Law enforcement officers far outnumbered protesters at state capitol grounds on Sunday (January 17), as few Trump supporters who believe the president’s false claim that he won the 2020 election turned out for what authorities feared could be violent demonstrations.
More than a dozen states 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 U.S. Capitol in Washington on Jan. 6.
Security officials had eyed Sunday as the first major flashpoint, as the anti-government “boogaloo” movement made plans weeks ago to hold rallies in all 50 states.
But by Sunday evening, only small gatherings of demonstrators had taken to the streets alongside much larger crowds of law-enforcement officers and media personnel.
Tens of thousands of security personnel from the National Guard and law-enforcement agencies descended in recent days upon Washington, D.C., to bolster security ahead of Wednesday’s ceremony, when Democratic President-elect Joe Biden will relieve departing Republican President Donald Trump.
The image of Washington as a fortress has unsettled U.S. pride over the traditionally peaceful transfer of power.
It was unclear how much the FBI warning and robust security presence around the country on Sunday led protesters to cancel plans.
Some militias and extremist groups told followers to stay home, citing the increased security or the risk that the planned events were law-enforcement traps.
The nationwide security uptick followed the attack on the U.S. Capitol in Washington by extremists and Trump supporters, some of whom called for the death of Vice President Mike Pence as he presided over the certification of 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.
The streets around the Virginia statehouse in Richmond were lined with police barricades, largely deserted but for a few police officers and reporters.
Temporary fencing blocked the public entrance to the building ahead of Monday, which is traditionally a “Lobby Day” for the public to share views at the state legislature. Lobby Day takes place in a highly polarized climate, following a year in which anti-racist and white nationalist demonstrators clashed across the United States, and as strident Trump supporters cling to hope he can remain in power. A Virginia pro-gun advocacy group and the boogaloo movement have declared plans to hold protests on this year’s Lobby Day. Police estimated last year’s crowd at 22,000.
(Production: JULIO CESAR CHAVEZ / NJUWA MAINA / MANA RABIEE )