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Trump supporters threatened state Capitols but failed to show on Inauguration Day

A huge law enforcement presence and the quick arrests of U.S. Capitol rioters dampened enthusiasm, sources said.
Supporters of former President Donald Trump gather at the Utah State Capitol in Salt Lake City on Jan. 20, 2021.
Trump supporters gather at the Utah state Capitol in Salt Lake City on Wednesday.Rick Bowmer / AP

National Guard troops on high alert, police barricades lining the streets, government buildings shuttered — the surreal high-security scene in Washington was mirrored at state Capitols across the country Wednesday as a nervous nation braced for more violence by Trump supporters opposed to the inauguration of President Joe Biden.

In the two weeks since the deadly Jan. 6 siege of the U.S. Capitol, federal, state and local law enforcement agencies, concerned that the right-wing extremists who continue to back former President Donald Trump might stage another attack on Inauguration Day, had turned Capitol campuses into fortified encampments.

But the fury appeared to fizzle after Trump exited the White House and Biden took the oath of office and officially became the 46th president of the United States.

"The message that was sent by law enforcement ahead of the inauguration was very clear, that there would be thousands of police officers and troops guarding these buildings," said Brian Higgins, the former police chief in Bergen County, New Jersey. "I'm sure that is one reason why there haven't been many protesters."

Higgins, who teaches at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City, said that as investigators sift through the online postings of extremist groups, it is often difficult to separate actual plots from postings that are meant "to stir us up."

"Intelligence is often a judgment call, because people post crazy stuff every day," Higgins said.

Another factor, law enforcement sources said, was the "shock and awe" of the swift arrests by the FBI and the Justice Department of the pro-Trump rioters who ransacked the Capitol.

There was exactly one pro-Trump protester outside the heavily fortified New York state Capitol in Albany.

"I was coming out to hopefully join a bunch of peaceful protesters in supporting the cause, that is almost a lost cause now, unfortunately, I'm sad to say," Mark Leggiero, who was holding a Trump flag, told The Daily Gazette of Schenectady.

Image: Protester in Albany, N.Y.
Trump supporter Mark Leggiero holds a banner outside the New York State Capitol on Wednesday.Hans Pennink / AP

Outside the Pennsylvania State Capitol in Harrisburg, NBC News spotted a single pro-Trump protester wearing a jacket emblazoned with the words "Impeach China Joe."

In California, a small group of protestors got past a police barrier and began chanting outside the heavily guarded and fenced-off state Capitol in Sacramento. But they appeared to be antifa activists and could be heard denouncing Trump.

After the storming of the U.S. Capitol, the FBI sent a memo to law enforcement agencies warning about possible armed protests at all 50 state Capitols starting last Saturday, Jan. 16.

So when a small group of armed Trump supporters showed up Sunday at the Ohio Statehouse in Columbus to protest the election results, they were vastly outnumbered by law enforcement officers.

In Salem, Oregon, the few Trump backers were even more outnumbered by police officers and members of the National Guard.

And in Trump bastions like Oklahoma, the protesters simply failed to show.

Still, there was plenty of reason to worry about violence on Inauguration Day. Last month, a person was shot during post-election clashes between pro- and anti-Trump demonstrators in the Washington state capital, Olympia.

And in what turned out to be a prelude to the U.S. Capitol siege, armed protesters opposed to Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's Covid-19 lockdown orders swarmed inside the State Capitol in April.

In June 2019, a "possible militia threat" by right-wingers opposed to a climate change bill forced the closing of the Oregon state Capitol.