Washington state braces for potential violence on Inauguration Day

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Ted S. Warren

A Washington State Patrol trooper talks with members of the Washington National Guard inside a fence surrounding the Capitol in anticipation of protests Monday, Jan. 11, 2021, in Olympia, Wash. According to organizers, some protesters are unhappy the Legislature will meeting virtually and in sessions not open to the public, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, during the 2021 session which opens Monday. Washington Gov. Jay Inslee activated members of the National Guard this week to work with the Washington State Patrol to protect the Capitol campus. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

By Melissa Santos / Crosscut.com

For more than a week, Washington National Guard troops have encircled the Washington State Capitol in Olympia, watching for anyone bent on violence. On Wednesday, they’ll be on especially high alert, expecting that some people may show up to protest the inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden.

Last week, the FBI warned of armed protests planned at all 50 state Capitols across the country, following the riot in which a mob stormed the U.S. Capitol Building on Jan. 6. That same day, about 100 armed protesters broke through the gate of the Washington Governor’s Mansion in Olympia, temporarily occupying the grounds.

As of Tuesday morning, the FBI’s Seattle field office had “not received any specific and substantiated threat to the state Capitol in Olympia or any other government buildings in our area,” public affairs specialist Amy Alexander wrote in an email.

Still, Alexander wrote, the FBI “will be maintaining a heightened posture” throughout Wednesday’s inauguration to monitor for emerging threats.

In Olympia, most state employees have been told to stay away from the Capitol campus until Inauguration Day has passed, in anticipation of possible disruptive protests, according to an advisory issued last week by the state Department of Enterprise Services.

Temporary fencing remains in place around the state Capitol building and cars will be restricted from driving nearby. The Washington National Guard troops, as well as State Patrol troopers, will remain posted at the Capitol campus at least through Inauguration Day, and possibly longer. While Gov. Jay Inslee activated 750 members of the National Guard to help protect the Capitol Campus earlier this month, officials wouldn’t say precisely how large the presence would be on Wednesday, citing security reasons.

As of Monday, Chris Loftis, a spokesperson for the Washington State Patrol, said the state was aware of “no active threats” to the Capitol campus, meaning threats where officials know of a specific “who, what, when, where and why.”

At the same time, he said there are certainly active concerns.

“Just because we don’t have a known threat doesn’t mean there’s not possible danger,” Loftis said.

Since Jan. 6, three people have been arrested in connection with protests at the state Capitol, according to the State Patrol.

One was a person who drove a recreational vehicle into a restricted security area by the Capitol building on Jan. 11, the first day of the 2021 state legislative session. That person was arrested for refusing to comply with an order to move the vehicle, Loftis said.

Another person was arrested that same day after entering the restricted area “purposefully and very flamboyantly,” Loftis said. Law enforcement officials soon discovered he had been involved in the breach of the Governor’s Mansion the week before, so they arrested him for criminal trespassing, Loftis said.

A third person was arrested for second-degree assault, criminal trespassing and felony harassment in connection with the events at the state Capitol campus Jan. 6, the State Patrol announced Tuesday.

Law enforcement officials encouraged anyone with information about possible violent activity to report it.

The FBI’s Seattle field office urged people to call 206-622-0460 if they know of potential violence at any upcoming protest or event. Tips can also be submitted via tips.fbi.gov.

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