US security officials brace for pro-Trump protests at state capitol buildings

National Guard members stand guard outside the U.S. Capitol ahead of U.S. President-elect Joe Biden's inauguration, in Washington, U.S., January 17, 2021. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts Reuters


Law enforcement officials battened down statehouses across the country on Sunday in anticipation of potentially violent protests by Trump supporters who believe the baseless claim that electoral fraud robbed the president of a second term.

More than a dozen states have activated National Guard troops to help secure their capitol buildings following an FBI warning of armed protests, with right-wing extremists emboldened by the deadly attack on the U.S. Capitol in Washington on Jan. 6.

Security officials have eyed Sunday as the first major flashpoint, as that is when the anti-government “boogaloo” movement made plans weeks ago to hold rallies in all 50 states.

Capitals in battleground states, where Trump has directed his accusations of voter fraud, were on especially high alert.

But by midday, only a few demonstrators had taken to the streets alongside hundreds of law enforcement officers and media personnel.

Four protesters with long rifles stood outside Michigan’s capitol in Lansing on Sunday, one wearing fatigue pants, a brown tactical vest and a blue Hawaiian shirt and another wearing a Trump t-shirt and fatigue pants as he held a “Don’t tread on me” flag.

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One of them was Duncan Lemp, a cook from Michigan who is involved with the boogaloo boys movement and was wearing an American flag face mask. He said he believed the election was fraudulent, but he had not come on Sunday to start a fight. Instead, he said he wanted to encourage a peaceful, unified anti-government stance and to stand up for his right to bear arms.

“The goal is unification of left and right, both sides, no reason to fight,” Lemp said. “Why can’t the people, left and right, get along and stop the government from overreaching, oppressing us?”

Nearby, crews had blocked off streets and office buildings in Lansing had boarded up their windows in anticipation of potential violence.

In Atlanta, several hundred law enforcement officers and National Guard troops milled around Georgia’s state house early Sunday. Chain-link fences and cement barriers protected the Capitol grounds and multiple armored vehicles were stationed nearby.

In addition to increasing police presence, some states, including Pennsylvania, Texas and Kentucky, have taken the further step of closing their capitol grounds to the public.

It is just days until Wednesday’s Inauguration Day, when Democrat Joe Biden will be sworn in as president amid extraordinary security efforts in Washington, D.C.

The nationwide security scramble followed the attack on the U.S. Capitol in Washington by a mix of extremists and Trump supporters, some of whom called for the death of Vice President Mike Pence as he presided over the certification of Biden’s election victory.

The FBI and other federal agencies have warned of the potential for future violence leading up to the inauguration, as white supremacists and other extremists look to exploit frustration among Trump supporters who have bought into falsehoods about electoral fraud.

It was not clear whether the FBI warning and ramped up security presence around the country might lead some protesters to stay at home.

Following the Jan. 6 violence in Washington, some militia members said they would not attend a long-planned pro-gun demonstration in Virginia on Monday, where authorities were worried about the risk of violence as multiple groups converged on the state capital, Richmond.

Some militias and extremist groups have told followers to stay home this weekend, citing the increased security or the risk that the planned events were law enforcement traps.

Bob Gardner, leader of the Pennsylvania Lightfoot Militia, said his group had no plans to be in Harrisburg this weekend, where the Capitol has been fortified with barricades and will be protected by hundreds of members of its National Guard.

“We’ve got our own communities to worry about,” Gardner said earlier this week. “We don’t get involved in politics.”