Small groups of right-wing protesters — some of them carrying rifles — gathered outside heavily fortified statehouses around the country Sunday, outnumbered by National Guard troops and police brought in to prevent a repeat of the violence that erupted at the U.S. Capitol. As darkness fell, there were no reports of any clashes. Crowds of only a dozen or two demonstrated at some boarded-up, cordoned-off statehouses, while the streets in many other capital cities remained empty. Some protesters said they were there to back President Donald Trump. Others said they had instead come to voice their support for gun rights or decry government overreach.
The FBI has warned of armed protests ahead of Wednesday’s inauguration.
President-elect Joe Biden will take office two weeks after pro-Trump protesters stormed the US Capitol in Washington DC on 6 January, leaving five dead, including a police officer.
Many cities prepared for potentially violent protests over the weekend, erecting barriers and deploying thousands of National Guard troops. Protests are being held outside capitol buildings in Texas, Oregon, Michigan, Ohio and elsewhere.
25 members of the Boogaloo Bois movement were among heavily-armed protesters who gathered at the statehouse in Columbus, Ohio. But the men – who are part of a loosely organised extremist group that wants to overthrow the US government – said they were there for a long-planned gun rights rally.
Meanwhile in Michigan, about two dozen people – some carrying rifles – protested outside the statehouse in Lansing, as police watched on.
“I am not here to be violent and I hope no one shows up to be violent,” one protester told Reuters news agency.
But many other statehouses were quiet on Sunday, amid a ramping up of security across US legislatures. So far, only small crowds of protesters numbering in the dozens have gathered in some cities, leaving the streets surrounding many statehouses largely empty.
Outside Pennsylvania’s capitol in Harrisburg, one Trump supporter noted the poor turn-out, telling Reuters: “There’s nothing going on.”
The president-elect is also expected to focus on reuniting families separated at the US-Mexico border, and to issue mandates on Covid-19 and mask-wearing.
The National Mall, which is usually thronged with thousands of people for inaugurations, has been shut at the request of the Secret Service.
The Biden team had already asked Americans to avoid travelling to the nation’s capital for the inauguration because of the Covid-19 pandemic. Local officials said people should watch the event remotely.
More protests are expected on Wednesday, when Mr Biden will officially be sworn into office, replacing Mr Trump as president.
Washington State Patrol spokesman Chris Loftis said he hoped the apparently peaceful day reflected some soul-searching among Americans.
“I would love to say that it’s because we’ve all taken a sober look in the mirror and have decided that we are a more unified people than certain moments in time would indicate,” he said.
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