About 20 supporters of President Donald Trump who ventured out in icy conditions for "Freedom Fest" at the Minnesota State Capitol on Saturday were met by a massive security presence meant to discourage any repeat of the violent insurrection in Washington, D.C., this month.
The event lasted about two hours and drew far fewer than the 150 participants allowed by the state permit. Organizer Becky Strohmeier of Bloomington got the permit on behalf of Hold the Line MN, a group that describes its role as "rallying behind our president."
Some carried U.S. flags and strapped-on firearms. One held a "Stop the Steal" sign. The group spent much of their time on folding chairs, chatting. Strohmeier maintained that fears of a counterprotest by "antifa," a loose-knit group of far-left demonstrators, kept turnout low. On Sunday at 11 a.m., she planned to return to the Capitol to lead a four-hour, invite-only prayer service for 20 people.
Leading into the weekend, Gov. Tim Walz and Public Safety Commissioner John Harrington warned people away from the Capitol.
Access to the building and grounds was tightened. Access streets were closed and barricaded with military-style Humvees. At noon, when the rally was to start, a phalanx of some 100 state troopers lined the Capitol steps and sidewalks.
The intense security was a result of the deadly attack at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 by supporters of Trump, who fueled the riot with his false claims that the presidential election was stolen from him. The U.S. House impeached Trump a week later, with 10 Republicans joining Democrats.
Strohmeier demurred when asked whether she believes President-elect Joe Biden would be sworn in, calling the situation "fluid." She said she will end the protests in that event.
Guy Watkins toted an American flag around the Capitol steps clutching a sign reading "Keep Peace! Keep Peace!"
"I'm all about building bridges," the Lakeville man said. A Trump supporter, he said he drove to Washington last week to attend the president's rally, but never made it close to the U.S. Capitol.
Since November, Strohmeier has led protests outside the governor's residence. She said her agenda Saturday was "gathering, talking, praying, potentially singing."
email@example.com • 612-673-1747 • Twitter: @rochelleolson