HARRISBURG, Pa./LANSING, Mich. (Reuters) – Law enforcement officers far outnumbered protesters at state capitol grounds on Sunday, 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.
“It was a non-event today and we are glad it was,” said Troy Thompson, spokesman for the Department of General Services, the agency that protects the Pennsylvania Capitol in Harrisburg.
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.
Only a few Trump supporters showed up 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 U.S. 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,” Alex said.
Police later opened streets that had been blocked off in anticipation of bigger crowds.
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.
“I am not here to be violent and I hope no one shows up to be violent,” said one man standing on the lawn in front of the capitol. The man, who refused to give his name, wore a “Make America Great Again” hat and waving a “Don’t tread on me” flag.
By early evening, the capitol grounds in Lansing were deserted.
PREPARING FOR VIOLENCE
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.
Downtown Washington was 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.
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. A Virginia pro-gun advocacy group and the boogaloo movement have declared plans to hold protests on this year’s Lobby Day.
(Reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Lansing, Michigan, Rich McKay in Atlanta, Georgia, Nathan Layne in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, Julia Harte in Richmond, Virginia, Steve Holland and Jonathan Landay in Washington DC; Writing by Gabriella Borter; Editing by Paul Thomasch, Daniel Wallis and Gerry Doyle)