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How Have U.S. and State Capitols Braced for a ‘Proposed Secondary Attack’ Near Inauguration Day? We Asked Authorities in All 50 States for Answers

National Guard troops are seen behind shields as they clear a street from insurrectionists outside the Capitol building on January 6, 2021 in Washington, DC.

The day that Twitter permanently suspended outgoing President Donald Trump’s account, the company justified that action in part because of chatter observed on and off their platform of a “proposed secondary attack” of the U.S. Capitol and its analogues in all 50 states on Jan. 17, three days before Inauguration Day.

“Plans for future armed protests have already begun proliferating on and off-Twitter, including a proposed secondary attack on the US Capitol and state capitol buildings on January 17, 2021,” Twitter wrote in a blog post.

Reached for elaboration on those threats, a Twitter representative told Law&Crime she had nothing to add to that statement “for now.”

An FBI bulletin reportedly removed any qualification from that warning.

“Armed protests are being planned at all 50 state capitols from 16 January through at least 20 January, and at the US Capitol from 17 January through 20 January,” the bulletin said, according to ABC.

 

Though it is unclear why organizers chose that date, national security reporter Marcy Wheeler noted that the 17th letter of the alphabet is “Q,” a rallying cry for conspiracy theorists who believe in an apocalyptic war against a shadowy cabal of Democratic pedophiles and Satanists. Their devotion to a worldview ending a violent “storm” to eradicate their imagined enemies has led an FBI branch to brand them a terrorist threat, well before those ideas have been linked to an insurrection.

Among the white supremacist, anti-government, neo-Nazi and other extremist groups spotted during the Capitol Siege were: Proud Boys, Oathkeepers, NSC131, New Jersey European Heritage Association, far-right podcaster Nick Fuentes’s Groypers, American Nationalist Party, and American Guard, according to a study by the Network Contagion Research Institute, whose lead author is ex-U.S. Congressman Denver Riggleman (R-Va.).

Law&Crime reached out to law enforcement agencies in all 50 states about how they plan to secure their statehouses in the lead-up to President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration. More than half responded by the time this story was last updated: from Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Illinois, Hawaii, Kentucky, Maine, Michigan, Nevada, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington State, Wisconsin, and Wyoming, most of them citing policy against sharing specific information about operational and security plans.

Washington State already has activated the National Guard, while several expressed awareness of possible tensions ahead of Biden’s inauguration. Wisconsin, a target of Trump-inspired disinformation, followed suit the next day. Unlike federal authorities, Vermont’s Department of Public Safety held a press briefing expressing awareness of the FBI’s bulletin but stating police were not aware of “specific threats.” Authorities from Republican Sen. Mitt Romney’s home state of Utah confirmed granting a “couple of” permits for protests outside of their capitol on Jan. 17, without any immediately clarification on what groups sought or received that permission.

No other state law enforcement organizations expressed awareness of any groups seeking permits for Jan. 17, though some referred questions on that topic to other government authorities.

This story will be updated as the responses continue to come in, with the most significant responses have been shared below.

Georgia

One of the prime targets of pro-Trump conspiracy theories, Georgia is where the outgoing president apparently tried to extort Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger (R) to “find” 11,780 votes that would tip the election in his favor or face unspecified criminal prosecution. Trump has also bullied fellow Republican Gov. Brian Kemp online for defending the integrity of the Peach State’s elections, despite previously being associated with a massive voter roll purge during his gubernatorial race against Stacy Abrams years earlier. Republicans amplified election-fraud lies during the Senate runoff elections, fighting in court to discredit certain forms of mail-in voting that traditionally favor Democrats. Georgia’s also the home of L. Lin Wood, the rabidly pro-Trump lawyer with a huge social media presence who recently called for Vice President Mike Pence’s execution on Parler.

So it is little surprise that Atlanta authorities take the threat seriously.

“The City of Atlanta Police Department (APD) continues to coordinate with local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies to respond should protests or illegal activity occur,” public affairs director Chata Spikes told us in an email. “At present, there are no verified threats to indicate that violent activity is being planned in the City of Atlanta. If activity begins to occur, APD is prepared to respond quickly. We do not share operational or security plans.”

“However, the safety and security of our city and citizens is our priority,” Spikes added.

The Department of Public Safety’s Franka Young also played the agency’s cards close to the chest.

“We are aware of potential protests on Jan. 17,” Young wrote in an email. “However, we do not share our operational plans. We are prepared to respond in the appropriate manner as we have always done in the past. Our primary concern will always be the safety of everyone who works at or visits the Capitol grounds.”

Indiana

The Hoosier State is the home of Pence, who has been vilified by pro-Trump fanatics who blame him for not unilaterally blocking the certification of Biden’s win, a power the vice president did not have in the joint session.

