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State Capitals Strengthen Security Ahead Of Inauguration Day

LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

And it's not just the national Capitol. State capitols across the country are also on guard this weekend. And for more on that, we turn to NPR's Brian Mann.

Good morning, Brian.

BRIAN MANN, BYLINE: Hi, Lulu.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Brian, we've heard warnings about what may occur, but they're vague. Are there any actual threats at state capitols?

MANN: Well, there have been some sort of nerve-wracking incidents so far. The FBI arrested a man in Florida Friday. He was allegedly working to organize a violent confrontation at the state Capitol in Tallahassee. And the Capitol Police there in Washington, D.C., also arrested a Virginia man who was in court yesterday. He allegedly tried to pass through a security checkpoint with a handgun and 500 rounds of ammunition. He was stopped after showing police what they described as an authorized credential. I should say there are press reports this morning that that situation may have been a misunderstanding.

So it's a kind of an unclear picture, Lulu. But on top of these specific incidents, officials are just sort of bracing for whatever comes at them today. This is Colonel Joe Gasper talking about security measures at Michigan's state Capitol, which included new fencing and fortified windows.

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JOE GASPER: Details about the number of officers or their specific security missions will not be shared so as not to provide an advantage to those who wish to cause disruption to the government and our democracy.

MANN: And you'll remember Michigan's Capitol has already been the scene of numerous armed protests over the last year. And there was this alleged plot by right-wing extremists to kidnap Governor Gretchen Whitmer - so law enforcement there taking the threat especially seriously. Republican lawmakers in Lansing actually canceled their session next week because of what they called credible threats of violence.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And even still, after all of this, there are protests and rallies happening. What have we seen so far?

MANN: Yeah, they're going on. There was a small gathering yesterday in St. Paul, Minn., also in Austin, Texas, at those state capitols to protest the results of the election. They were peaceful. People are expected to gather again today outside capitols around the country, including Salt Lake City. And tomorrow, there's a plan for a pro-gun rally in Richmond. That's Virginia's capital. Authorities say they're keeping a close eye on that. Virginia Governor Ralph Northam had a message for people planning to attend.

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RALPH NORTHAM: If you're planning to come here or up to Washington with ill intent in your heart, you need to turn around right now and go home.

MANN: And it seems, Lulu, that that message may be getting through to at least some pro-Trump groups on social media. There are posts saying, you know, stand down; do not attend these marches right now in Washington or in state capitols.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I mean, there is this larger context for all this, right? The FBI has arrested more than a hundred people so far after that deadly assault on the U.S. Capitol. The whole country is bracing for more violence. Can you think of another time in recent memory like this one?

MANN: No, this is different. You know, National Guard troops mobilized, state police in just about every Capitol on high alert. Even after the Oklahoma City bombing by right-wing extremists in 1995 left 168 people dead, we didn't see anything like this. You know, the riot at the Capitol clearly changed the tone. Here's Kentucky's Governor Andy Beshear, who just announced he was activating the National Guard to provide security in his state capital, Frankfort.

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ANDY BESHEAR: Domestic terror is never OK. We must stop it every time we see it. And we cannot let what we saw at the U.S. Capitol become a new normal in this country.

MANN: You know, the U.S. is known, of course, for peaceful transfers of power. And I guess we'll see that tradition - whether it's tested between now and Wednesday when President-elect Biden is sworn in.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That is NPR's Brian Mann following security developments at state capitols around the country.

Brian, thank you very much.

MANN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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