State capitols across the nation stepped up security Monday, deploying National Guard units, SWAT teams and extra police officers while 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.
Washington state Gov. Jay Inslee activated hundreds of National Guard troops to help state police keep order at the state Capitol. At least two people were arrested, including a man who tried to walk past authorities as lawmakers were to begin their session and shouted: “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. State troopers were stationed throughout the Iowa Capitol for opening day as more than 200 people opposing coronavirus mask mandates chanted “freedom” during a peaceful rally.
Legislatures convened in more than a half dozen states. By week's end, three-fourths of all state legislatures will have opened their sessions. 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.
A memo issued late last month by the FBI office in Minneapolis and confirmed by The Associated Press warned of credible threats for this Sunday at the state capitols in Minnesota and Michigan. The memo said followers of the right-wing Boogaloo movement had done reconnaissance at the Capitol in St. Paul, including scouting police sniper locations that would need to be destroyed if a gunbattle broke out.
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.
In Michigan, a state commission voted Monday to ban the open carrying of weapons in the Capitol building.
In Idaho, doors to the House and Senate chambers were locked Monday morning, and two 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 that included anti-government activist Ammon Bundy forced its 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 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.