Gov. Tim Walz said he plans to deploy the Minnesota National Guard for several days in advance of weekend protests at the State Capitol.
Right-wing extremists have made credible threats of violence related to events anticipated Sunday at the Minnesota and Michigan capitols ahead of President-elect Joe Biden's inauguration, according to an FBI report.
"The plans are in place," Walz said of safety measures, and he will issue an order Wednesday to use the Guard, "as we prepare during this specific threat period, to make sure that both our Capitol, our citizens [are safe] and the peaceful transfer of power is done."
Walz said he was on a call Tuesday to prepare for the threats and to coordinate with state law enforcement entities, including the National Guard, Department of Public Safety, Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, State Patrol, Department of Natural Resources and other partners.
"You will see a presence of folks protecting folks' First Amendment rights to peacefully assemble and protest," Walz said of Capitol security. "I would make the case that you got a pretty weak argument if you need to bring a gun to do it. But that's some of what it sounds like will happen."
Guns are not banned on Capitol property. While legislators have discussed tightening gun restrictions there in the past, they have continued to allow people to bring their weapons in and around the building with certain restrictions.
Department of Public Safety Commissioner John Harrington said Tuesday the presence at the State Capitol will look similar to what was in place during the unrest last summer following George Floyd's death. He said they take the FBI report of threats very seriously, but noted that the report is from Dec. 29.
"We are not just relying on the feds, but we are relying on local investigations done by state and by local departments and by partnerships that we have had," Harrington said. "We certainly work with the FBI and with the Department of Homeland Security, and we will continue to do that as we prepare for possible civil unrest or possible demonstrations at the Capitol."
No groups have yet applied to get a Capitol complex event permit for this weekend or around Inauguration Day, a Minnesota Department of Administration spokesman said. Organizers of a "Storm the Capitol" event last week, where hundreds of Trump's supporters rallied in St. Paul the same day the U.S. Capitol was attacked, reserved the space ahead of time.
The group "Hold the Line, MN" posted on its Facebook page Monday urging people not to attend any event at the State Capitol on Sunday and warning of violence. But the post said they will be holding their usual event there on Saturday.
Meanwhile, a tall fence that has surrounded the State Capitol since the protests in May remains in place. Harrington said that barrier has been an "essential component" of keeping the Capitol and people inside the building safe. He said he heard some people at last week's event were frustrated by the fence, but he believes it deterred protesters from committing criminal activity or harming the building or others.
Unlike the fence, Walz noted, a lot of the security work happening now is not visible to the public. Officials are tracking threats being made online.
"Some of those are a little more difficult to find, because they move to corners of the internet, but there are folks that are trained to make sure they are looking for that," Walz said.
Harrington said they are very aware of conversations locally and nationally that mention the state of Minnesota and the State Capitol.
The governor declined to comment on other major buildings in the state that might need protection ahead of Inauguration Day. However, he said the FBI and other professionals are closely sharing information about any potential threats.
Minnesota National Guard Lt. Col. Scott Hawks said Tuesday that the Guard is prepared to deploy.
"The Guard is always ready. We have shown that multiple times this year," Hawks said. "We are planning for the potential [of being needed] as part of our normal operating procedure."
After people stormed the U.S. Capitol last week, Harrington sent a letter to legislators saying they had taken steps to ensure something like that doesn't occur in Minnesota. They added staff on the Capitol grounds ahead of Saturday's "Storm the Capitol" protest and will continue to have more state troopers there, along with Department of Natural Resources officers, Harrington wrote. He also noted there would be increased security inside the Capitol and connected buildings.
Demonstrators also recently showed up at state legislators' homes, some carrying handguns and long guns, Harrington wrote.
Walz said they are also taking steps to protect legislators, including adding 24-hour hotlines for lawmakers and coordinating with local police departments.
Jessie Van Berkel • 651-925-5044
Stephen Montemayor • 651-925-5048