Law enforcement officials in Vermont say they’re preparing for the possibility of armed protests at the Statehouse next week.
Montpelier police issued a bulletin Saturday saying they’re investigating “calls encouraging people to arm themselves and center at all State Capitols in the United States, to include Montpelier, specifically on the date of January 17, 2021.”
Police say they’re “also aware of national trends warning of and encouraging an insurrection” on Wednesday, January 20, the date on which President-elect Joseph R. Biden will be inaugurated.
“We’re looking at national trends. We’re looking for specific threats that may be here - we just want to make sure that we’re prepared,” Montpelier Police Chief Brian Peete said in an interview Sunday morning. “We want to make sure that we communicate with the public to let them know we’re aware of the concerns, we’re aware of potential threats.”
Michael Schirling, commissioner of the Vermont Department of Public Safety, said in an interview Sunday that Vermont State Police are working with local and federal authorities to assess potential threats.
“While I can’t get into the details of threat intelligence for obvious reasons, we are closely following chatter and are in close coordination with federal authorities regarding potential events on both the 17th and the 20th on a national scale and here in Vermont,” Schirling said.
Schirling said the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday is top of mind for law enforcement officials here as they prepare for the possibility of armed protests in Montpelier.
“We will have a variety of assets prepared for any eventuality if the information that comes in between now and either the 17th or the 20th, or any other date for that matter, indicates the need for that kind of response,” Schirling said. “With the heightened sensitivity right now, to the extent there are demonstrations, you’re going to see a much different, more vivid and visible posture than is typical.”
Vermont is an “open carry” state, which means protestors can legally brandish firearms in public spaces.
“Open carrying peaceful protests is something that we have seen before in Vermont, and that would not concern me,” Schirling said. “Something like we saw at the (U.S.) Capitol on Wednesday of course is the absolute worst-case scenario.”
Peete said Montpelier police would not attempt to squelch peaceful protests, even if demonstrators are visibly armed.
“Folks may carry, but we want to make sure there’s no intimidation,” Peete said. "We want to make sure that people aren’t pointing weapons at each other. We want to make sure that people aren’t using weapons against each other, so those are the concerns.”
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