OLYMPIA, Wash. — State capitals across the nation — including Austin, Texas, where lawmakers carried weapons — called in the National Guard and erected barricades over fears that far-right groups and President Donald Trump’s supporters were plotting a second wave of uprisings following last week’s storming of Congress.
An FBI warning of “armed protests” planned at all 50 statehouses and the U.S. Capitol in the days leading up to President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration next Wednesday has brought out SWAT teams and extra law enforcement officers dressed in camouflage, helmets, face shields and bulletproof vests.
The high alert unnerved an America that over the last seven days has been shaken by disturbing images: representatives fleeing a violent mob breaking into the nation’s Capitol, the impeachment for the second time of an increasingly reviled president, and scenes of rage, tears and threats playing out at airports and on city streets that underscore a dangerous political divide.
It was difficult to predict where extremist groups such as the Proud Boys, Oath Keepers and the III% Security Force, a.k.a. Three Percenters, would next appear. Since last week’s insurrection, social media outlets that the far right often used to communicate, including Parler, have been shut down or scaled back. Law enforcement officials have been scouring other channels to gauge how potent protests may be in coming days.
The largest security force ever seen at the Capitol in Washington state greeted lawmakers starting their annual session this week. State police and more than 750 National Guard troops in riot gear stood in shifts behind chain-link fencing around the statehouse in Olympia, where Trump supporters have protested COVID-19 lockdowns in recent months.
“It’s tragic that we have to have those fences and additional personnel in place,” said Chris Loftis, Washington State Patrol communications director. “But believe it: We are resolved that we are going to protect the people, the place and the process.”
The riot in the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 left five people dead, including a police officer and a far-right protester who supported Trump’s unfounded claims that election fraud had cost him the November election. More than 70 people have been charged with crimes in connection with the insurgency, and authorities combing through social media and following tips from the public expect hundreds of arrests.
At the Texas state Capitol in Austin, over 100 state troopers, some in riot gear, guarded entrances this week as lawmakers returned to work. The first day of the state’s biennial legislative session drew a small number of demonstrators, including several men dressed in fatigues carrying a “Don’t tread on me” flag and long rifles. The building was open to visitors — including those who were licensed to carry concealed weapons.
After the attack in Washington, D.C., last week, Texas state Sen. José Menéndez and several fellow Democrats sent a letter to the Republican governor and legislative leaders asking them to ban weapons at the state Capitol. Menéndez said no response had been received.
He said the head of the Texas Department of Public Safety shared his concerns and promised that state troopers and other law enforcement would be deployed to protect returning lawmakers.