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What we know about potential armed protests ahead of Joe Biden’s inauguration

Washington, DC, and states across the country are heightening security and preparing reinforcements this week ahead of potential armed protests from Saturday up to at least Inauguration Day on Wednesday.

One week after a pro-Trump mob ransacked the US Capitol, federal officials reiterated a warning in a call with law enforcement leaders across the country, saying they remain concerned about the prospect of extremists appearing at planned rallies and conducting violence.

Security is also ramping up in battleground states that were crucial to President-elect Joe Biden’s presidential victory, with governors activating the National Guard, closing capitols, erecting fences and barriers and, in at least two cases, boarding up windows.

FBI Director Christopher Wray said Thursday that authorities are “tracking calls for potential armed protests and activity leading up to the inauguration.”

“We’re monitoring all incoming leads — whether calls for armed protests, potential threats that grow out of the January 6th breach of the Capitol, or other kinds of potential threats leading up to inaugural events and various other targets,” Wray said.

It all adds up to an inauguration unlike any other, with no crowds in DC and security to the maximum across the country.

How DC is preparing

A week after the US Capitol riot, the area around Capitol Hill is under strict security. Members of the National Guard were present all around, including inside the Capitol, and new fencing blocked off the perimeter of the area.

DC Police Chief Robert Contee said Wednesday that more than 20,000 National Guard members could be expected in the district for Biden’s inauguration, though he noted the final numbers will be provided by the US Secret Service.

The officials added that there is no concern that there will be any shortage of Guard forces to meet requirements from states and the District of Columbia.

Contee told reporters he remains concerned amid a “major security threat” ahead of the inauguration and planned demonstrations in the district this weekend.

“I’ve been concerned before today and will be through this weekend, and beyond,” Contee said on Wednesday.

He also praised DC Mayor Muriel Bowser’s security posture, including discouraging people from coming to Washington for the inauguration.

“There’s a major security threat, and we are working to mitigate those threats,” he added.

The National Mall will be closed to the general public on Inauguration Day due to security concerns, the National Park Service (NPS) announced Friday.

The temporary public closure began Friday morning and will extend through at least Thursday, January 21. The NPS says protests will be allowed in designated locations and will be limited to those with permits.

House Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi announced Friday that retired Army Lt. Gen. Russel Honoré will lead a review of security infrastructure, interagency processes and command and control operations on Capitol Hill.

How states are preparing

States across the country are enhancing security and calling up the National Guard to protect capitols ahead of the possible protests, including in California, Connecticut, Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Washington and Wisconsin.

Florida and Maine have also activated the National Guard to work with state law enforcement.

A number of states are deploying heavy fencing and additional crowd control measures around their capitols, including in Arizona, California, Georgia, Michigan, New Mexico, Virginia and Washington, while Pennsylvania has built barriers and increased security.

Although many capitols are closed due to coronavirus restrictions, the warnings are particularly fraught in states that allow people to openly carry firearms and those where Trump has falsely claimed fraud.

Kentucky and Texas went steps further Friday, announcing that the grounds around the state Capitols will be closed temporarily.

The Texas Capitol complex will close from Saturday through Wednesday, according to the Texas Department of Public Safety.

The department’s director said the agency is aware of armed protests planned at the Texas State Capitol this week and “violent extremists who may seek to exploit constitutionally protected events to conduct criminal acts.”

Director Steven McCraw said the agency has deployed additional personnel and resources to the Capitol.

Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear, a Democrat, said he understands the state’s move to close the Capitol grounds on Sunday will inconvenience some people.

“We appreciate everyone’s understanding and your patriotism,” he said.

In Michigan, where heavily armed demonstrators jammed inside the state Capitol in Lansing in the spring, the open carry of firearms was banned inside the building. Still, Lansing’s mayor has asked the governor to call up the National Guard to protect the Capitol, and the state attorney general said that the state’s new open-carry firearms ban there is not enough.

The Michigan State Police is mobilizing personnel from across the state to secure the Capitol ahead of planned protests, including one on Sunday, the agency said in a statement Friday.

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel told CNN that the actions of law enforcement and the open-carry ban have assuaged his fears for now.

“Hopefully, the temperature of the country comes down a little bit after Trump is no longer in the White House and Joe Biden has been officially inaugurated,” she said. “But I think it’s going to be a day-by-day process to see what the threat level is.”

The state Senate and House have canceled legislative sessions around Inauguration Day over concerns of “credible threats.”

In Virginia, a state of emergency has been declared in Richmond and Capitol Square will be closed ahead of anticipated protests at the state Capitol. The state is anticipating a gathering Monday for “Lobby Day,” an annual protest event that last year brought thousands of gun rights advocates to the Capitol.

Governors in Maryland, New Mexico and Utah also declared states of emergency.

In Oregon, the FBI has set up a command post to gather and share intelligence with law enforcement on potential threats of violence to the state Capitol.

In Florida and Oklahoma, lawmakers and staff are being told to work from home this weekend due to the likelihood of protests. Pennsylvania and Utah are closing their capitols altogether. The first-floor windows of the state capitols in Illinois, Michigan, Virginia and Wisconsin have been boarded up ahead of potential protests.

New Jersey has told state employees to work from home on Inauguration Day.

Several large states are on high alert. In New York, state police have taken steps “to harden security in and around the State Capitol in Albany” ahead of Biden’s inauguration. And in California, more than 1,000 National Guard troops have been deployed and fencing has been erected around the Capitol after what the governor called an “unconscionable assault on our Republic.”

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