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Georgia, S.C. authorities stay on alert for violence at state capitols

Published: Jan. 13, 2021 at 5:00 AM EST
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ATLANTA - Law enforcement agencies are in a heightened state of alert at the Georgia and South Carolina capitols as the FBI warns of possible armed protests there ahead of the inauguration of Joe Biden as president.

The Georgia Bureau of Investigation said it is aware of the reports of planned protests and is monitoring the possibility, and the Georgia Department of Public Safety remains alert to the danger.

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp is assuring residents the state is ready to handle any potential threats against the Capitol.

He says state leaders welcome peaceful protests, but after last week’s riot in Washington, they are preparing for anything.

Although the threat level is low at the Georgia Capitol right now, “we are taking nothing for granted,” he said.

“I think you can see what happens when you do that, looking back to last week,” he said.

The Georgia Department of Public Safety continues to monitor protest activity and to evaluate security measures on Capitol Hill, Col. Chris Wright, the agency commissioner, said at a Tuesday news conference.

“We have a strategic plan to provide a safe and secure environment at the Capitol,” he said.

“As always, we will continue to support those who wish to exercise their First Amendment rights in a peaceful manner. However, we will not tolerate any unlawful behavior or threats of violence or damage to state property. We are prepared to respond in the appropriate manner as we have always done in the past.”

Wright also stressed that anyone who act with disregard for the laws of the state will be dealt with swiftly and accordingly.

At the GBI, spokeswoman Nelly Miles said: “We are also in communication with our partners and will continue to do what is necessary to ensure safety and security.”

The Georgia National Guard is on standby for duty at the state Capitol while also helping out in Washington, D.C.

In South Carolina, the Department of Public Safety increased security last week, according to Bureau of Protective Services Maj. Dwayne Brunson.

Brunson said his agency is continuing to work with state and local law enforcement agencies.

“We are remaining in a state of heightened security and vigilance and monitoring developments in the state and around the nation,” he said.

South Carolina State Law Enforcement Division spokesman Tommy Crosby confirmed his agency received a warning from the FBI about plans for “possible armed protests in the nation’s state capitals,” including Columbia.

“We are and have been in constant communications with our federal, state and local partners about this information and are prepared to provide any necessary assistance as required,” Crosby said.

Neither SLED nor the FBI have provided specific details about the possible protests.

South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster’s spokesman, Brian Symmes, said the governor “has great confidence in South Carolina’s law enforcement agencies.”

City of Columbia Police Chief Skip Holbrook released a statement yesterday saying a multi-agency security plan will be in place. He says authorities are also monitoring social media as well as other sources to track any planned protests.

Was Capitol siege a surprise?

The FBI warned law enforcement agencies ahead of last week’s breach of the U.S. Capitol about the potential for extremist-driven violence, U.S. officials said on Tuesday, contradicting earlier statements that they were caught off guard by the assault by supporters of President Donald Trump.

Nearly a week after the riot, officials said they were combing through mountains of evidence and vowed to aggressively seek out those who perpetrated the brazen attack on the U.S. Capitol. Though most of the charges brought so far have been misdemeanors, acting U.S. Attorney Michael Sherwin said the Justice Department was considering bringing sedition charges against some of the rioters, effectively accusing them of attempting to overthrow or defeat the government.

“This is only the beginning,” Sherwin said. “We’re going to focus on the most significant charges as a deterrent because, regardless of it was just a trespass in the Capitol or if someone planted a pipe bomb, you will be charged and you will be found.”

The Justice Department has created a specialized strike force to examine the possibility of sedition charges, which could carry up to 20 years in prison. Officials said they were utilizing some of the same techniques in the riot probe as they use in international counterterrorism investigations, examining the money flow and movement of defendants leading up to the breach. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat, called for the rioters to be added to a no-fly list, a tool most commonly associated with terrorism investigations.

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From reports by WRDW/WAGT, WIS and The Associated Press