State capitals across the US are preparing for possible attacks on their legislatures in the coming days similar to the insurrection at the US Capitol last week, hoping a larger law enforcement presence and extra security measures will stave off the worst.
The FBI sent an internal memo on Sunday warning all 50 states that “armed protests” at their capitals are being planned by far-right extremists, potentially leading to a repeat of what happened January 6 in Washington, DC. As a result, state capitol buildings are on “high alert,” with local law enforcement and, in some cases, state National Guard troops mobilizing into action.
It’s an alarming situation, but every one of the 26 state law enforcement agencies I called — some of them the city’s police, others the state capitol’s security team — said they were prepared, though most wouldn’t divulge their plans.
“We’re definitely planning for more [activity] than normal,” Lt. Krag Campbell of the Juneau Police Department in Alaska told me.
“We are prepared to respond in the appropriate manner as we have always done in the past,” said Lt. Mark Riley of the Georgia State Patrol. “Our primary concern will always be the safety of everyone who works at or visits the Capitol grounds.”
Each state is responding in its own way with little federal support, partly because the threat is thought to be greater for some states than others. For example, there’s intelligence that Minnesota’s and Michigan’s capitols face a credible threat of violence, while the FBI doesn’t believe Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, or Rhode Island will experience a major riot.
However, all states are preparing for the possibility of violence.
All states say they’re ready, but some states are in more danger than others
Just like at the US Capitol, all 50 states have increased the police presence surrounding their legislatures.
In Connecticut, State Capitol Police Department spokesperson Scott Driscoll told me that K9 teams are conducting extra security sweeps around government buildings and have augmented the number of visible forces inside and outside those campuses. Further, bike rails have been placed on the north and south sides of the Capitol building, creating a barrier between potential rioters and law enforcement.
Meanwhile, Michigan State Police spokesperson Shanon Banner said that while the force usually doesn’t comment on its pre-riot planning, “I can confirm that out of an abundance of caution, we have already increased visible [police] presence at the Capitol, and these resources will remain in place for at least the next couple of weeks.” On Tuesday, the Michigan State Capitol Commission banned the open carrying of weapons in the building.
And Arizona has put up fences around the Capitol complex, Kameron Lee, a spokesperson for the Arizona Department of Public Safety, told me. That move, along with an enhanced law enforcement presence, was also done “out of an abundance of caution.”
Minnesota is one state that may be facing the greatest threat. In response, Gov. Tim Walz, a Democrat, activated the state’s National Guard on Tuesday. That force plans to be on duty assisting local law enforcement in protecting the Capitol this weekend.
“We will always support Minnesotans’ First Amendment rights to peacefully protest, but anyone involved in violent, illegal activity will be held accountable,” Walz said at the time. “We are tracking reports and monitoring the situation closely to enhance our response and change tactics as needed.”
Luckily, not every state is facing a potentially riotous weekend. Along with the New England states mentioned above, officials in Kentucky, Hawaii, and Kansas told me that as of now, they have no indication of future violence. Of course, they and others are still planning for the worst — just in case.
“We have the manpower in place,” Lt. Terry Golightley of the Kansas Capitol Police told me, “and we will have additional supporting officers” at the legislative building. Campbell, of the Juneau Police, also said the department has increased its patrol presence along the city’s streets, which normally feature no more than seven officers.
The hope is that all this preparation actually works. If rioters with violent designs do descend on state capitals, there should be enough law enforcement agents in place to stop them from causing harm. If these preparations fail, though, the nation could see similar scenes to the ones that played out in Washington, DC, last week.