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US state capitals brace for violent protests as crowds remain thin

US state capitals brace for violent protests as crowds remain thin

Members of the National Guard stand inside the security fencing at the Capitol on Jan 17, 2021, ahead of the inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

HARRISBURG: Pennsylvania: Law enforcement officers were out in force at state capitol grounds across the United States on Sunday (Jan 17) in preparation for protests that so far have drawn only a small number of Trump supporters who believe the president's false claim that the 2020 election was rigged.

More than a dozen states have activated National Guard troops to help secure their capitol buildings following an FBI warning of armed demonstrations, with right-wing extremists emboldened by the deadly attack on the US Capitol in Washington on Jan 6.

Security officials had eyed Sunday as the first major flashpoint, as that is when the anti-government "boogaloo" movement made plans weeks ago to hold rallies in all 50 states.

Capitals in battleground states, where Trump has directed his accusations of voter fraud, were on especially high alert.

But by midday, only handfuls of demonstrators had taken to the streets alongside much larger crowds of law enforcement officers and media personnel.

READ: US state capitals, Washington on alert for possible pro-Trump armed protests

A few Trump supporters were at Pennsylvania's statehouse in Harrisburg, including Alex, a 34-year-old drywall finisher from Hershey, Pennsylvania who said he had been at the Jan 6 siege of the US Capitol but did not storm the building. He declined to give his last name.

Wearing a hoodie emblazoned with "Fraud 2020", he said he believed November's presidential election was stolen and wanted to show his support for Trump. He noted the lack of protesters at the Pennsylvania capitol on Sunday.

"There's nothing going on," he said.

Local political activist Gene Stilp, right, pulls down a cut-out of President Donald Trump while staging an anti-Trump demonstration in front of the Pennsylvania State Capitol, Sunday Jan 17, 2021 in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. (Photo: AP/Jacqueline Larma)

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A similarly small group of about a dozen protesters, a few armed with rifles, stood outside Michigan's capitol in Lansing. One wore fatigue pants, a tactical vest and blue Hawaiian shirt, a trademark of the anti-government boogaloo movement. Another wore a Trump T-shirt and waved a "Don't tread on me" flag.

Nearby, crews had blocked off streets and office buildings had boarded up windows in fear of violence.

In Atlanta, several hundred law enforcement officers and National Guard troops milled around Georgia's state house. Chain-link fences and cement barriers protected the Capitol grounds and multiple armored vehicles were stationed nearby.

In addition to increasing police presence, some states, including Pennsylvania, Texas and Kentucky, took the further step of closing their capitol grounds to the public.

Some Starbucks stores in New York were closed “out of an abundance of caution”, a spokesman said.

The Seattle-based company went ahead with the temporary closures because many people working in the stores live outside of Manhattan and might've gotten stuck from getting home if protests were to break out and disrupt transit service, said Jessica Conradson.

As darkness began to fall, there were no reports of any clashes.

Men with rifles stand outside the State Capitol, Sunday, Jan 17, 2021, in Lansing, Michigan. (Photo: AP/Carlos Osorio)

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The heavy law enforcement presence may have kept turnout down. In the past few days, some extremists had warned others against falling into what they called a law enforcement trap.

Washington State Patrol spokesman Chris Loftis said he hoped the apparently 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,” he said.

PREPARING FOR VIOLENCE

The nationwide security scramble followed the attack on the US Capitol in Washington by a mix of extremists and Trump supporters, some of whom called for the death of Vice President Mike Pence as he presided over the certification of Democrat Joe Biden's election victory.

The FBI and other federal agencies have warned of the potential for future violence leading up to Biden's inauguration on Wednesday, as white supremacists and other extremists seek to exploit frustration among Trump supporters who have bought into his falsehoods about electoral fraud.

Tens of thousands of security personnel from the National Guard and law enforcement agencies have descended upon Washington, DC, to bolster security ahead of Wednesday's ceremony.

Downtown Washington was largely a ghost town on Sunday. Gun-toting National Guard soldiers in camouflage manned checkpoints across the city center, which was closed off to traffic with large military vehicles deployed to block streets.

Timothy Teagan, a member of the Boogaloo Bois movement, stands with his rifle outside the state capitol in Lansing, Michigan on Jan 17, 2021. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

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It was not clear whether the FBI warning and ramped up security presence around the country might lead some protesters to cancel plans to go to their state capitols.

Following the Jan 6 violence in Washington, some militia members said they would not attend a long-planned pro-gun demonstration in Virginia on Monday, where authorities were worried about the risk of violence as multiple groups converged on the state capital, Richmond.

Pennsylvania State Police on horseback are positioned in an alley close to the Pennsylvania State Capitol on Jan 17, 2021 in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. (Photo: AP/Jacqueline Larma)

Some militias and extremist groups have told followers to stay home this weekend, citing the increased security or the risk that the planned events were law enforcement traps.

Bob Gardner, leader of the Pennsylvania Lightfoot Militia, said his group had no plans to be in Harrisburg this weekend, where the Capitol has been fortified with barricades and will be protected by hundreds of members of its National Guard.

"We've got our own communities to worry about," Gardner said earlier this week. "We don’t get involved in politics."

Source: Reuters/nh

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