Authorities there vowed vigilance:

“The Indiana State Police is aware of postings on social media regarding January 17th and we will continue to monitor that while also communicating with our local and federal law enforcement partners,” Capt. Ron Galaviz, their spokesman, told Law&Crime in a statement. “While we do not speak to specifics as they pertain to operational and security measures, we are prepared to provide the necessary security for the Statehouse and its adjacent campus.

Maine

Republican Sen. Susan Collins, who regularly vacillates between expressions of concern over and cover for Trump’s actions, refused to embrace his conspiracy theories. The partisan divisions of her purple state are apparent in being one of two that allows for the split of electors, which occurred this year.

Disclosing that no applications for permits have been filed for Jan. 17, the Bureau of Capitol Police remains on guard.

“The Bureau of Capitol Police is the law enforcement agency responsible for protecting the safety of the State Capitol and the office buildings that comprise the seat of Maine’s government,” the bureau wrote in an unsigned statement. “It takes that mission very seriously. The Capitol Police adjust protocols appropriately, when and as needed, but, as a matter of longstanding practice, it does not discuss specific operational details of its work.”

Michigan

The Michigan State Capitol Commission is poised to pass a ban on open carry into the building on Monday, a measure considered in reaction to the U.S. Capitol siege but also significant in a state where armed throngs poured into the statehouse by the hundreds—and the law previously allowed it.

“We continually monitor for security threats and maintain situational awareness of what is happening in Michigan and across the country,” Michigan State Police spokeswoman Shanon Banner told Law&Crime in an email. “Our security planning is fluid and adjustments are made as needed, from day-to-day.”

Trump and his loyalists unsuccessfully tried to discredit the state’s free and fair elections in every possible venue. The result was confirmed by recount, audit, and state and federal litigation, where suits by the outgoing president, Sidney Powell and L. Lin Wood, and a bevy of pro-Trump charities were filed and dismissed. It is the state where Rudy Giuliani held a hearing with his SNL-parodied so-called “star witness” Mellisa Carrone, who spouted misinformation about Dominion Voting Systems, even after judges who looked into their wild allegations laughed them out of court.

After the stunt hearing, death threats poured in against state lawmakers, particularly Black Democratic Rep. Cynthia Johnson, whose city of Detroit was the target of racist attacks to discredit the election.

Authorities say they are “aware of an online promotion of a march on state capitols” on Jan. 17, but they are reluctant to say more than that.

“Security enhancements are both seen and unseen,” Banner said. “In general, we don’t discuss security measures, but I can confirm that we will be increasing our visible presence at the Capitol for the next couple of weeks starting this morning.”

Nevada

One of the states heavily targeted by Trump’s post-election lawsuits, Nevada has remained in turmoil despite the state and federal judiciaries repeatedly affirming Biden’s win. One state judge debunked 25 conspiracy theories posited by the outgoing president’s lawyer Jesse Binnall, who tried to find a friendlier audience before the Senate Homeland Security Committee’s Trump-loyalist chairman Ron Johnson.

The Nye County GOP’s official website continues to stir up insurrectionist fervor with a message repeatedly peddling the basis theories and proclaiming: “It’s 1776 all over again!” That website appears to now be down, but the inflammatory screed—filled with threats against Pence and talk of “treason”—continues to be archived.

State authorities’ response to this chatter was muted.

“The Nevada Department of Public Safety works in coordination with local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies to preserve the safety of all Nevadans,” spokesperson Kim Y. Smith told Law&Crime in an email. “We respect the rule of law and the rights of citizens to peacefully demonstrate. The priority of the Department is to ensure public safety.”

New York State

The Empire State deployed some 1,000 National Guard members to Capitol Hill on Saturday to assist with security for Biden’s inauguration, but attention is also being paid to beefing up protection at home.

“Given recent events in Washington and across the country, the New York State Police has, out of an abundance of caution, taken steps to harden security in and around the State Capitol in Albany,” the Troopers’ spokesman Beau Duffy wrote in a statement. “These restrictions are in place until further notice.”

Pennsylvania

One of two states objected to the radical-right wing of the U.S. Congress, Pennyslvania is the state where Rudy Giuliani flopped in his federal effort to overturn the election and admitted in court: “This is not a fraud case.”

Giuliani backed away from those remarks outside of court, goading the rioters to steel themselves for “trial by combat” on the day of the Capitol siege.

The basis of many Republican gripes about the Keystone States vote is Act 77, a statute overwhelming passed by their party in 2019, in a legislature firmly under GOP control. No member expressed any problem with the statute for more than a year until the 2020 presidential elections, when they suddenly blamed the statute as the wellspring of Trump’s woes. None of the GOP politicians who won Pennsylvania elections this year have explained why the law did not affect them.

Cpl. Brent Miller, a spokesman for Pennsylvania State Police, told Law&Crime that unrest would be monitored by the Harrisburg-based Criminal Intelligence Center, a hub for federal, state, and local law enforcement.

