Vermont law enforcement officials are bracing for armed protesters at the Statehouse after the FBI warned of demonstrations in all state capitals between January 16 and January 20, the day of president-elect Joe Biden's inauguration.
Law enforcement agencies — including Vermont State Police, Montpelier Police, Capitol Police and Vermont National Guard forces— are in close coordination “to monitor the threat stream” based on the “national chatter” since a violent mob of pro-President Donald Trump extremists stormed the U.S. Capitol, state Public Safety Commissioner Mike Schirling said Monday.
He declined, however, to describe the specific steps being taken to prepare for the prospect, noting that it’s still unclear what might develop. “We’re planning for a variety of potential eventualities," he said, but no specific threats have emerged.
While “we’re all feeling concern and unease as a result of what we saw last week,” Schirling said, Vermonters are used to working out their differences peacefully. Given the volatility of the political climate, however, Schirling suggested people who do come out to protest in coming days consider leaving their firearms at home.
While he said it’s “not my place to tell people where and when to protest,” he added it “makes sense to rethink the timing” of an anticipated January 17th armed rally, given recent events. “Think twice about whether this is the particular time you choose to bring a weapon to a protest, even if it is a Second Amendment issue,” Schirling said.
Vermont allows people to carry legal firearms in public without a permit, whether openly or concealed. State law forbids carrying firearms inside courts and the Statehouse.
But legal firearms can be carried on the Statehouse steps and on its expansive lawns, said Capitol Police Chief Matthew Romei, though the state Department of Buildings and General Services, which is responsible for the complex, discourages the practice.
Protesters "have a right to peaceably assemble," Romei said. "If that deviates from peaceable, we will enforce the law.”
The heightened sensitivity about the possibility of weapons on the Statehouse steps is understandable given what happened in Washington, D.C., last week, Romei said. Romei said it’s important for the Statehouse grounds to be a place for the sharing of ideas.
“We want people to come to the lawn and express their feelings,” he said. “We also want people to come and be responsible adults and express those feelings no matter what they are. All perspectives and points of view are welcome.”
He stressed, however, that the Capitol Police have been in touch with state law enforcement agencies and they’ve pledged whatever resources are needed.
“I can tell you it’s going to be a different posture,” Romei said. “It’s going to feel different than you’ve seen the Capitol Police before.”