Heavily fortified statehouses around US see small protests

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James Rothwell
·3 min read
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Members of the Boogaloo Boys stand armed in front of the Oregon Sate Capitol building in Salem - AFP
Members of the Boogaloo Boys stand armed in front of the Oregon Sate Capitol building in Salem - AFP

Small groups of right-wing protesters - some of them carrying rifles - gathered outside heavily fortified statehouses around the country on Sunday, outnumbered by National Guard troops and police brought in to prevent a repeat of the violence that erupted at the US Capitol.

Crowds of only a dozen or two demonstrated at some boarded-up, cordoned-off statehouses, while the streets in many other capital cities remained empty. Some protesters said they were there to back President Donald Trump. Others said they had instead come to voice their support for gun rights or decry government overreach.

"I don't trust the results of the election," said Michigan protester Martin Szelag, a 67-year-old semi-retired window salesman from Dearborn Heights. He wore a sign around his neck that read, in part, "We will support Joe Biden as our President if you can convince us he won legally. Show us the proof! Then the healing can begin."

As the day wore on with no bloodshed around the US, a sense of relief spread among officials, though they were not ready to let their guard down.

The heavy law enforcement presence may have kept turnout down. In the past few days, some extremists had warned others against falling into what they called a law enforcement trap.

Michigan National Guard and Lansing Police officers patrol at a closed street outside the state capitol in Lansing - AP
Michigan National Guard and Lansing Police officers patrol at a closed street outside the state capitol in Lansing - AP

Around 25,000 troops from the National Guard were deployed to Capitol buildings across the country, including those in Michigan, South Carolina and Ohio.

There was also a major police presence at the Washington Capitol, which was invaded by Trump supporters on 6 January as Congress certified the election results.

The tough security measures were aimed at preventing the violence and death that followed the breach of the Capitol in Washington, where five people were killed, including a police officer.

The FBI had warned of the potential for armed protests at the nation's Capitol and all 50 state capitol buildings over the weekend.

In some states, a small number of people turned up to mount counter protests. One man came early to greet any demonstrators at the Pennsylvania Capitol, saying he had heard about the possibility of a meet-up of a far-right militant group.

"I'm fundamentally against the potential protesters coming here to delegitimise the election, and I don't want to be passive in expressing my disapproval of them coming into this city," Stephen Rzonca said.

It came as the lead prosecutor for Mr Trump's historic second impeachment began building his case for conviction at trial, claiming that the president's incitement of the mob that stormed the Capitol was "the most dangerous crime" ever committed by a US leader.

"We're going to be able to tell the story of this attack on America and all of the events that led up to it," said Democrat Rep. Jamie Raskin. "This president set out to dismantle and overturn the election results from the 2020 presidential election. He was perfectly clear about that."

A Senate trial could begin as soon as this week, as Democrat leader Joe Biden is sworn in as the 46th president.

The House of Representatives voted to impeach Mr Trump last Wednesday, one week after the violent insurrection that interrupted the official count of electoral votes and ransacked the Capitol.

Before the mob overpowered police and entered the building, Mr Trump told them to "fight like hell" against the certification of Mr Biden's election win.