State capitals on edge for armed protests weekend before Biden inauguration

Capitol Riots

WASHINGTON (NewsNation Now) — Many parts of Washington, D.C., are locked down, as law enforcement officials ready for possible armed protests in all 50 state capitals this weekend.

Barriers have been erected and thousands of National Guard troops have been deployed in an effort to prevent the kind of violent attack that rattled the nation over a week ago.

The FBI warned police agencies of possible armed protests outside all 50 state capitol buildings starting Saturday through President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration on Jan. 20.

Fewer protesters were seen demonstrating at capitol buildings across the nation on Saturday compared to the afternoon of Jan. 6.

Michigan, Virginia, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Washington were among the states that activated their National Guards to strengthen security. Texas closed its Capitol through Inauguration Day.

Steve McCraw, director of the Texas Department of Public Safety, said in a statement late Friday that intelligence indicated “violent extremists” may seek to exploit planned armed protests in Austin to “conduct criminal acts.”

Texas lawmakers will not be in the state Capitol during session until the day after the inauguration, NewsNation Correspondent Markie Martin reported.

The security measures follow the deadly Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol in Washington by a mix of extremists and Trump supporters.

Law enforcement officials have trained much of their focus on Sunday.  

A bulletin from the FBI Minneapolis field office late last month warned of potential threats from the right-wing Boogaloo movement to the Minnesota and Michigan capitols this Sunday.

Authorities now believe there is no credible or immediate threat from extremists to Minnesota in the run-up to Inauguration Day, Public Safety Commissioner John Harrington said Friday. But Harrington made clear that law enforcement won’t be taking any chances.

In Michigan, a fence was erected around the Capitol in Lansing, and troopers were mobilized from across the state to bolster security. The legislature canceled meetings next week, citing concern over credible threats.

“We are prepared for the worst but we remain hopeful that those who choose to demonstrate at our Capitol do so peacefully,” Michigan State Police Director Joe Gasper told a news conference on Friday.

Experts say that the capitals of battleground states such as Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Arizona are among those at most risk of violence. But even states not seen as likely flashpoints are taking precautions.

Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker said on Friday that while his state had not received any specific threats he was beefing up security around the Capitol in Springfield, including adding about 250 state National Guard troops.

The alarm extended beyond legislatures. The United Church of Christ, a Protestant denomination of more than 4,900 churches, warned its 800,000 members there were reports “liberal” churches could be attacked in the coming week.

Suzanne Spaulding, a former undersecretary for the Department of Homeland Security, said authorities disclosing enhanced security measures can be an effective deterrent.

“One of the ways you can potentially de-escalate a problem is with a strong security posture,” said Spaulding, now a senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “You try to deter people from trying anything.”

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

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