Written by Neil MacFarquhar and Mike Baker
It was opening day of the 2021 legislative session, and the perimeter of the Georgia state Capitol on Monday was bristling with state police officers in full camouflage gear, most of them carrying tactical rifles.
On the other side of the country, in Olympia, Washington, dozens of National Guard troops in riot gear and shields formed a phalanx behind a temporary fence. Facing them in the pouring rain was a small group of demonstrators, some also wearing military fatigues and carrying weapons. “Honor your oath!” they shouted. “Fight for freedom every day!”
And in Idaho, Ammon Bundy, an anti-government activist who once led his supporters in the occupation of a federal wildlife refuge in Oregon, showed up outside the Statehouse in Boise with members of his organization carrying “wanted” posters for Gov. Brad Little and others on charges of “treason” and “sedition.”
State capitals across the country are bracing for a spillover from last week’s violent assault on the U.S. Capitol, with state legislatures already becoming targets for protesters in the tense days around the inauguration of the incoming president, Joe Biden.
Gone is a large measure of the bonhomie that usually accompanies the annual start of the legislative season, replaced by marked unease over the possibility of armed attacks and gaps in security around statehouses that have long prided themselves on being open to constituents.
“Between COVID and the idea that there are people who are armed and making threats and are serious, it was definitely not your normal beginning of session,” said Sen. Jennifer A. Jordan, a Democratic legislator in Georgia who watched the police officers assembled outside the Capitol in Atlanta on Monday from her office window. “Usually folks are happy, talking to each other, and it did not have that feel.”
Dozens of state capitals will be on alert in the coming days, following calls among a mix of anti-government organizations for actions in all 50 states on Jan. 17. Some of them come from far-right organizations that harbor a broad anti-government agenda and have already been protesting state COVID-19 lockdowns since last spring. The FBI this week sent a warning to local law enforcement agencies about the potential for armed protests in all 50 state capitals.