POLITICS

State Capitols Shutter Amid Fears Of Violence As Trump Prepares To Yield Power

Lawmakers have closed capitols and delayed legislative sessions amid warnings of potential violence in the wake of the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.

Several state capitols across the country will close this weekend and into next week amid fears of violent protests as President Donald Trump officially transfers power to President-elect Joe Biden (D) on Wednesday, two weeks after an armed mob stormed the U.S. Capitol in an effort to carry out a violent insurrection.

Lawmakers in Kentucky, Ohio, Michigan, Oregon and other states have decided to either close capitol grounds or cancel legislative sessions in an effort to thwart the sort of violence that occurred in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 6 as Congress met to certify Biden’s victory in November’s election.

The FBI has warned that similar violence is possible in all 50 state capitals and the District of Columbia throughout the week of the inauguration, and public security experts have said the U.S. Capitol riot could inspire copycat efforts across the country. Right-wing extremists had already made attempts to take over state capitols before the insurrection in Washington.

“State legislatures have come under attack from far-right militants regularly over the last three years, including a breach of the Oregon State Legislature just two weeks before the attack on the U.S. Capitol,” Michael German, a former FBI agent who is now a fellow at the Brennan Center for Justice’s Liberty & National Security program, told HuffPost in an email this week. “It is natural that these attacks will continue because the feeble law enforcement response has conditioned these militants to believe they can get away with it.”

Oregon's legislature has delayed the start of its 2021 session until at least Jan. 21, and Gov. Kate Brown has mobilized the
Oregon's legislature has delayed the start of its 2021 session until at least Jan. 21, and Gov. Kate Brown has mobilized the National Guard to protect the state Capitol -- moves many states have made in the face of possible violence this weekend and during inauguration ceremonies next week.

Oregon lawmakers announced Thursday that they would cancel all committee hearings, floor sessions and in-person meetings next week, delaying the start of the 2021 legislative session until at least Jan. 21. In December, angry mobs of right-wing protesters stormed the Oregon Capitol in Salem, and a Republican lawmaker is facing calls to resign after a security video appeared to show him letting rioters in through a side door. 

In Michigan, where armed right-wing protesters forced their way into the state legislature in April, Republican legislative leaders announced Friday that they had canceled next week’s session amid concerns from state police and legislative security personnel over “credible threats” of violence at the capitol in Lansing.

Ohio closed its statehouse and all government buildings for the weekend in preparation for possible rallies in Columbus, which has been specifically mentioned as the site of a planned “armed march” in right-wing online forums. 

“We have a heightened sense of concern,” Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine (R) said Thursday, according to The Columbus Dispatch. “We have known we have domestic terrorists in the U.S. and they are of grave concern.”

Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear (D) announced Friday that State Capitol grounds in Frankfort would be closed Sunday in an effort to prevent any gatherings that could spiral out of control. Beshear has faced protests over his implementation of COVID-19 measures since the spring, when a demonstrator at one gathering hanged the governor in effigy and other protesters marched to his home. Armed protesters also marched outside the capitol there last Saturday, just days after the riot in Washington. 

“There have been no requests for permits for gatherings at the Capitol in the coming days, so there are no gatherings or rallies that can or should be happening,” Beshear said in a statement announcing the decision.

In Pennsylvania, Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf ordered the closure of the State Capitol in Harrisburg for two days next week. The building was already on “extreme lockdown” due to the COVID-19 pandemic, state Sen. Vincent Hughes (D) told HuffPost on Monday, but the closure will further limit access. 

Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly (D) closed the statehouse in Topeka to the public for a week beginning Friday, according to The Kansas City Star. 

Utah’s legislature will open its session as scheduled on Tuesday, but the State Capitol in Salt Lake City will be closed to the public, The Associated Press reported Thursday. Lawmakers will instead hear public testimony on any bills under consideration via livestream. 

Raleigh, North Carolina, and surrounding Wake County also plan to close all public and government buildings next week, The Raleigh News & Observer reported.

Large parts of downtown Washington have been locked down ahead of the inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden on Wednesday.
Large parts of downtown Washington have been locked down ahead of the inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden on Wednesday.

The FBI memo warning of possible violence cited potential rallies in Minnesota, where conservative groups staged pro-Trump “Storm the Capitol” rallies outside the State Capitol in St. Paul on Jan. 6, the day of the riot in Washington. Organizers of those protests were granted permits to rally again on Saturday and Sunday, but Minnesota officials said Friday that the FBI has received “no credible, local, immediate threat” to the State Capitol, local news outlets reported

Governors, mayors and law enforcement officials across the country have intensified their security efforts as they brace for possible violence in the coming days, with many declaring emergencies and calling in National Guard troops to help bolster the police presence outside statehouses and other government buildings.

Large parts of Washington, D.C., meanwhile, are locked down ahead of inauguration ceremonies. The National Mall, downtown public transit stations, and many businesses and government offices throughout the nation’s capital are closed through next week. A 7-foot-tall barrier fence has been erected around the U.S. Capitol, and military vehicles have been stationed at key points across the city ― efforts to ward off further violence that also serve as reminders of Trump’s refusal to transfer power peacefully.