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FBI Warns Of Inauguration Day Unrest In All 50 States

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

States are taking steps to tighten security at their capitols following a warning by the FBI to prepare for possible armed protests in the days leading up to January 20, the presidential inauguration. Many state capitols have already seen protests by people upset by President Trump's loss in the election. NPR's Greg Allen reports the timing collides with lawmakers trying to convene for new legislative sessions.

GREG ALLEN, BYLINE: At the Washington state Capitol building in Olympia, National Guardsmen were called out to help with security this week. They arrested two protesters who tried to enter without permission Monday.

(SOUNDBITE OF SHOUTING)

ALLEN: After meeting, the Legislature voted that most of the new session would be held online. California's Legislature also returned this week. Governor Gavin Newsom said in light of the warnings about possible violent demonstrations, he's ready to call in the National Guard if needed.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

GAVIN NEWSOM: Everybody is on, I think, a high alert in terms of just making sure that everybody is safe and protected. People's free speech can be advanced, but there's no violence.

(SOUNDBITE OF GAVEL BANGING)

DAN PATRICK: The Senate of the 87th Legislature of the state of Texas will come to order.

ALLEN: Today, National Guardsmen and state troopers provided security at the Texas Capitol when Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick convened the state Senate. Outside, members of a group called the Southern Patriot Council said they were there because they believe Joe Biden's election as president was illegal. One member, who would only identify himself to Texas Public Radio as General E, said states are getting ready to pass laws to stop protests like theirs.

GENERAL E: And you won't be able to - to be able to assemble anymore. So the bottom line is assemble now while you can because they are attempting to make it illegal for us to do that.

ALLEN: In Florida, Governor Ron DeSantis is pushing legislation that would increase criminal penalties for violence committed during protests. He first proposed it in September, following last summer's demonstrations around the killing of George Floyd and other African Americans by police. The legislation wasn't introduced, though, until last week, following the violence in Washington, D.C. DeSantis says if there are any protests at the state Capitol between now and the inauguration, law enforcement is ready.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

RON DESANTIS: But that would not be advisable for people to want to do in the state of Florida. And understand our legislation is going to pass this legislative session. So if you riot, you are going to jail.

ALLEN: At Georgia's state Capitol in Atlanta, SWAT teams carrying rifles patrolled the perimeter yesterday as the Legislature opened its session. Around the building, an 8-foot permanent security fence is being erected. Georgia's Capitol was at the center of protests for weeks as votes were counted and recounted following the presidential election. Democratic state Senator Elena Parent had harsh words for members of the Legislature whom she said spread lies and unfounded doubts that encouraged violence.

ELENA PARENT: I saw it firsthand when I became the recipient of death threats as the first quote-unquote "hearing" unfolded.

ALLEN: In Michigan, another state that's seen intense political demonstrations, a commission has tightened security by banning openly carrying firearms in the state Capitol. Armed protesters demonstrated throughout the spring inside and outside the Capitol in Lansing. Some of those involved in the protests are alleged to have participated in a plot to kidnap Governor Gretchen Whitmer. That episode, plus the scenes at the U.S. Capitol last week, have raised concerns among lawmakers and other elected officials about their own safety.

In Washington, D.C., Mayor Muriel Bowser unveiled a series of measures she wants the federal government to take to step up security leading up to next week's inauguration. At a briefing, she was asked if she was worried about her personal safety.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MURIEL BOWSER: Am I scared? If I'm scared of anything, it's for our democracy because we have very extreme factions in our country that are armed and dangerous.

ALLEN: As a precaution, Bowser is asking the Trump administration to not issue any permits for public gatherings between now and the inauguration. And she's asking people to watch it online and not to come to Washington, D.C.

Greg Allen, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.