Ten days after rioters broke into the US capital in a deadly attack that stunned the world, cities nationwide around a potential new wave of violent protests over the weekend, erected barriers and deployed thousands of National Guard troops.
The FBI warned police agencies of possible armed demonstrations outside all 50 state capital buildings from Saturday through the inauguration of President Joe Biden on January 20, driven by supporters of President Donald Trump who believe his false allegations of electoral fraud.
Michigan, Virginia, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Washington were among more than a dozen states that activated their national guards to strengthen security. Meanwhile, central Washington, DC, was almost empty, with streets near the Capitol closed and battalions of camouflaged National Guard soldiers taking up positions over the city center.
The nationwide security campaign followed the deadly attack on January 6 in the US capital by a mix of extremists and Trump supporters, some of whom demanded that Vice President Mike Pence die as he presided over the certification of Biden’s election victory.
The Democratic leaders of four U.S. congressional committees said Saturday they had opened an investigation into the incident and had written to the FBI and other intelligence and security agencies asking what was known about the threats, if the information was shared and if foreign influence mattered.
“This ever-emerging story is one of astonishing bravery on the part of some American Capitol Police and other officers; of dizzying betrayal of violent criminals; and of obvious and high-profile failures – particularly with regard to intelligence and security preparedness,” the letter said.
It was signed by House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff, House Homeland Security Chairman Bennie Thompson, House Oversight Chairman Carolyn Maloney and House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler.
There were scattered demonstrations on Saturday, but the state houses remained mostly silent. Law enforcement officials have trained much of their focus on Sunday, when the anti-government “boogaloo” movement made plans several weeks ago to hold meetings in all 50 states.
Steve McCraw, head of the Texas Department of Public Safety, said in a statement late Friday that the intelligence service indicated that “violent extremists” could try to use planned armed protests in Austin to “carry out criminal acts.” Texas closed its Capitol through Inauguration Day.
In Michigan, a fence was built around the Capitol in Lansing, and soldiers were mobilized from across the state to strengthen security. The legislator adjourned meetings next week, citing concerns about credible threats.
In a nod to both the coronavirus pandemic and security concerns, celebrations surrounding Biden’s inauguration will largely be held online, although the president-elect is still planning to be sworn in and hold his inauguration address at the Capitol.
The introductory committee’s virtual “welcome event” took place on Saturday night with performances from union leaders, activists and celebrities such as actor Whoopi Goldberg.
“Make no mistake, the way forward – it will not be easy,” Vice President Kamala Harris, who concluded the event, told viewers. “But America is ready, and so are Joe and I.”
The notion that the January 6 uprising was a success could stimulate domestic extremists motivated by anti-government, racial and partisan complaints, encouraging them to resort to further violence, according to a government intelligence bulletin dated Wednesday first reported by Yahoo News.
The Joint Intelligence Bulletin, produced by the FBI, Department of Homeland Security and National Counterterrorism Center, further warned that “false reports” of election fraud would serve as an ongoing catalyst for extremist groups.
Thousands of armed National Guard troops were on the streets of Washington in an unprecedented display of power after the attack on the US capital. Bridges to the city were to be closed, and the National Mall and other iconic American landmarks were blocked until next week.
The authorities were on high alert. A Virginia man, Wesley Allen Beeler, was arrested on Friday night during a security check after police said he presented an “unauthorized inauguration certificate”, according to a Capitol police spokeswoman. Beeler had a loaded pistol and more than 500 rounds of ammunition, according to court documents.
A tearful Beeler later told the Washington Post that he had been working with security in Washington all week and pulled up to the checkpoint after getting lost. He told the newspaper that he forgot the gun in his truck and denied that he had so much ammunition.
Beeler was released after a first court appearance on Saturday and will return to court in June, the information shows.
Wesley Allen Beeler is released for personal recognition. Judge issued a “stay away” order from DCCharged with carrying concealed weapons, unregistered firearms, illegal ammunition. holds large capacity for feeding ammunition: police. https://t.co/udHN24SPWD
– Shomari Stone (@shomaristone) January 17, 2021
In response to the news of the arrest, Democratic United States Representative Don Beyer of Virginia said the danger was real and the city was on the outskirts.
“Anyone who can avoid the area around the Capitol and Mall this week should do so,” Beyer wrote on Twitter.
The alarm extended beyond the legislative periods. The United Church of Christ, a Protestant denomination of more than 4,900 churches, warned its 800,000 members. There were reports that “liberal” churches could be attacked in the coming week.
Following the January 6 violence in Washington, some militia members said they would not take part in a long-planned pro-gun demonstration in Virginia, where authorities were concerned about the risk of violence as several groups converged on the state capital, Richmond.
Some militias across the country have urged supporters to stay home this weekend, citing increased security or the risk that the planned incidents were traps for law enforcement.