Public officials, police, and Vermont's Republican and Democratic parties are urging caution ahead of what law enforcement authorities have called possible plans for armed protests at the Vermont Statehouse.
The potential threat prompted the Montpelier City Council on Wednesday to pass a resolution recommending the closure of schools, the Statehouse and city hall on January 20, the date president-elect Joe Biden is sworn in. And on Friday, the Vermont Judiciary announced it would cancel all in-person hearings and meetings scheduled for Tuesday and Wednesday.
“The Judiciary is taking these precautionary steps to ensure continuity of operations and safety in light of reports that public gatherings during the federal inaugural week carry a risk of vandalism or violence in some parts of the country,” Patricia Gabel, the state court administrator, said in a statement.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation has warned local law enforcement in all 50 states about potential threats by armed pro-Trump extremists who falsely claim that President Donald Trump won reelection in November.
Trump supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol on January 6, an insurrection that led to the killing of a police officer and four other deaths.
Law enforcement officials have flagged Sunday, January 17, and Wednesday, January 20, as two dates of potential armed protest.
The Montpelier resolution calls for “residents and visitors to make the safe choice and refrain from direct in-person counter-protest activity due to the risk of violence.
“There are other ways, safer ways to make your voice heard and to stand up for what you believe in,” the resolution reads. “We’re asking you to consider safety first during these events. In addition, there is neither need nor necessity to be armed at a peaceful protest, and anyone coming to any of these events, please do so without firearms.”
In a statement issued Tuesday, the Vermont Republican Party made a call for protesters to leave their guns at home. But aside from the potential safety issues, chair Deb Billado framed the decision as a way to prevent a gun grab by the liberals.
“For years gun rights groups have been able to demonstrate peacefully, often times exercising their right to bear arms and it has never, ever been a problem,” she wrote. “But doing so this weekend may ensure that it happens for the last time. We face a near super-majority of Democrats in the VT legislature and one tragic event could be all that separates us from measures that would otherwise be unprecedented and unnecessary.”
In the aftermath of the Capitol riots, Billado, a fervent Trump supporter, has been on the receiving end of calls to resign her post from members of her own party who believe she hasn’t been forceful enough in condemning the president and protesters for what happened on January 6. Asked on Friday whether he supported Billado’s ouster, Gov. Phil Scott, a Republican who has been critical of Trump, declined to answer, saying instead that the party as a whole has some “soul-searching” to do in the weeks ahead. He also declined to say whether he would leave the Republican Party over what had happened.
Meanwhile, there’s a city to protect. The Vermont State Police, Montpelier police, Capitol Police and the Washington County Sheriff’s Department “are continuing to plan for any potential protests, disruptions or other eventualities that might occur in the Capital Region of Vermont in the days ahead,” the agencies said in a joint statement.
“To ensure operational security, police are unable to describe details of the measures, seen and unseen, that agencies are taking,” the statement said, adding that they “are working in close coordination with one another and with local, state and federal law enforcement partners in threat monitoring and mitigation.”
The Vermont Democratic Party, for its part, on Friday urged counter-protesters to stay home.
“This is not a threat we can keep ignoring, and the best weapons we have against it are making ourselves heard and talking to our neighbors,” says a Facebook post that notes warm drinks and food would be available. “We want to reclaim this space as a clear stand against fascism and ensure that even if they do show up, they are vastly outnumbered.”
See a statement from Montpelier Mayor Anne Watson below: