Thursday, March 4, 2021

US capitals fear more political violence

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As U.S. state capitals brace for possible violence ahead of the presidential inauguration next week, Kathy Sheehan is leaving nothing to chance.

Mayor of Albany, the capital of New York State, over the past seven years, she has seen thousands of people demonstrate outside the State House on everything from gun rights to fundraising. education.

“You name it, we have it here,” she told the Financial Times.

But on the morning of January 6, two people were stabbed and a third arrested during a pro-Trump protest in the city – one of many across the country that included the rampage in Washington DC in which five people died.

“The difference,” Ms. Sheehan said, “is that we are seeing a call for armed protest. It is not something that we have experienced here before. “

Albany is one of 50 state capitals to tighten up security following last week’s deadly insurgency at the U.S. Capitol in Washington. The FBI warns of potential threats to state houses by extremist groups in the final days of the Trump administration.

Members of the National Guard walk past the US Capitol in Washington as preparations are made for Joe Biden’s inauguration © DPA Picture Alliance

Michigan became the latest to activate the National Guard for more violence on Friday, following the move from California the day before.

Michigan was a flashpoint for such protests last year. Armed protesters gathered at the Statehouse in April to oppose Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmerorders to curb the spread of the coronavirus. In the fall, the FBI arrested several men and charged them with conspiring to kidnap the governor and put her “on trial” for treason.

Michigan National Guard Maj. Gen. Paul Rogers declined to say how many troops were deployed, but said it was an “important” response “to help protect people, facilities and infrastructure keys ”.

Teams of federal, state and municipal officials work around the clock across the country to reinforce physical defenses such as concrete and metal barriers around state property.

Antoinette Bacon, acting U.S. prosecutor for the Northern District of New York, said the Justice Department was doing its best to ensure that the violence that has happened in Washington does not happen here in Albany.

Part of that work, she said, is to clarify what constitutes and does not constitute the right to free speech enshrined in the American First Amendment.

“Let’s be very clear: violence is not talking. Stabbing, shooting, destroying property, injuring other people: this is not talking. These are criminal acts and they should and should be prosecuted. “

The entrance to the state capital of Albany is closed to the public as the city braces for possible violence © Sara Germano, FT

Over the past week, concrete barriers have been installed to block an access road next to the New York state capital, which is located in the heart of downtown Albany, a short walk away other local and local office buildings and a lively restaurant and bar. Metal gates adorned with “no trespassing” signs now block the steps leading to the French-style Capitol building, and national and local authorities are stepping up the police presence.

Officials say they expect protests in the region leading up to Mr Biden’s inauguration. Thomas Relford, special agent in charge of the FBI field office in Albany, said that, as of Thursday, “there are no specific, credible threats that there will be any type of armed demonstration” in the region.

Mayors from state capitals across the country participated in a Zoom webinar this week to discuss safety and security plans for their cities, according to Ms. Sheehan. Mayors of the capitals of Sacramento at Santa Fe have issued statements promising increased security. City officials in Tallahassee, the capital of Florida, said he will close his town hall Tuesday and Wednesday of next week on the advice of the local police.

Meanwhile, the handling of last week’s skirmish in Albany has increased tensions. State police said that “a preliminary investigation into the [state capitol] The incident determined, after a brawl broke out between rally participants and counter-demonstrators, two of the rally participants were stabbed by a counter-protester ”.

All Of Us, a local activist group, staged a protest outside the capital and posted on his Facebook page Wednesday, saying police disproportionately arrest and charge opponents of pro-Trump groups.

Ms Sheehan said she respects the People’s First Amendment right to peaceful protest and voice on issues, and understands that as the state capital, Albany is a magnet for such protests.

Albany is the capital of a strongly democratic state anchored by the country’s largest city, New York, some 150 miles south along the Hudson River. But it is surrounded by a more politically conservative northern region of the state, and during the 2020 presidential campaign, the city became a focal point for regular gatherings of what Ms. Sheehan described as “very great Trump trailers ”.

“They were coming from all over, it was intimidating,” she says. “I got calls from residents saying they had seen people carrying guns out the window, that their cars were locked up. These kinds of tactics have beaten people down.

additional reporting by Claire Bushey in Chicago

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