State officials across the United States are preparing for potentially violent demonstrations in support of President Donald Trump in the days leading up to the January 20 inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden.
Several states, including California, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Kentucky and Florida, had activated their National Guard forces to bolster security as of Saturday.
Authorities in Washington, DC were also bracing for more violence following the deadly storming of the seat of the country’s legislature by pro-Trump rioters on January 6.
Meanwhile, a man with a loaded handgun and more than 500 rounds of ammunition has been arrested at a security checkpoint near the US Capitol.
Wesley Allen Beeler, of Virginia, had driven to a checkpoint on Friday evening and tried to use a fake credential to access the restricted area where Biden will be inaugurated next week, according to a document filed in Washington, DC Superior Court.
As officers checked against an authorised access list, one of them noticed decals on the back of Beeler’s pick-up truck that said “Assault Life”, with an image of a rifle, and another with the message: “If they come for your guns, give ’em your bullets first.”
‘An honest mistake’
Under questioning, Beeler told officers he had a Glock handgun in the vehicle.
A search uncovered a loaded handgun, more than 500 rounds of ammunition, shotgun shells and a magazine for the gun, the court document said.
Beeler was arrested on charges including possession of an unregistered firearm and unlawful possession of ammunition, a police report said.
Following his arrest, Beeler said it was “an honest mistake” and that he was a private security guard who got lost on his way to work near the Capitol.
The security build-ups come after the FBI warned police agencies across the US of possible armed protests outside all 50 state capitol buildings starting on Saturday and lasting through Biden’s inauguration on Wednesday.
Experts said the capitals of battleground states Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Arizona are among the most at risk of violence.
Those states have been central to Trump’s baseless claims of widespread election fraud, which he has used to foment unrest among his supporters, who stormed the US Capitol building as Congress met to certify Biden’s victory.
Rallies expected in all states
On Sunday, the anti-government “Boogaloo” movement plans to hold rallies in all 50 states.
Texas state officials closed the Capitol through Inauguration Day, with Department of Public Safety Director Steve McCraw saying late on Friday that intelligence indicated “violent extremists” may seek to exploit planned armed protests in Austin to “conduct criminal acts”.
In Michigan, a fence was erected around the Capitol in Lansing and troopers were mobilised from across the state to bolster security. The legislature cancelled meetings next week, citing concerns about credible threats.
“We are prepared for the worst but we remain hopeful that those who choose to demonstrate at our Capitol do so peacefully,” Michigan State Police Director Joe Gasper said during a news conference on Friday.
Illinois Governor JB Pritzker said on Friday that while his state had not received any specific threats, he was beefing up security around the Capitol in Springfield, including adding about 250 state National Guard troops.
The alarm extended beyond legislatures, as well.
The United Church of Christ, a Protestant denomination of more than 4,900 churches, warned its 800,000 members about reports “liberal” churches could be attacked in the coming week.
Call for investigation
Meanwhile, thousands of armed National Guard troops remained on streets in Washington, DC in an unprecedented show of force.
The city centre was virtually empty, with streets near the Capitol closed, while the National Mall and other iconic US landmarks have been blocked off into next week.
A Virginia man, Wesley Allen Beeler, was arrested on Friday evening at a security checkpoint after police said he presented an “unauthorised inauguration credential,” according to a Capitol Police spokeswoman. Beeler had a loaded handgun and more than 500 rounds of ammunition, according to court papers.
A tearful Beeler later told the Washington Post he had been working security in Washington all week and pulled up to the checkpoint after getting lost. He told the paper he forgot the gun was in his truck and denied having so much ammunition.
Beeler was released after an initial court appearance on Saturday and is due back in court in June, records show.
Responding to news of the arrest, Democratic US Representative Don Beyer of Virginia said the danger was real and the city was on edge.
“Anyone who can avoid the area around the Capitol and Mall this week should do so,” Beyer wrote on Twitter.
In a joint internal bulletin earlier this week, the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security and National Counterterrorism Center warned perceptions that the January 6 Capitol riot was a success could further embolden domestic extremists.
They said “false narratives” about electoral fraud would serve as a continuing catalyst for violent groups.
On Saturday, Democratic leaders of four US congressional committees announced they had opened a review of the January 6 riot.
The lawmakers also signed an open letter asking the FBI and other intelligence and security agencies to find out what was known about threats, whether the information was shared and whether foreign influence played any role.
The letter was signed by House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff, House Homeland Security Chairman Bennie Thompson, House Oversight Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney and House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler.
“This still-emerging story is one of astounding bravery by some US Capitol Police and other officers; of staggering treachery by violent criminals; and of apparent and high-level failures – in particular, with respect to intelligence and security preparedness,” the legislators said.