Armed groups and pro-Trump protesters gathered outside several state capitols across the country over the weekend as fears of unrest ahead of President-Elect Joe Biden’s inauguration continued.
Only small protests materialized at statehouses after authorities had braced for violence by boarding up windows, setting up police barricades, shutting buildings down and deploying National Guard troops in the wake of the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol.
Protesters marched on statehouses in Ohio, Texas, Oregon and Michigan, as well as Washington, D.C., but the demonstrations remained peaceful while most capitol buildings across the U.S. remained quiet.
Among the protesters were armed pro-gun groups, but many insisted their demonstration had nothing to do with the election or Trump. The far-right anti-government “boogaloo” movement, which critics say is seeking to incite a second American civil war, turned up in several cities.
The groups were greeted by a heavy law enforcement presence as security forces braced for violence that never materialized. At least 19 states deployed national guard troops to their capitals.
Meanwhile, officials are still preparing for the possibility of violent protests on Wednesday when Biden will be sworn in as president.
Already a scaled-back event because of the pandemic, officials further limited attendance to Biden’s inauguration after the Capitol riot, prohibiting any public access. The National Mall will be closed through January 21st and over 20,000 National Guard troops will be on patrol in the area.
While officials beef up security for the inauguration, the FBI continues its manhunt for people involved in the Capitol riot. Those who have already faced a judge are being warned not to violate the conditions of their release.
The FBI is seeing an “extensive amount of concerning online chatter” about potentially violent events surrounding the inauguration, according to FBI Director Chris Wray. At a briefing with Vice President Mike Pence, Wray said the bureau is tracking “calls for potential armed protests and activity leading up to the inauguration.”
Scenes from state capitols on Sunday
A handful of Trump’s supporters peacefully marched on Columbus, Ohio, occasionally trading insults with a group of counter-protesters.
The anti-government extremist boogaloo movement was reportedly among the heavily armed protesters, although they told media that they were there for a long-planned gun rights rally that had nothing to do with Trump.
One man from northern Ohio, who would only give his initials as “J.C.” and was carrying an AK-47 slung over his shoulder, told The Columbus Dispatch that the point of carrying guns was to “normalize them.”
“They are a tool. They are a conversation starter,” he said. “The more familiar people are with guns, the more comfortable they are.”
Protesters gathered on Sunday morning at the Texas State Capitol. Officials had closed down the building the day before over concerns demonstrations would turn violent, according to media reports.
Armed officers from the Texas Department of Public Safety reportedly patrolled the rolling Capitol grounds and guarded the entrance to the nearby governor’s mansion.
Jeinay LeBlanc, an armed protester who traveled from Bay City to participate in Sunday’s protest, told The Austin American Statesman that the rally had been planned for months.
She said: “This is not about the election at all,” adding that she came with the Hibiscus Society, a pro-gun rights group that broke away from the boogaloo movement.
Around 15 armed protesters and counter-protesters gathered outside the Oregon Capitol in Salem on Sunday morning.
There was no confrontation between the two camps, the media outlet reported.
The Capitol building had been fortified with concrete blocks, temporary fencing and boarded-up windows, while the National Guard was deployed to assist police in responding to any civil unrest.
A protester called Ace carried an AK-47, 120 rounds of ammunition, a pistol, and a knife. He told The New York Times: “We’re not here to intimidate people and if people are intimidated, I apologize for that, but that’s not my concern.”
“The people I hope are intimidated are the people sitting right there,” he reportedly said, gesturing toward the Capitol Building. “We are an example of people who voted for them in hopes they would do what they said they were going to do when they were elected. They did the opposite.”
National Guard troops and state police guarded the state capitol building on Sunday as a small armed group gathered for a protest.
But Richard Maurere, 65, a small business owner from Owosso, told The New York Times: “That’s why I’m here, because my vote got stolen. Biden is never going to be my president. I’m going to fight him whenever I get the chance.”
Members of the boogaloo movement also gathered at the scene.
Among the armed protesters was a man named Perry, who voted for Trump and told the publication that “not all Trump supporters act” like the rioters at the U.S. Capitol. He said he decided to go to Lansing on Sunday to protest the protesters.
A small crowd gathered in Washington, D.C. on Sunday but were met by an increased security presence as law enforcement and National Guard troops remained on high alert since the Capitol breach.
A militarised “green zone” grew downtown, as streets were blocked by concrete barricades and military vehicles, news outlets reported.
The FBI is “actively looking” at adding Capitol rioters to the no-fly list, according to FBI Washington Field Office Assistant Director in Charge Steven D’Antuono. The no-fly list began in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks and bars some people from boarding planes.