State capitols step up security amid new safety concerns

National

(AP/WOOD) — State capitols across the nation, including Michigan, stepped up security Monday, deploying National Guard units, SWAT teams and extra police officers as several legislatures convened amid heightened safety concerns following last week’s violence at the U.S. Capitol.

The protections came as the FBI issued a bulletin warning of plans for armed protests at all 50 state capitals and in Washington ahead of President-elect Joe Biden’s Jan. 20 inauguration.

In Michigan, where armed demonstrators against coronavirus restrictions entered the Capitol last year, lawmakers return to session Wednesday. Michigan State Police confirmed to News 8 that they were amping up their presence at the capitol for the next couple of weeks, though the agency would not provide specific details about security plans.

“The Michigan State Police takes our responsibility for ensuring safety at Michigan’s Capitol very seriously. Demonstrations are a common occurrence, with the vast majority being entirely peaceful gatherings. We continually monitor for security threats and maintain situational awareness of what is happening in Michigan and across the country. Our security planning is fluid and adjustments are made as needed, from day-to-day.

“We are aware of online promotion of a march on state capitols on January 17. Security enhancements that can be put in place include both seen and unseen measures. In general, we don’t discuss security measures, but I can confirm that out of an abundance of caution, we are increasing our visible presence at the Capitol for the next couple of weeks starting today.”

Michigan State Police spokesperson Shanon Banner

A state commission on Monday approved banning open carry in the building.

“This is a new America that we’re living in now. It’s a very dangerous set of circumstances. We know the FBI has issued alerts … that they believe that there might potentially be a terrorist attack on our state Capitol sometime in the next week or so. They are in particularly high alert from now and the presidential inauguration,” Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel said.

Some of the anti-government extremists accused in a plot to kidnap Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer had attended the lockdown protests. Prosecutors say the accused ringleader initially talked of recruiting 200 men to storm the building, take hostages and “execute tyrants.” A secondary plan involved locking exits and setting the statehouse on fire, according to court documents.

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee activated hundreds of National Guard troops to help state police keep order at the state Capitol and defend security fencing. At least two people were arrested, including a woman who, according to state police, used a recreational vehicle to block a roadway and refused to comply with orders to move.

Later, about 20 people gathered outside the security fencing, including a man who tried to walk past authorities as lawmakers were to begin their session. He was taken into custody after shouting “I have every right to witness this.”

At the Georgia Capitol, a state patrol SWAT team walked the perimeter wearing fatigues and carrying rifles while lawmakers gathered inside for the start of a two-year term.

Legislatures convened in more than half a dozen states. Because of concerns about the coronavirus, many state capitols had already adopted procedures to curb the potential for large crowds, including arranging for lawmakers to meet remotely. Those steps greatly reduced the number of people who are actually working in capitol buildings.

After insurrectionists backing President Donald Trump overran the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, some governors and lawmakers began ramping up security because of online threats suggesting that more mobs could target state capitols.

In Idaho, doors to the House and Senate chambers were locked Monday morning, and two Idaho state troopers were stationed at each entrance. In past years, the doors were propped open while an unarmed statehouse staff member controlled access.

During a special session last August, a group of people including anti-government activist Ammon Bundy forced their way past overwhelmed troopers and filled the Idaho House gallery despite COVID-19 restrictions limiting the number of people allowed in. The group called People’s Rights was founded by Bundy and opposes the restrictions. Its leaders were urging members to show up Monday at the Capitol.

Glen Thorne of Buhl, Idaho, about a two-hour drive to the southeast of Boise, wore a handgun in a holster on his right hip Monday at the Capitol. Openly carrying weapons in the building is legal.

Thorne said he wanted to make sure Republican Gov. Brad Little “knows that we’re here.”

“We want to end the state of emergency for Idaho. It’s ridiculous. We all want to go back to a normal state of living,” Thorne said. He did not think the group would cause trouble.

“This is Idaho. We’re all gun-carrying, respectful Republicans,” he said.

In Georgia, Republican Gov. Brian Kemp and other officials approved construction of a fence around the Capitol last year after racial injustice protests. Kemp has kept a group of National Guard soldiers on active duty to protect state properties since last summer, when protesters smashed windows and set a fire at state public safety headquarters in Atlanta.

Inslee activated 750 members of the National Guard. On the same day as the deadly riot in Washington, D.C., a group of armed people broke down a gate outside the governor’s mansion in Olympia, Washington, and made it to the porch and front yard before being convinced to leave by police.

On Monday, lawmakers had to drive through an area gated off and guarded by the National Guard to park outside the Capitol. A small group of protesters gathered in the morning, shouting that they should be let inside the building to observe lawmakers.

“It’s a sad day for our country, isn’t it, where you have to have that kind of security around the people who were elected to represent you,” Democratic Sen. Patty Kuderer said. “Unfortunately, we live in troubling times, and I do believe we’re going to get through it, but it’s going to take a lot of time and a lot of effort.”

In Missouri, Republican Gov. Mike Parson’s inauguration proceeded Monday without incident. Concrete barriers and extra police — both typical inaugural precautions — surrounded the Capitol grounds where fewer than 2,000 people gathered. Parson told reporters later that security precautions also will be taken at potential upcoming demonstrations, though he was not specific.

Kansas House Speaker Ron Ryckman Jr., a Republican, said he was worried about protests at state capitols planned for this coming weekend and asked for extra security from the Kansas Highway Patrol.

“We’re hopeful that things, people, remain calm and the democratic process can continue,” Ryckman said.

Oregon State Police will conduct building security training for those who work at the state Capitol, including journalists, on Tuesday and Wednesday.

House Majority Leader Pat Sullivan said that both the pandemic protocols, plus the security concerns, will make lawmakers’ work more difficult, but he said that “people are counting on us to pass budgets and laws that help them in their daily life.”

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Associated Press writers Jeff Amy in Atlanta; David Eggert in Lansing, Michigan; Keith Riddler, in Boise, Idaho; and Rachael La Corte in Olympia, Washington, contributed to this report.

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