Houston Chronicle

Statehouse­s, D.C. brace for possible violence

- By David A. Lieb and Adam Geller

Small groups of right-wing protesters — some of them carrying rifles — gathered outside heavily fortified statehouse­s around the country Sunday as National Guard troops and police kept watch to prevent a repeat of the violence that erupted at the U.S. Capitol.

There were no immediate reports of any clashes.

Security was stepped up in recent days after the FBI warned of the potential for armed protests in Washington and at all 50 state capitol buildings ahead of President-elect Joe Biden’s inaugurati­on on Wednesday.

A few people demonstrat­ed in some capital cities, with crowds of only a dozen or two, while streets in many other places remained empty. Some protesters said they supported President Donald Trump. But others said they weren’t backing Trump and had instead come to voice their support for gun rights or oppose government overreach.

Some statehouse­s were surrounded by new protective fences, had boarded-up windows and were patrolled by extra police. Legislatur­es generally were not in session over the weekend.

Tall fences also surrounded the U.S. Capitol. The National Mall was closed to the public, and the mayor of Washington asked people not to visit. Some 25,000 National Guard troops from around the country are expected to arrive in the city in the coming days.

The security measures were intended to safeguard seats of government from the type of violence that broke out at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, when far-right Trump supporters galvanized by his false claims that the election had been stolen from him stormed the building while Congress was certifying the Electoral College vote.

The attack left a Capitol Police officer and four others dead. More than 125 people have been arrested on charges related to the insurrecti­on.

At the Ohio Statehouse on Sunday, about two dozen people, including several carrying long guns, protested outside under the watchful eyes of state troopers before dispersing as it began to snow.

Kathy Sherman, who was wearing a visor with “Trump” printed on it, said she supports the president but distanced herself from the mob that breached the U.S. Capitol.

“I’m here to support the right to voice a political view or opinion without fear of censorship, harassment or the threat of losing my job or being physically assaulted,” she said.

The roughly 20 protesters who showed up at Michigan’s Capitol, including some who were armed, were significan­tly outnumbere­d by law enforcemen­t officers and media.

At Oregon’s Capitol, fewer than a dozen men wearing militaryst­yle outfits, black ski masks and helmets stood nearby with semiautoma­tic weapons slung across their bodies. Some had upsidedown American flags and signs reading such things as “Disarm the government.”

At the Texas Capitol, Ben Hawk walked with about a dozen demonstrat­ors up to the locked gates carrying a bullhorn and an AR-15 rifle hanging at the side of his camouflage pants. He condemned the insurrecti­on at the U.S. Capitol and said he did not support Trump.

“All we came down here to do today was to discuss, gather, network and hang out. And it got blown and twisted completely out of proportion,” Hawk said.

At Nevada’s Capitol, where demonstrat­ors supporting Trump have flocked most weekends in recent months, all was quiet except for a lone protester with a sign.

“Trump Lost. Be Adults. Go Home,” it read.

Authoritie­s in some states said they had no specific indication that demonstrat­ions would occur, much less turn violent. Yet many state officials vowed to be prepared.

One counterpro­tester came early to greet any demonstrat­ors at the Pennsylvan­ia Capitol, saying he had heard about the possibilit­y of a meet-up of a far-right militant group. But no one else was there.

“I’m fundamenta­lly against the potential protesters coming here to delegitimi­ze the election, and I don’t want to be passive in expressing my disapprova­l of them coming into this city,” Stephen Rzonca said.

More than a third of governors had called out the National Guard to help protect their capitols and assist local law enforcemen­t. Several governors declared states of emergency, and others closed their capitols to the public until after Biden’s inaugurati­on.

Some legislatur­es also canceled sessions or pared back their work for the coming week.

Even before the violence at the Capitol, some statehouse­s had been the target of vandals and angry protesters during the past year.

Last spring, armed protesters entered the Michigan Capitol to object to coronaviru­s lockdowns. People angry over the death of George Floyd vandalized capitols in several states.

 ?? Winslow Townson / Associated Press ?? An armed protester stands in front of the statehouse on Sunday in Concord, N.H. Some statehouse­s were surrounded by new protective fences and had boarded-up windows.
Winslow Townson / Associated Press An armed protester stands in front of the statehouse on Sunday in Concord, N.H. Some statehouse­s were surrounded by new protective fences and had boarded-up windows.
 ?? Justin L. Fowler / Associated Press ?? Members of the Illinois National Guard and the Capitol Police are posted at a road closure Sunday near the Illinois State Capitol.
Justin L. Fowler / Associated Press Members of the Illinois National Guard and the Capitol Police are posted at a road closure Sunday near the Illinois State Capitol.

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