National Guard activated as MSP prepares for protest at state Capitol

Michigan

LANSING, Mich. (WOOD) — Michigan State Police say they are ramping up security around the state Capitol, including getting help from the Michigan National Guard, ahead of a protest expected to happen this weekend.

“If you are going to come down to the Capitol and demonstrate peacefully, then we will provide that safe space for you,” Col. Joe Gasper, the head of MSP, said at a Friday morning press conference in Lansing. “If you are coming to the Capitol to engage in some nefarious activity, then we are also very well prepared to address that.”

MSP has already increased its uniformed presence around the Capitol, and Gasper said that will continue through mid-February. Crews put up 6-foot fence around the building Friday and boarded up the windows on the ground floor of the George W. Romney Building across the street, which houses the governor’s offices.

“We are prepared for the worst but we remain hopeful that those who choose to demonstrate at our Capitol do so peacefully without violence or destruction of property,” Gasper said.

Gasper added that there are “covert” security measures in place. He would not provide information about what that means “to protect the integrity of our operational plan.”

The National Guard said it was called in by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer to “help protect people, facilities and key infrastructure.”

Major General Paul Rogers, the adjutant general of the Michigan Army and Air National Guard, would not say which units or how many guardsmen would be in Lansing Sunday, though he said the response would be “significant and in direct relation to the requests of our partners.”

He also promised it would not interfere with the guard’s assistance in the state’s COVID-19 response.

In the wake of a riot at the U.S. Capitol last week, federal authorities warned that protests have been planned at all 50 state capitols and in Washington leading up to President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration Wednesday. An online flyer for Sunday protests across the country urges demonstrators to come armed.

The FBI said it will be in a “heightened posture” to identify extremists and alert state governments to threats.

Anyone with information about this weekend’s protest at the Michigan Capitol is asked to contact the FBI at 1.800.CALL.FBI (225.5324). MSP also said anyone who notices anything suspicious leading up to Sunday can call 855.642.4847 or report it at Michigan.gov/MichTip.

The state Capitol isn’t the only building in Lansing preparing for possible violence. A walk around the block Friday revealed several buildings boarded up. Property owners said they were worried about what could happen Sunday.

“Those people, they have weapons and that’s the reason I’m not going to be here,” said Ali Kasti, owner of Sahar Delight on Washington Square a short walk from the Capitol. “I’m going to close the store and stay home, stay safe.”

Kasti said the sight of buildings boarding up in case of violence is scary.

“Downtown Lansing doesn’t need that kind of thing right now, especially what’s been going on with the pandemic,” he said.

Others were not as concerned.

“If stuff starts going super crazy, I’m probably just going to leave,” said Jack, a woman who works downtown. “I’m not brushing it off, but I’m not panicking about it, either.”

State police say they have a plan and that Lansing won’t see a repeat of what happened in Washington, D.C. on Jan. 6. Some are keeping their fingers crossed.

“It’s kind of tough for everybody and we have the protests over here. It’s going to be tougher for all business owners right here in Washington Square, downtown Lansing,” Kasti said.

Lansing city officials advised people to stay away from downtown on Sunday.

Citing “concern over credible threats regarding events scheduled to take place at and around the Capitol,” the Republicans in charge of the Michigan Legislature announced Friday that they would cancel session next week. There had not been any votes scheduled.

“The Michigan State Police, as well as House and Senate sergeants at arms, have expressed concern over credible threats regarding events scheduled to take place at and around the state Capitol next week. With no votes scheduled on the calendar, we have decided to act in an abundance of caution by not holding session in either the House or the Senate on January 19-21. We hope everyone stays safe and respects the peaceful transition of power, and we hope legislators and staff at the Capitol take time to thank the team of police officers and sergeants who work together to keep us all safe.

“As we have said before, the riot at the U.S. Capitol last week was a terrible moment for our country. We must be better than this as a nation, and that begins this week with what will hopefully remain peaceful protests and demonstrations in Washington, D.C., Lansing and around the country.”

Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, R-Clarklake; and Speaker of the House Jason Wentworth, R-Clare

Special Agent in Charge Tim Waters out of Detroit said the FBI had opened “numerous investigations” in Michigan in connection to the riot at the U.S. Capitol and promised that those who caused damage or were responsible for violence will be prosecuted to the full extent of the law. Anyone with information about the riot can call the FBI at 1.800.CALL.FBI.

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