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Armed demonstrators gather at Texas Capitol; States brace for violence

Members of the National Guard are seen behind a security fence at the U.S. Capitol on Friday, Jan. 15, 2021.

SALWAN GEORGES/THE WASHINGTON POST

By DEREK HAWKINS, TIM CRAIG AND MARIANA ALFARO | The Washington Post | Published: January 16, 2021

Armed demonstrators gathered at the Texas Capitol in Austin on Saturday morning as law enforcement officials prepared for a demonstration that was scheduled to begin at noon local time.

People assembled weapons and other tactical gear in a parking lot across from the Capitol before walking across the street to the front gates. Some were dressed in camouflage vests, blue jeans and cowboy hats. Men in khaki pants and black shirts were also seen in tactical vests, carrying handguns, canisters, handheld radios and handcuffs.

Anxious officials across the United States have spent much of the week rushing to secure government buildings and fortify statehouses after an FBI bulletin warned that armed far-right extremist groups are planning to march on state capitals this weekend. Many states have boarded up windows, erected fencing, closed their capitols to the public, activated National Guard units and declared states of emergency.

In Texas, law enforcement was on high alert. Texas Department of Public Safety officers stood in riot gear on the closed Capitol grounds as demonstrators arrived. The DPS on Friday evening closed the pink granite building and grounds, and all entrances remained chained and locked. Around the Capitol in downtown Austin, some buildings on Congress Avenue were boarded up and parking was restricted.

In Columbus, Ohio, the statehouse was ringed Saturday morning with temporary metal fencing and signs reading "Security Line Do Not Cross." Its first floor windows were boarded up, and beneath its immense Doric columns, State Highway Patrol troopers walked the porticoes. They were brought in from across the state, and the building will be closed through Wednesday.

"We don't really know what's going to happen, but we want to be prepared," said a man boarding up the windows of a nearby pizza parlor, OH Pizza and Brew.

The Chamber of Commerce building across the street from the statehouse is boarded; so is Broad Street Bagels & Deli and several banks.

"We were horrified by what we saw take place in the Capitol last week," Ohio Republican Gov. Mike DeWine (R) said in authorizing the use of the National Guard this weekend. "Violence will not be tolerated."

The siege mentality here isn't without reason. On Jan. 6, the same day U.S. Capitol was breached, skirmishes broke out near the Ohio Statehouse between pro-Trump demonstrators, including a group of Proud Boys and counterprotesters.

Officials generally won't discuss exactly what "intelligence" they have, but Columbus police group said that they are aware that the "boogaloo bois," the extremist group, have planned a noon Sunday protest at the statehouse.

"It's going to be interesting to see what they do," said David A. Licate, a criminal justice professor at the University of Akron who researches hate crimes and domestic terrorism and has served on an FBI team dealing with extremists. The boogaloos "are hard core anti-government, including anti police. The officers at the capitol will have to be very careful."

Elswehre, the grounds of Kentucky's soaring state Capitol in Frankfort remained open to all on Saturday, a day before the governor said they will close down entirely. The Beaux-Arts building is in a thickly settled neighborhood, filled with apartments, single-family homes and offices. Neighbors walked their dogs on the grass. A child coasted down the lawn Saturday in the newly fallen snow.

It is unclear how much state officials will intensify security, since protests are not planned. The only barriers to the historic building Saturday morning were some yellow twine cordoning off the stone steps, paper signs saying "off limits" and a couple rows of wooden sawhorses marked "media," who some demonstrators have considered targets.

Kentucky State Police did not immediately respond to requests for comment. A state trooper, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said more officers were inside the building and additional security measures are being taken.

A few dozen demonstrators - some armed and carrying pro-Trump gear - held a "patriots" rally there a week ago Saturday. And last year, demonstrators hung an effigy of the Democratic governor, Andy Beshear, from a tree nearby, according to CNN.

A man walking two dogs, Annabelle and Ruby, declined to speak to The Washington Post because he said Amazon had shut down his favorite website, Parler. Amazon suspended the pro-Trump site from its web-hosting service after members celebrated the Jan. 6 siege on the U.S. Capitol, which left five people dead. Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post.

A woman walking her dog said she found last week's demonstration unsettling, and said she did not want her 7-year-old daughter frightened by armed men.

"We watch the Disney channel all day long," she said, asking to remain anonymous for fear of reprisals. "She doesn't need to see that."

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The Washington Post's Eva Ruth Moravec, Peter Whoriskey, Maria Sacchetti contributed to this report.