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Small crowds, heavy security: US braces for pro-Trump violence

United States law enforcement officers have been out in force at state capitols across the country and in Washington, DC, in response to planned protests in support of President Donald Trump that on Sunday had drawn only a small number people.

More than a dozen states have activated National Guard troops to help secure their capitol buildings following an FBI warning of armed demonstrations in advance of President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration on January 20.

Experts have said right-wing groups and white nationalists could be emboldened by the deadly riot at the US Capitol on January 6, which was spurred by Trump’s repeated false claims that the election was stolen from him.

Security officials had said Sunday could be a major flashpoint, as the anti-government “Boogaloo” movement had planned to hold rallies in all 50 states. Capitals in battleground states, where Trump has directed his accusations of voter fraud, were on especially high alert.

By midday, only a few dozen demonstrators had taken to the streets in various cities.

Law enforcement officers guard the statehouse in Columbus, Ohio, as supporters of US President Donald Trump protest against the election of President-elect Joe Biden [Megan Jelinger/Reuters]

About two dozen people, several carrying long guns, protested outside the Ohio Statehouse, while dozens rallied in South Carolina. At Michigan’s Capitol in Lansing, a small group of demonstrators stood near a chain-link fence surrounding the building.

A few of the protesters in Lansing were armed with rifles. One wore fatigue pants, a tactical vest and blue Hawaiian shirt, a trademark of the “Boogaloo” movement, while another wore a Trump T-shirt and waved a “Don’t tread on me” flag.

About 100 police officers and National Guard troops were assigned to protect the Pennsylvania capitol in Harrisburg on Sunday, but only a handful of Trump supporters showed up. Police opened streets around the building that had been blocked off in anticipation of bigger crowds.

Downtown Washington, DC was largely a ghost town on Sunday, as well. Armed National Guard soldiers in camouflage manned checkpoints across the city centre, which was closed off to traffic with large military vehicles blocking streets.

‘City on edge’

Al Jazeera’s Hoda Abdel-Hamid, reporting from the US capital, said it felt like “a fortified city”.

She said about 11,000 National Guard troops had already arrived on Sunday morning and by inauguration day on Wednesday, that number will increase to 25,000.

An area surrounding the White House, Capitol Hill and the National Mall has been closed to traffic since Saturday and will remain so until after the inauguration, Abdel-Hamid reported.

“It really feels that this is a city on edge. The mayor of Washington, DC (Muriel Bowser) has also said that the concerns are not only here in the centre, but also further away. Authorities are not taking any chances,” she said.

Heavy police and troop deployments were witnessed across the country on Sunday.

In Atlanta, several hundred law enforcement officers and National Guard troops milled around Georgia’s statehouse. Chain-link fences and cement barriers protected the Capitol grounds and multiple armoured vehicles were stationed nearby.

Some states, including Pennsylvania, Texas and Kentucky, took the further step of closing their capitol grounds to the public.

Supporters of US President Donald Trump protest against the election of President-elect Joe Biden, outside the Pennsylvania State Capitol in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania [Rachel Wisniewski/Reuters]

The nationwide security deployment followed the attack on the US Capitol in Washington by Trump supporters – which led to widespread criticism and questions about how the rioters were able to overrun the building.

The FBI and other federal agencies have warned of more violence leading up to Biden’s inauguration on Wednesday.

It was not clear whether the FBI warning and ramped up security around the country might have pushed some protesters to cancel plans to go to their state capitols.

Some militias and hardline groups have told their followers to stay home this weekend.

Reference