- Security has been beefed up in Washington and in state capitals since the storming of the Capitol.
- Conspiracy theorists have suggested Trump will be reinstated as president on March 4, 2021.
- One state official said the “abundance of uncertainty” is being met with “an abundance of caution.”
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State capitals across the country are braced for the possibility of violence where passions have run hot since the Jan. 6 storming of the U.S. Capitol, but experts caution that even the best-laid plans could be a feeble match for anti-government extremism.
The potential risk at state capitols has prompted authorities to intensify high-visibility security, stringing up razor wire, erecting barbed wire fencing and reinforcing a uniformed presence, along with undisclosed measures, to guard against a threat of danger on March 4, a date that many on the far right deem significant and some see as the day former President Donald Trump somehow is returned to office.
“It’s clear there is an enhanced threat to both state capitols and the U.S. Capitol,” said Brian Lynch, formerly of the FBI and now executive director of safety and security at RANE, a risk-assessment company.
The significance of March 4 stems from right-wing beliefs that the U.S. government’s constitutional amendments, and presidencies, have been illegitimate since the 14th Amendment defined the rights of U.S. citizenship. March 4 was the day in 1789 that the U.S. federal government began operating, following ratification of the Constitution, and the day until 1933 when presidents were inaugurated.
Following the inauguration of President Joe Biden, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security issued a warning that “some ideologically-motivated violent extremists with objections to the exercise of governmental authority and the presidential transition, as well as other perceived grievances fueled by false narratives, could continue to mobilize to incite or commit violence” across the country.
“The risk and the threat is present. It has not gone away from January 6,” Lynch said. “Unless they disband, the risk is still there, and just because we don’t have a current threat about a particular area, the underlying risk is still there.”
Around the country are visible signs of beefed-up measures.
At Michigan’s capitol in Lansing, where in April demonstrators swarmed inside with weapons to protest a COVID-19 lockdown order, state police have boosted security and the uniformed presence since Jan. 11, according to a spokeswoman.
“Security enhancements now in place include both seen and unseen measures,” she said.
Also in Michigan, officials voted to prohibit the open carry of guns inside the Capitol just days after the violence in Washington, D.C., a ban they had declined to implement previously.
At the Capitol in Austin, Texas, the Department of Public Safety is “monitoring events and their impact on public safety,” a spokeswoman said, adding, “We do not discuss operational specifics.”
Legislative and Supreme Court buildings and the governor’s residence in Washington’s capital city of Olympia have been guarded by extra staff and surrounded since Jan. 6 by nearly 4,000 feet of added security fencing, which “will remain in place until more is known regarding the new and enduring security environment,” a spokesman said.
“At this point, we have an abundance of uncertainty and therefore we must address it with an abundance of caution,” the Washington State Police spokesman wrote in an email.
Lawmakers in Washington’s state Senate recently approved a measure to prohibit the open carry of firearms at the Capitol and at public demonstrations elsewhere.
In Utah, where Capitol buildings were closed as part of a weeklong state of emergency declared following the Jan. 6 rioting in Washington, lawmakers are weighing a bill to spend almost $1.2 million on security training and equipment to protect public officials as well as the state Capitol.
In Washington at the nation’s Capitol, nearly 5,000 National Guard troops have been ordered to remain in place for March 4.
A THREAT THAT’S FIZZLING OUT?
Calls to action have circulated on right-wing venues like Telegram, Gab and Patriots.win, although some on social media have warned followers that the plans could be a set-up.
“Stay away from any event on March 4th,” warned one tweet. “Something is potentially cooking and we don’t need to be a part of it. Any of it.”
Rhetoric calling for violence has toned down, possibly because groups like QAnon have been taken off mainstream social media platforms and moved to less public venues, said Kevin Grisham, associate director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino.
Grisham said he sees less of a threat from a potential mob of protesters who might climb over a fence and more of a threat by small groups of hard-core believers who could pick out targets for violence like bombings and mass shootings.
“I don’t think it’s going to be the massive groups like we saw on Jan. 6, but I think it’s a handful of people who potentially could be very dangerous,” Grisham said.
“Like the ones who tried to kidnap the governor of Michigan, all you need is a small group. Those are the ones I worry about most because you just don’t know.”
Or the potential date for action is simply in flux after previous machinations failed to materialize, said Dr. Ziv Cohen, an expert on extremism and a forensic psychiatrist at Weill Cornell Medical College of Cornell University.
“To a large extent it’s a fluid time right now,” Cohen said, noting he doesn’t expect much in the way of violence on March 4. “It’s a significant date for them, but I think they’re sort of reinterpreting their beliefs in light of current situations.”
March 4 is not like Jan. 6, which was a culmination of conspiracy theories that had predicted a Trump victory at the polls in November, said Mike Rothschild, a conspiracy theory researcher and author of an upcoming book on QAnon, “The Storm is Upon Us.”
“My gut is that it’s going to fizzle out,” Rothschild said, adding that some on the right suspect the importance of March 4 was concocted by the media to make them look bad.
“This is an example of a prophecy getting a new date,” he said. “I don’t think anything is going to happen.”