CONCORD, NH — Elevated, armed protests concerning emergency orders, mask mandates and other issues during the coronavirus pandemic have led New Hampshire's governor to cancel a planned outdoor inauguration scheduled for next week.
Gov. Chris Sununu made the announcement Wednesday in a news release stating that the event, originally scheduled for Jan. 7 at the Statehouse in Concord, was being canceled and moved to a private ceremony, to be broadcast remotely, due to ongoing public safety concerns.
"My first responsibility is ensuring the safety of my family and our citizens," he said. "For weeks, armed protesters have increasingly become more aggressive, targeting my family, protesting outside my private residence, and trespassing on my property — an outdoor public ceremony simply brings too much risk. We do not make this decision lightly, but it is the right thing to do."
It was unknown at post time if there have been other threats against the governor and his family that have led to the elevated concerns.
Initially, Sununu was against a mask mandate and was one of the only governors in the Northeast bucking the trend that some say is too controlling. But after seeing an increase in COVID-19 cases, the governor switched gears and implemented the policy Nov. 19.
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Anti-mask and anti-emergency order protesters, rarely more than a dozen, have been outside of the governor's home in Newfields for weeks calling for a state mask mandate to be lifted. Protesters believe the mask requirement is an infringement on personal liberties and that face coverings do not prevent the spread of the coronavirus. ReopenNH, a statewide organization formed in the wake of Sununu issuing emergency orders earlier this year to completely lockdown the economy, has also called for the mask mandate to be lifted, citing studies showing face coverings do not stop the spread of the disease.
Earlier this month, town officials, including the governor's brother, who is a selectman in Newfields, approved an ordinance banning picketing in town outside of private homes — a policy that some say is a clear violation of the state and federal constitutions. A journalist for Patch news partner NH Journal was cited by police for covering the protest outside of Sununu's home in defiance of the ordinance on Monday. A spokesman for the governor said he was not involved in the decision to create the ordinance but that state officials, including the attorney general's office and department of safety, were involved in the process.
Andrew Manuse, the chairman of RebuildNH, offered a blog post on Patch calling the move to cancel the ceremony unconstitutional. He said the cancelation may have been prompted by the org's decision to hold a protest during the inauguration — by banging on pots and pans outside the Statehouse, similar to the 2009 protests in Iceland during the global recession that led to that country replacing its government and jailing bankers involved in the collapse.
However, Zandra Rice Hawkins, the executive director of Granite State Progress, which has been known to participate in and organize protests targeting conservatives and Republicans, said the governor was "partially responsible" for the "threat of domestic terrorism in New Hampshire" due to public policies he has supported.
"Sununu vetoed background checks and repealed concealed carry licensing requirements, paving the way for dangerous individuals to more readily access and carry firearms," she said. "During the election, Sununu campaigned with anti-government and secessionist leaders, normalizing those viewpoints and building political power for those groups. For months, Sununu looked the other way as heavily armed white supremacists stood outside of Black Lives Matter events and armed militias recruited during ReOpen rallies. Now Sununu is finally worried about safety — when his own is at risk."
A number of communities in New Hampshire, including Concord and Nashua, have implemented mask mandates and face-covering ordinances — only to see their coronavirus positive test case numbers increase exponentially due to expanded community transmission that has occurred in New Hampshire. Even with the mask mandate, Nashua's mayor, Jim Donchess, and others at city hall, became infected with the virus.
Other Granite Staters, including members of the Free State Project as well as some GOP legislators, are also declaring their independence from the state of New Hampshire due to opposition to Sununu's emergency orders, mandates and the 2020 presidential election results, which they believe were rife with fraud in many swing states.
Instead of holding the outdoor event, the governor will deliver a live address at 7 p.m. Jan. 7. Future information about the telecast is to be released in the coming days.
Sununu said he made the decision "in consultation" with Attorney General Gordon MacDonald, Senate President Chuck Morse, and acting-House Speaker Sherm Packard, he said. The governor and new Executive Council will be sworn in during a small ceremony, attended by leaders of both houses of the Legislature, and to be virtually attended by all other members the same day.
New Hampshire Patch will update this post with more information as it becomes available.