Officials were prepared this weekend for potential unrest ahead of Inauguration Day, but the small groups of protesters that gathered at state capitols across the country were dwarfed by the heavy presence of law enforcement.
Demonstrations remained small and peaceful as of Sunday night, despite warnings that armed protests were being planned at all 50 state capitols and the US Capitol ahead of President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration.
In Michigan, a group of several dozen demonstrators – some of whom were armed and armored – and counterprotesters gathered at the state Capitol in Lansing under a light snow Sunday morning. But the event was peaceful, and the crowd had largely dispersed by the afternoon.
There were fewer than a dozen people at the Minnesota Capitol in St. Paul – a group far smaller than the journalists and law enforcement who were present. One state official told CNN the state’s Department of Public Safety was “cautiously optimistic” about how the day progressed.
About two dozen armed protesters showed up for a demonstration outside the Texas Capitol in Austin. But they weren’t there to contest the presidential election; instead they wanted to highlight what they believed was an assault on their Second Amendment right to bear arms.
Organizer Ben Hawk said the event had been planned for months, and he didn’t plan for it to be stopped after this month’s events at the Capitol, which he called “repulsive.”
“Biden won the election,” he said. “He won the popular vote, he won the Electoral College, votes have been certified. He will be inaugurated as President.”
Large police presence loomed over demonstrations
State leaders across the US ramped up security around their capitol grounds ahead of the weekend – pulling in National Guard members for help, erecting barriers, boarding up windows, asking residents to avoid the area and some even closing down capitol grounds altogether.
But the groups that materialized Sunday were small, at the most made up of several dozen protesters.
In Denver, demonstrator Larry Woodall told CNN he was disappointed with the low turnout, saying he’d come out to “support Trump, let him know we still care.”
Woodall said he did not support violence or the Capitol riots this month, and he’d accepted that Biden would be president, calling it “a done deal.”
“We just have to live with that and hope that it doesn’t turn out the way that people are saying it’s going to turn out,” he told CNN, “that they’re going to take our guns, they’re going to force us to do this, force us to do that. I pray to God it’s not like that.”
In Oregon, five armed people dressed in camo and carrying flags arrived to the state Capitol, saying they were anti-government libertarians who did not support either Biden or President Donald Trump.
In Ohio, a small group of protesters stood in front of the statehouse in Columbus near a large police presence and metal barriers, according to CNN affiliate WSYX. And in Columbia, South Carolina, CNN affiliate WIS reported about 40 protesters gathered at the Statehouse for a protest about free speech in the wake of social media companies banning the President.
Meanwhile, capitols in Minnesota, Tennessee, California and Colorado, among others, had a major police presence but few if any protesters.
After being banned from Twitter and Facebook, Trump had not promoted these gatherings, a contrast from his actions before the January 6 rally in DC, when he repeatedly called for his supporters to converge on the city.
But online calls for violence have intensified recently. And experts warn the perceived success of the deadly insurrection earlier this month, when a pro-Trump mob overwhelmed police and took over the US Capitol, may be motivation for another attack.
“As somebody who worked on al Qaeda-related terrorism throughout the 2000s at the Justice Department and worked extensively on counterterrorism investigations and cases, there were several times where we were anticipating a follow-on attack to a world event,” Carrie Cordero, a CNN legal and national security analyst, said Saturday. “I have that same feeling now.”
Security ramps up in DC ahead of inauguration
The heightened security, combined with the Covid-19 pandemic, is making for an Inauguration Day unlike any other.
In Washington, DC, fences blocked off areas once open to the public, National Guard members patrolled near the Capitol and much of the city was closed to vehicles and street traffic.
A joint bulletin from the Department of Homeland Security, the FBI and eight other agencies says domestic extremists pose the most likely threat to the inauguration, particularly those who believe the incoming administration is illegitimate.
In response, the Pentagon has authorized up to 25,000 National Guard members for Inauguration Day in Washington, DC, and much of the area surrounding the country’s iconic political buildings has been fenced off or made inaccessible.
The rehearsal for the inauguration ceremony will now be delayed until Monday amid heightened security concerns, acting Homeland Security Deputy Secretary Ken Cuccinelli said. Cuccinelli cited “online chatter” about the previously scheduled rehearsal day of Sunday but said there are “no specific credible threats.”
Because of concern over potential protests at state capitols, security measures are in place around the country. The US Postal Service temporarily removed some mailboxes in several major cities, while the Transportation Security Administration said Friday it has “significantly increased its security posture.”
Washington, DC, Mayor Muriel Bowser urged Americans to enjoy the inauguration virtually from home and has asked anyone who does not need to be out to avoid restricted areas.
CNN’s Priscilla Alvarez, Jamie Crawford, Lauren Fox, Omar Jimenez, Lucy Kafanov, Bill Kirkos, Jason Kravarik, Ross Levitt, Artemis Moshtaghian, Jon Passantino, Conor Powell, Manu Raju, Raja Razek, Rebekah Riess, Hollie Silverman, Dan Simon, Greg Wallace and Whitney Wild contributed to this report.