Federal law enforcement officials, hate-crime specialists and social media platforms are warning of the possibility of nationwide attacks at state capitols and in Washington, D.C., in the days leading up to the Jan. 20 inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden.
One federal law enforcement source said Monday that authorities had no specific information about planned activities at California’s state Capitol, where weekly protests have been staged since election day by supporters of President Donald Trump and his false claims that voter fraud cost him the White House.
But the source, who was not authorized to speak publicly, confirmed to The Sacramento Bee that FBI field offices nationwide have been alerted to the possibility of violence through Inauguration Day and have set up command posts to interact with state and local law enforcement, including the California Highway Patrol, which has jurisdiction over the state Capitol.
“The CHP is all over this,” the source said. “The bottom line is, certainly law enforcement is all over this and will be prepared.”
Gov. Gavin Newsom said Monday that the Capitol has “a heightened, heightened level of security” and that a decision on whether to activate the National Guard would be made “as needed.”
“Everybody is on a high alert in terms of making sure that everybody is safe and protected,” Newsom said. “People’s free speech can be advanced, but there’s no violence.”
ABC News cited an FBI bulletin it obtained warning of the potential for violence nationwide.
“As of 10 January, armed protests are being planned at all 50 state capitols from 16 January through at least 20 January, and at the US Capitol from 17 January through 20 January,” the bulletin read, according to ABC.
Twitter posted a similar warning last week in announcing it has permanently suspended Trump’s account following the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol in Washington that left at least five people dead.
“Plans for future armed protests have already begun proliferating on and off-Twitter, including a proposed secondary attack on the US Capitol and state capitol buildings on January 17, 2021,” Twitter said in its announcement.
The warnings come in the wake of the Jan. 6 attack at the U.S. Capitol building, which has resulted in dozens of charges against individuals suspected of taking part on the violence. Authorities says investigations into others are continuing, including some involving residents of the Sacramento and Fresno areas and that others are expected in the region.
“The FBI is following all leads,” the source said.
One hate crime expert said his organization had issued a nationwide warning to law enforcement and politicians to immediately beef up security at public buildings, and to focus on their own personal security at their homes and as they travel to their offices.
“We are advising that public officials who do not have enhanced security reassess their security measures,” said Brian Levin, director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino. “We also are warning for governors and others like secretaries of state, attorneys general and high-ranking public health officials to supplement and reassess their security.
“This is a nationwide advisory.”
CHP ‘ready to respond’ at California Capitol
California’s state Capitol has been surrounded by fencing since the spring, when massive protests against Gov. Gavin Newsom’s stay-at-home orders erupted and nearly led to one group of demonstrators forcing their way inside the building.
Those protests were followed by continued demonstrations in downtown Sacramento following the killing by Minneapolis police of George Floyd.
Since the election, continued protests have taken placed on the west side of the Capitol building on 10th Street, where Sacramento police have authority and have contended with clashes between pro-Trump and antifa groups that have exchanged blasts of pepper spray at times.
But the protests have been kept off the Capitol grounds to date, and a CHP spokeswoman said Monday that authorities are prepared for any problems in coming days.
“CHP officers are always vigilant for potential threats that may occur at the state Capitol,” CHP spokeswoman Fran Clader said in a statement to The Bee. “We have personnel ready to respond to protect state property and ensure public safety as necessary.
“The CHP closely coordinates with allied agencies like the Sacramento Police Department and Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department where jurisdictional boundaries meet or if mutual aid is requested. Beyond that, the CHP does not comment on matters involving security.”
Local involvement in insurrection probed
Law enforcement officials are hopeful that the array of criminal charges that have been filed since last week’s melee at the nation’s Capitol will reduce the possibility of renewed violence.
McGregor Scott, the U.S. attorney in Sacramento with jurisdiction from the Oregon state line to Bakersfield, confirmed Monday that authorities are investigating whether individuals from the region were involved in some of the violence in Washington, D.C.
“We do have open investigations in the Eastern District of California,” he said, “but I cannot confirm whether they pertain to a specific person at this point.”
Levin said efforts by Twitter and other technology companies to ban some posters and limit access to right-wing sites like Parler may help reduce the ability for fringe groups to organize activities.
“Deplatforming individuals or groups does not eliminate them, but it seriously curtails not only their recruitment and radicalization but their ability to keep existing organization at the same level of effectiveness,” he said.
But Levin noted that last year’s protests against stay-at-home orders stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic generated a huge nationwide response from individuals.
“The ‘liberate’ movement became a textbook example of elastic reservoirs of grievance, including not only concerned business owners and outdoor enthusiasts with legitimate questions, but also conspiracists, Second Amendment insurrectionists, anti-vaxxers, fascists and neo-Nazis in one communal swap meet,” Levin said. “It grew to 3 million people.”