Carson City braces for potential armed protests ahead of Biden inauguration

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David Calvert / The Nevada Independent

A group supporting President Donald Trump stands outside the Nevada Legislature on the fourth day of the 31st Special Session in Carson City, Saturday, July 11, 2020.

Wed, Jan 13, 2021 (2 a.m.)

The storming of the U.S. Capitol last week by extremist supporters of President Donald Trump and ongoing protest threats by white supremacist militia groups nationwide through Inauguration Day has law enforcement at the Nevada statehouse in Carson City on high alert.

Carson City Sheriff Ken Furlong said discussions between law enforcement agencies in Carson City, which include the Capitol police, have been ongoing since March after demonstrations began to protest COVID-19 restrictions. The agencies gather at least once a week, he said.

“Obviously (the response is) scaled up and down depending on the threat and the nature of the threat,” Furlong said.

There was a demonstration in Carson City Jan. 6, the same day the U.S. Capitol was stormed, but demonstrations did not escalate in Nevada in the same way. Protesters mainly drank beer and sang along to classic rock songs, a far cry from the chaos unfolding in Washington, according to the Reno Gazette-Journal.

“Fortunately, unlike what occurred in D.C., the demonstration that occurred here in Carson was largely cooperative and we had no reason to escalate our response,” Furlong said.

The FBI on Monday warned of armed protests being planned in all 50 states and in Washington leading up to President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration on Jan. 20. Furlong said that law enforcement was aware of these reports, but said he could not comment on future operations.

Mark Pitcavage, a senior research fellow at the Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Extremism, said authorities in state capitals and other major cities besides Washington should prepare for the possibility of violent protests next week.

“A lot of people were energized by what happened last week,” he said. “State capitals are a natural place where people might want to show up, especially assuming that they think there might be a huge presence of police and military in D.C. because of what happened last week.”

Pitcavage tracks militias, white supremacists and other far-right extremists, but he said the Capitol siege demonstrated the emergence of a new movement of ”Trumpist extremists, so caught up in the cult of personality around Trump that they may be willing to break the law or engage in violence purely in support of Trump and whatever he wants.”

The Nevada Police Union, which represents employees in the state Department of Public Safety, released a statement after the riot in the Capitol expressing concern that Nevada police are not “fully staffed, trained, equipped or prepared for an attack” like the one in Washington.

“The proper investment in public safety has been neglected for decades. Now is the time to modernize the state police, increase officer training, and draw on federal funds to provide more resources to prepare us for future events of unrest and violence,” Matthew Kaplan, president of the Nevada Police Union, said in a statement.

Ahead of the insurrection in Washington, smaller demonstrations, some turning violent, had occurred at statehouses around the country. In a few examples, armed protesters in May forced their way into the Michigan statehouse — ahead of an October plot by militia members to kidnap Democratic Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer — and far-right protesters stormed the Oregon Capitol in December.

Ammon Bundy, a Nevadan who led the far-right occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in early 2016, took part in a disruption of a special session last summer of the Idaho Legislature by a coalition of anti-vaccine and anti-government extremists.

Bundy told the Associated Press that the protests in Idaho may have inspired some of the protesters in Washington.

“All over the states, all over the country, we have a situation where government officials think they can go behind closed doors and make decisions for the people where the people are not able to witness it,” Bundy said. “Maybe they needed a reminder by us, but this is something that’s traditional in our country that our founders did — reasserting the premise that the people are the ones who are sovereign.”

The Nevada National Guard has not been activated by Gov. Steve Sisolak, although spokesperson Mickey Kirschenbaum said the Guard had been in contact with law enforcement agencies for planning purposes. They’ve also been dispatched to Washington to provide security, logistics and communications support for Biden’s inauguration.

Legislative Counsel Bureau Director Brenda Erdoes said that managing protests has always been a part of police training at the statehouse. The Legislative Police is armed and visible, especially during meeting of the Nevada Legislature, which will open next month under intensified security.

“The No. 1 focus of the Legislative Police is the protection of lives, then property. The Legislative Police have always included crowd management and dignitary protection as part of their normal training regimen,” Erdoes said in a statement. “This includes protection of the rights and the safety of all persons who come upon the legislative buildings and ground.”

The insurrection at the Capitol, she said, didn’t change any security policies because they’d already begun to adapt.

“It’s not that we’re not reacting, it’s just that we’ve been working on this for a long time,” Erdoes said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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