security

State capitols step up security amid new safety concerns


State capitols across the nation stepped up security Monday, deploying National Guard units, SWAT teams and extra police officers as several legislatures convened amid heightened safety concerns following last week’s violence at the U.S. Capitol.

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee activated hundreds of National Guard troops to help state police keep order at the state Capitol and defend security fencing. At least two people were arrested, including a woman who, according to state police, used a recreational vehicle to block a roadway and refused to comply with orders to move.

Later, about 20 people gathered outside the security fencing, including a man who tried to walk past authorities as lawmakers were to begin their session. He was taken into custody after shouting “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.

Legislatures convened in more than half a dozen states. 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.

After insurrectionists backing President Donald Trump overran the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, some governors and lawmakers began ramping up security because of online threats suggesting that more mobs could target state capitols.

During a special session last August, a group of people including anti-government activist Ammon Bundy forced their 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 of Buhl, Idaho, about a two-hour drive to the southeast of Boise, 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.

“This is Idaho. We’re all gun-carrying, respectful Republicans,” he said.

In Georgia, Republican Gov. Brian Kemp and other officials approved construction of a fence around the Capitol last year after racial injustice protests. Kemp has kept a group of National Guard soldiers on active duty to protect state properties since last summer, when protesters smashed windows and set a fire at state public safety headquarters in Atlanta.

On Monday, lawmakers had to drive through an area gated off and guarded by the National Guard to park outside the Capitol. A small group of protesters gathered in the morning, shouting that they should be let inside the building to observe lawmakers.

“It’s a sad day for our country, isn’t it, where you have to have that kind of security around the people who were elected to represent you,” Democratic Sen. Patty Kuderer said. “Unfortunately, we live in troubling times, and I do believe we’re going to get through it, but it’s going to take a lot of time and a lot of effort.”

House Majority Leader Pat Sullivan said that both the pandemic protocols, plus the security concerns, will make lawmakers’ work more difficult, but he said that “people are counting on us to pass budgets and laws that help them in their daily life.”

In Michigan, where armed demonstrators against coronavirus restrictions entered the Capitol last year, a state commission was considering a policy change that could limit guns inside the building. Michigan lawmakers return to session Wednesday.

Some of the anti-government extremists accused in a plot to kidnap Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer had attended the lockdown protests. Prosecutors say the accused ringleader initially talked of recruiting 200 men to storm the building, take hostages and “execute tyrants.”

A secondary plan involved locking exits and setting the statehouse on fire, according to court documents.



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