“It is staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week with trained analysts who provide law enforcement with intelligence and investigative information,” Miller said in an email. “We are confident that PSP has the resources in place to protect Pennsylvanians against threats and to work with all levels of law enforcement to keep the Commonwealth safe.”

Utah

Authorities from the home state of Republican Sen. Mitt Romney—the only member of Trump’s party to vote for Trump’s impeachment—confirmed to Law&Crime that a “couple of” permits to gather in front of the state capitol have been granted on Aug. 17, the same day as the armed protests the FBI warned about on Monday.

“A lot of the Utah Department of Public Safety’s preparation to protect people, constitutional rights, and property are matters of operational security,” Sgt. Nicholas Street, a spokesman for the department, wrote in an email. “That being said, I can tell you that there will be increased staffing and continued monitoring of open source media to discover/meet any potential threats posed by bad actors that may take the opportunity to thwart otherwise peaceful protests.”

Washington State

Overshadowed by the U.S. Capitol siege, a more than 100-strong pro-Trump mob breached the gate of Gov. Jay Inslee’s residence on Jan. 6th, and none of them have been arrested to date. They barely made headlines on between the insurrection, the certification of Biden’s elector victory, and the Democrats reclaiming control of both branches of Congress with the victories of Rev. Rafael Warnock and Jon Ossoff, who will soon be the first Black and Jewish men that Georgia has ever sent to the Senate.

The news was observed, however, in Washington, where MAGA rage has boiled since Trump attacked Inslee’s proactive approach to containing the coronavirus and criticized the federal response.

On Sunday, Inslee — a former Democratic presidential candidate who ran on a climate-change platform — activated the National Guard to protect the statehouse for the opening of the legislative session. At least three law enforcement organizations will secure the perimeter of the state capitol to let lawmakers pass rules allowing them to conduct business virtually during the ongoing pandemic.

“As legislators begin their work on behalf of the people of the state of Washington, we must do whatever we can to ensure that they can do that work without fear, intimidation or harassment,” the governor announced in a press release. “The actions we saw in both Washington, D.C. and Olympia earlier this week were completely unacceptable and will not be repeated in our state capital again.”

The Washington State Patrol’s Sgt. Darren Wright told Law&Crime that authorities will continue to monitor the situation.

“Right now, we’re going to get through this particular incident and event, and then we’ll start concentrating on the next one, which would probably be Inauguration Day,” Wright said in a phone interview.

Wisconsin

Another key state in Trump’s efforts to overthrow the election, Wisconsin was where Pence joined the president in a lawsuit attacking voting in Dane and Milwaukee counties, where most of the state’s Black people live.

The state’s Supreme Court Justice Jill Karofsky pointedly made that point to Trump’s lawyer Jim Troupis his lawsuit “smacks of racism.”

Trump’s lawsuit lost by a 5-4 margin in that state, and the outgoing president used his bully pulpit on the majority, as the Jewish justices—Karofsky and Rebecca Dallet—faced reported antisemitic abuse and conservative Justice Brian Hagedorn was told he would be prosecuted by the military for treason, a theme among Q-inspired fantasists. Tensions bubbled over to such a boil that Wisconsin Supreme Court Chief Justice Patience Roggensackone of the dissenters in Trump’s favor, defended her colleagues in a rare Christmas Day statement.

Trump loyalist Sen. Ron Johnson, the Wisconsin-based chair of the Homeland Security Committee, invited Troupis to Congress to air the baseless gripes that failed in court. Troupis has conceded that a state application that he objected to was in use during Trump’s 2016 victory against Hillary Clinton.

Against that backdrop, Gov. Tony Evers deployed the National Guard to the state capitol in Madison on Monday.

“Once again, our state has asked our Citizen Soldiers in the Wisconsin National Guard to answer the call to keep our state, its citizens, and its institutions safe,” Maj. Gen. Paul Knapp, Wisconsin’s adjutant general, said in a statement. “We ask a lot of our troops who must take leave from their civilian employers and their families, and I’m proud of the sacrifices they make on a daily basis to serve their fellow citizens.”

Update — Jan. 11 at 3:23 p.m. CT: This story has been updated to include responses by Kentucky, Nevada, Vermont, and South Dakota.

Update — Jan. 11 at 3:59 p.m. CT: This story has been updated to include responses by Indiana and Pennsylvania.

Update — Jan. 11 at 5:32 p.m. CT: This story has been updated to include responses by Hawaii, Utah, and Wisconsin.

(Photo by ROBERTO SCHMIDT/AFP via Getty Images)

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Law&Crime's managing editor Adam Klasfeld has spent more than a decade on the legal beat. Previously a reporter for Courthouse News, he has appeared as a guest on MSNBC, BBC, NPR, PBS, Sky News, and other networks.