Security officials urge Minnesotans to avoid state Capitol
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Security officials asked Minnesotans on Thursday to consider staying away from the state Capitol complex unless they have specific planned activities or business there.
The request came amid growing concern about potential attacks at state capitols ahead of President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration and following last week’s insurrection at the U.S. Capitol by supporters of President Donald Trump. Gov. Tim Walz on Wednesday activated the Minnesota National Guard to protect the state Capitol. That followed a memo from the FBI Minneapolis field office warning of potential extremist threats to the Minnesota and Michigan capitols this Sunday.
“Out of an abundance of caution, we’re asking those who don’t have planned activity or business at the Capitol to consider visiting at another time,” Department of Public Safety Commissioner John Harrington said in a statement. His department includes the State Patrol, which oversees security in the Capitol complex in St. Paul.
Security has already been stepped up around the state Capitol, which has been closed to the general public for months due to the pandemic. A fence has circled the building since unrest erupted last summer over the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody. State troopers, National Guard soldiers and conservation officers are or will be standing guard and traffic restrictions will be in place. While foot traffic will be allowed, only state employees, contractors, deliveries and people with official state business will be allowed to drive in the restricted area around the building.
Officials have granted two permits for this weekend to the group that organized last week’s “Storm the Capitol” rally in St. Paul, which was peaceful but coincided with the riot at the U.S. Capitol. Hold the Line MN has scheduled a “Freedom Fest” for Saturday and a church service on Sunday. Organizer Becky Strohmeier said Sunday’s event is by invitation only for about 20 friends, while she expected “much less” than the permitted 150 people for Saturday’s event. The Facebook-based group has held regular Saturday protests at the Capitol since the election.
St. Paul Police Chief Todd Axtell said on Facebook Wednesday that “more than a dozen protests, rallies, demonstrations and marches” were planned across the community next week, ranging from small sidewalk gatherings to a large march in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. He said his department had spoken with federal authorities and “can say that we’re not aware of any verified threats at this time.”
Both Harrington and Axtell said they are committed to protecting free speech but are ready to respond to trouble.
“We will continue to track and monitor reports of any individuals or groups that are not interested in a peaceful expression of their First Amendment rights so we can respond accordingly,” Harrington said. “We have been working with our law enforcement partners to develop a coordinated and comprehensive plan to guard the Capitol and protect state employees, visitors and peaceful protestors from harm.”