Featured, State News

FBI warns Vt. police about armed rally planned at State House

By Glenn Russell/VTDigger
State Police troopers block State Street in front of the State House in Montpelier to provide security for an outdoor swearing-in ceremony for Gov. Phil Scott and the state’s constitutional officers on Thursday, Jan. 7. Police are preparing for possible armed rallies Jan. 17-20 at all 50 state capitals.

Gov. Scott cautions Vermonters: ‘Don’t be played; don’t be used as a pawn’

By Alan J. Keays/VTDigger and Polly Mikula

Vermont law enforcement officials are preparing for possible armed rallies at the State House. The FBI issued a warning Monday, Jan. 11, that demonstrations by gun-toting protesters are planned at state capitals across the country.

ABC News first reported early Monday afternoon, Jan. 11, that it had obtained an internal FBI bulletin stating, “As of 10 January, armed protests are being planned at all 50 state capitals from 16 January through at least 20 January, and at the U.S. Capitol from 17 January through 20 January.”

Vermont authorities say flyers are being circulated about armed rallies on Sunday, Jan. 17, three days before the inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden and on Jan. 20, inauguration day.

One of the flyers, bore the slogan “When Democracy Is Destroyed, Refuse to Be Silenced” and promoted an “Armed March of Capitol Hill & All State Capitols.”

The red flyers feature an image of the Statue of Liberty and call on people to “Demand Freedom. End the Corruption.”

But Governor Phil Scott cautioned Vermonters at his regular news conference Tuesday. “My message to Vermonters who want to participate is, obviously, it’s your first amendment right to gather and protest and make your feelings known, but I would say: don’t be played, don’t be used as a pawn by some of these extreme groups that are planning these protests throughout our nation to undermine our democracy, to overthrow the government,” Scott said.

Later in the press conference, he added: “Vermonters are being duped into participating in this rally for the wrong reasons… I’m advocating for them to be aware of why they’re doing this. What’s the reason? I want them to go in with their eyes wide open… if they do gather, I hope it will be a peaceful rally.”

At a news briefing Monday afternoon and Tuesday, Vermont Public Safety Commissioner Michael Shirling said they are prepared though there is “not at this stage a specific set of threats or threat” related to Vermont.

Schirling said his department is working with other law enforcement agencies, including the Capitol Police and Montpelier Police Department, in planning to deal with a possible armed rally at the State House.

Schirling said at this point there are no “active” calls for a curfew or a Vermont National Guard presence at the State House. “That hasn’t been part of an ongoing conversation at this stage,” he said. “But we do prepare for a variety of possibilities.”

As a precaution, Montpelier and Roxbury public schools have announced that all instruction on Jan. 20 will be virtual, with no in-person classes.

The calls for nationwide armed rallies at state capitals follows the insurrection last Wednesday, Jan. 6, in the U.S. Capitol by supporters of President Donald Trump. They stormed the building as lawmakers inside were certifying the presidential election results.

Fifty-one people from Vermont traveled by bus last Wednesday to take part of the “Stop the Steal” rally in Washington, D.C.

The Vermont Capitol Police, the Montpelier Police Dept., Vermont State Police and other agencies are working to “ensure the safety” of the capitol complex and the city of Montpelier, according to a statement.

Montpelier Police Chief Brian Peete, speaking at the news briefing Monday, said his department is adopting an all-hands-on deck approach, and is canceling any leave requests from members of the force.

“We have taken those steps,” he said. “We’ve gone to an elevated posture regarding our time off, because these occurrences would be happening in your jurisdiction.”

Capitol Police Chief Matthew Romei said preparations are complicated by the fact that Vermont is considered an “open carry” state. People can legally bear firearms in public. “It’s permitted, but it’s discouraged,” he said. Romei said police could take action if a person brandished a firearm or used one to menace or intimidate others.

Given the “totality of the circumstances,” Schirling urged people to “think twice” before bringing firearms to a State House rally.

Asked if he knew what groups may be participating in the rally at the Vermont State House, Schirling said, “Not specifically, beyond folks that affiliated themselves with the groups that were present at the [U.S.] Capitol.”

Schirling called on Vermonters to report to authorities any information they might find concerning, such as a possible threat. “At no other time has it been as important to see something, say something,” he said.

“Even if they seem small,” he said it’s important to report them, “so that we can weave information together so that we can try to weave together a picture out of puzzle pieces.”

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