s taken on added weight.
“This inauguration marks a new chapter for the American people – one of healing, of unifying, of coming together, of an America united,” said Tony Allen, CEO of the Presidential Inaugural Committee. “The inaugural activities will reflect our shared values and serve as a reminder that we are stronger together than we are apart, just as our motto ‘e pluribus unum’ reminds us – out of many, one.”
Contributing: Joseph Spector, Candy Woodall, Dustin Racioppi, Madeleine O’Neill, Kevin Johnson and Ryan W. Miller, USA TODAY; The Associated Press