The Arizona Capitol is surrounded by two rows of chain-link fence and police presence has been increased, as authorities brace for possible violence and Arizona Capitol protests in response to the inauguration next week of President-elect Joe Biden.
The preparations come amid reports that the FBI has warned of possible armed protests at all 50 state capitals next week, on the heels of the violent mob that breached the U.S. Capitol as Congress was certifying the election of Biden. Five people died in that attack, including a Capitol Police officer.
The FBI Phoenix office said Thursday that it “has not received any specific and substantiated threat to the Arizona state capitol or other government buildings,” but that it is working with state and local authorities to track security concerns.
Arizona Department of Public Safety spokesperson Bart Graves said in an email this week that the fences were installed around the Capitol complex “out of an abundance of caution” on Jan. 7, the day after the assault on the U.S. Capitol. Protesters also surrounded the state Capitol for hours the same day the U.S. Capitol was stormed, with some of the crowd in Arizona armed, according to news reports covering the Arizona Capitol protests.
Graves said that, in addition to the fence, “security procedures at the State Capitol were previously enhanced, not for one event, but to ensure the safety of the public” and that the situation is being monitored. But he declined to elaborate on those other measures for security reasons.
While lawmakers welcomed the extra security, some worried that more may need to be done in light of the violence seen last week in Washington.
“What we saw in Washington, it really changed our perception of what could happen in the United States,” Arizona House Minority Whip Domingo DeGrazia said Thursday.
Last week’s protest at the state Capitol was the latest in a year of protest in Arizona and across the nation.
Fences outfitted with razor-wire were placed around the Capitol last summer, in response to protests following the police killings of George Floyd and Dion Johnson. And Trump supporters mobbed the Capitol and other state offices in November and December to protest the election that ousted the president.
House Minority Leader Reginald Bolding Jr. said he asked for a briefing for the legislative session that started Monday, on how law enforcement officials had responded to the election protests.
“I learned we had made upgrades in the security systems, but I think there still needs to be more” to ensure that the violence in Washington is not repeated as Inauguration Day approaches, Bolding said.
Calls seeking comment on the security measures from majority leaders in the state House and Senate were not immediately returned.
Brian Gerber, co-director at the Center for Emergency Management and Homeland Security at Arizona State University, said measures taken at the state Capitol appear to be a “reasonable precaution” in a time when “we have seen incursions into state capitols” to protest COVID-19 shutdowns, for example.
“The implied threat when armed protesters go in to disrupt state government business is an unacceptable level of possible violence,” Gerber said of assaults last year on other state capitols.
More worrisome, he said, was the fact that some of those cited in the attack on the U.S. Capitol were police officers from other jurisdictions. “It’s disturbing to think they would betray an oath of public service and make a conscious choice to take part in illegal activities,” Gerber said.
C.J. Karamargin, a spokesperson for Gov. Doug Ducey, said in an email that “the presence of the Arizona Department of Public Safety State Troopers has been increased” at the state Capitol, but did not give numbers. Karamargin also said the “Arizona National Guard will be utilized if necessary.”
“If DPS determines a heightened level of security is warranted, state employees will be advised to work from home,” Karamargin said in an email Wednesday.
DeGrazia said he was disappointed that the Legislature has not shifted more to virtual operations for safety reasons.
“In the context of COVID-19, we should have the ability to conduct our business virtually with the input of our constituents,” said DeGrazia, who thinks distance operations would help reduce physical threats to the Legislature.
Story by Ryan Knappenberger Cronkite News
Ways to stay safe amidst possible Arizona Capitol protests
By Joey Hancock
After supporters of President Donald Trump rioted last week at the United States Capitol, there is a new warning about possible protests at state capitols — including the Arizona Capitol — on inauguration day for President-elect Joe Biden.
In a bulletin released earlier this week, the Federal Bureau of Investigation says the riots at the U.S. Capitol may have only been the beginning of a broader plan of protests throughout the country. The FBI in Phoenix says it is gathering information and anticipates demonstrations leading up to the presidential inauguration.
The FBI sent out a press release on Thursday stating they are not currently aware of any substantial threats in the Phoenix area at the moment and are partnering with local law enforcement to identify any potential threats.
“FBI Phoenix is aware of a report over the weekend indicating there may be protests at state capitols leading up to the inauguration on January 20. At this point in time, the FBI has not received any specific and substantiated threat to the Arizona state capitol or government buildings in our area. However, we are working together with our law enforcement partners to continuously share information based on tips submitted by the public,” according to the press release.
The Arizona Capitol was surrounded by chain-link fences last week following the riot in Washington D.C. A spokesman for DPS said the fence was placed “out of an abundance of caution.”
House of Representatives Sergeant at Arms sent out a memo earlier this week informing members they will be restricted access to the Capitol from 8 p.m. Friday to Tuesday morning and also advised members to avoid the Capitol over the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend.
As protests are likely on inauguration day, the FBI is urging people to remain peaceful in order to ensure the safety of all involved.
“The FBI respects the rights of individuals to peacefully exercise their First Amendment rights. Our focus is not on peaceful protesters but on those threatening their safety and the safety of other citizens with violence and destruction of property,” according to a press release.
For people planning on attending the demonstration, Michael Morrison, president of LionHeart Security Services, says there are simple ways to stay safe and not get caught in a dangerous situation.
Knowing how to immediately exit an area can help people safely leave an area if they feel the situation around them is getting too dangerous.
“Make sure you are aware of your surroundings,” Morrison said. “Constantly be looking around at your surroundings and find your escape routes. Stay to the edge of a large crowd so that a quick escape is possible if things get out of hand. Being caught in the middle can turn dangerous.”
One thing Morrison says he taught diplomats and state department personnel during his 7 years working as security in Africa, is that if you find yourself in a large moving crowd, move to the edge and turn left or right into a side street as soon as you can. After reaching an open area move away quickly to a safer or more secure location.
Morrison also says to try not to stand out in the crowd by wearing certain items or carrying flags promoting one side or the other.
“Leave your M.A.G.A hats and Biden merchandise at home,” he said. “Wearing these items will only help to trigger someone with opposing views. Wear plain clothes and do not provoke others who may be wearing these items or carrying banners and flags promoting either side.”
The FBI continues to remain steadfast in their mission to simultaneously protect the American people, according to the press release.
In conjunction with state and city officials the FBI is prepared for demonstrations at the Capitol on Wednesday and is urging citizens to submit tips regarding potential violence at any upcoming protest by calling (623) 466-1999 or if in an immediate emergency dial 911.
Story by Joey Hancock, who is a freelance writer living in Tempe, Arizona. He has reported on politics, government and breaking news topics for multiple publications throughout Arizona.