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Statehouses Brace For Potential Violence As Biden's Inauguration Approaches

A temporary six-foot high chain link fence surrounds California's state Capitol because of concerns over the potential for civil unrest.
Rich Pedroncelli
A temporary six-foot high chain link fence surrounds California's state Capitol because of concerns over the potential for civil unrest.

Governors across the nation are fortifying statehouses amid fears of possibly violent protests in the lead-up to President-elect Biden's inauguration on Wednesday.

The Jan. 6th insurrection at the U.S. Capitol raised the alarm across the nation over armed protesters amassing at statehouses. Many states began putting new security measures in place, including increasing law enforcement personnel and activating National Guard troops as legislators returned to work.

The FBI warned specifically this week of potentially violent protests in all 50 states in the lead up to Biden's swearing-in as the nation's 46th president. As the weekend drew near, statehouses began erecting barricades, fencing and boards as officials braced for potential violence.

On Friday, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, who had been the target of an alleged kidnapping plot last year, activated the state's National Guard ahead of a protest reportedly planned for Sunday.

"The security enhancements that we have made are both seen — such as the increase in uniformed personnel and a perimeter fence — and unseen, which are things we have no intention of discussing or disclosing because these efforts are meant to be covert," said Colonel Joe Gasper, the Michigan State Police director said at a Friday news conference.

Armed protesters took to the Michigan statehouse in Lansing last spring over coronavirus restrictions. Leaders in the state's GOP-controlled legislature have cancelled next week's sessions citing "credible threats" of violence.

In Oregon, state lawmakers announced they would delay gathering in person for the start of their legislative session this week by at least a day. Oregon has also deployed its National Guard — as have California, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Washington and Wisconsin.

"We're treating this very seriously and deploying significant resources to protect public safety, critical infrastructure and First Amendment rights," said California Gov. Gavin Newsom in a Thursday video announcement. "But let me be clear: There will be no tolerance for violence."

Kansas has said it would continue legislative business while upping security measures and restricting visitors with official and scheduled business for at least a week.

Many states are also relying on added support from law enforcement to help secure their legislative buildings. Georgia began deploying SWAT teams to the statehouse in Atlanta this week, while in Texas more than 100 state troopers in full tactical gear were on site as armed protesters gathered outside.

Meanwhile in Kentucky, Gov. Andy Beshear told NPR's Weekend Editionthat state police, local police and the National Guard would be securing the statehouse in Frankfort against any violent protesters.

"My commitment as the governor of Kentucky is that we will not let what happened at the U.S. Capitol happen here," Beshear said. "It's time that we stop playing patty cake with so-called militias, acting like they're just dressed up for Halloween. They are dangerous and we've got to treat them as such."

Beshear said no permits had been issued to protest at the state's capitol grounds and that protesters would be met with "serious concern" amid credible threats of violence.

NPR Member Stations Texas Public Radio, Oregon Public Broadcasting, Michigan Radio, WAMC and KCUR contributed to this report.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Jason Slotkin