State capital protests draw minimal crowds; security remains on alert ahead of inauguration

No violent clashes were reported Sunday, despite staged demonstrations by right-wing protesters – some of whom were armed – at state capitals across the nation.

Security measures nationwide were bolstered in recent days after the FBI warned of the potential for armed protests in Washington, D.C., and at all 50 state capitals in advance of President-elect Joe Biden’s Wednesday inauguration, The Associated Press reported.

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The heavy fortifications and bolstered security visible nationwide on Sunday were intended to guard against the type of violence erupting in state capitals that engulfed the U.S. Capitol during the deadly Jan. 6 insurrection by pro-President Donald Trump rioters. Five people were killed in the attack, including a Capitol police officer who died in its aftermath, and more than 125 people have been arrested to date for their involvement in the siege.

The Washington Post provided a snapshot of the Sunday protest activity in the following 10 state capitals:

Austin: Roughly two dozen armed demonstrators protested peacefully and cleared out of the southern entrance to the Texas Capitol by late afternoon without incident.

Boise, Idaho: A couple of protesters were spotted on the Capitol steps.

Columbus, Ohio: About a dozen men with AK-47s, AR-15s and extra magazines — identifying themselves as “boogaloos” — showed up at the heavily guarded Ohio Statehouse, claiming they were there to “unify” the people. About 10 other armed men said they were there to stand up for people’s rights to free speech and bear arms.

Lansing, Michigan: More than 50 men and a few women stood outside the metal security fencing at the steps of the Capitol shortly after noon. Participant Timothy Teagan, 22, told MLive that the Jan. 17 event had been planned for weeks but participation dwindled following the FBI’s warning.

Olympia, Washington: A 66-year-old man named John Hess approached the Capitol wearing a red “Make America Great Again” hat and a handmade sign that read, “Stop the Steal. Joe Biden Traitor! Liar! Thief!”

Phoenix: Fewer than one dozen demonstrators were spread around the park and pavement outside the Capitol by mid-afternoon, with a few carrying guns and a few sporting Trump garb.

Sacramento: On one side of the Capitol, a demonstrator stood with an American flag in hand and wearing a mask that read “E pluribus unum.”

Salem, Oregon: About 15 protesters, including men wearing symbols of the boogaloo movement, gathered in front of the closed and mostly quiet Capitol before noon.

Salt Lake City: About 10 boogaloo protesters were met by hundreds of soldiers and state troopers stationed on the perimeter of the Capitol.

Tallahassee: Five anti-government protesters showed up in the afternoon. Three wore military-style vests and one waved the flag of the boogaloo movement. One of the men, who gave his name as Jose Gutierrez, said he was carrying a concealed weapon.

According to the AP, Utah’s new governor, Spencer Cox, shared photos on his Twitter account showing him with what appeared to be hundreds of National Guard troops and law enforcement officers standing behind him, all wearing masks. He called the quiet protests a best-case scenario and said many “agitating groups” had canceled their plans for the day.

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine also stated that he was pleased with the peaceful demonstrations but stressed to the AP that authorities “continue to have concerns for potential violence in the coming days, which is why I intend to maintain security levels at the Statehouse as we approach the presidential inauguration.”

Michigan protester Martin Szelag, 67, told the AP that he does not trust the election results, while wearing a sign around his neck that read, in part, “We will support Joe Biden as our President if you can convince us he won legally. Show us the proof! Then the healing can begin.”

Washington State Patrol spokesman Chris Loftis told the AP that he hoped the seemingly peaceful day reflected some soul-searching among Americans.

“I would love to say that it’s because we’ve all taken a sober look in the mirror and have decided that we are a more unified people than certain moments in time would indicate,” Loftis said.

Meanwhile, defense officials voiced concerns late Sunday to the AP that an “inside attack” is possible during the inauguration, warranting the extreme vetting of all 25,000 National Guard troops who have deployed to the U.S. Capitol in advance of Wednesday’s activities.

Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy told the outlet that he warned commanders to be on the lookout for any problems within their ranks as the inauguration approaches. To date, no evidence of credible threats has emerged and Guard members are also getting training on how to identify potential insider threats. he said.

“We’re continually going through the process, and taking second, third looks at every one of the individuals assigned to this operation,” McCarthy said during an interview after he and other military leaders went through an exhaustive, three-hour security drill in preparation for Wednesday’s inauguration.

- The Associated Press contributed to this report.