The Minnesota State Capitol will remain on lockdown with a significant law enforcement presence for the next several days even after two weekend events by supporters of President Donald Trump remained small and peaceful.
"Increased security measures will continue at least through the presidential inauguration," Bruce Gordon, spokesman for the state Department of Public Safety (DPS), said Sunday.
The two days of quiet came after authorities had warned people to steer clear of the Capitol in the wake of Minnesota and federal law enforcement reports of possible violent protests at state capitols around the country, coming 11 days after the deadly insurrection at the U.S. Capitol by a mob of Trump supporters.
Many state capitols across the country saw a smattering of demonstrators, but most were vastly outnumbered by law enforcement and journalists. A few states like Michigan and Ohio had larger groups show up, some affiliating themselves with the far-right Boogaloo Bois movement, according to USA Today.
An FBI bulletin from late December surfaced last week and warned of the possibility that armed Boogaloo Bois extremists were prepared to use violence at demonstrations in Minnesota and Michigan on Sunday. However, DPS Commissioner John Harrington said that alert's contents are now "dated material."
Event organizer Becky Strohmeier got a permit to lead a four-hour "Sunday Church Service" starting at 11 a.m. that she described as "invite only" and involving about 20 people.
Strohmeier leads the Hold the Line MN group, which for three months has staged weekly rallies at the State Capitol and outside the homes of Gov. Tim Walz and other elected officials. Her group continues to push unfounded claims that the election was stolen from Trump, and Strohmeier said she is holding out hope that Biden will not be sworn in Wednesday.
Sunday's prayer service was by far the smallest event in recent weeks.
As the 11 a.m. start time neared, State Patrol troopers in neon jackets stood in rows outside the Capitol. Some spread out on the steps between the entrance and a protective gate. Others were in lines farther below, where people were expected to gather for the service.
About 11:30 a.m., two people set up and began playing recorded music. They said they were waiting for others to join them.
By around 1 p.m., the five people who gathered for the service were overwhelmingly outnumbered by state troopers and news media. There appeared to be no prayer service as the participants sat in camping chairs and talked.
One of the five, sporting a military-style tactical jacket, handed out copies of the U.S. Constitution. Two counterprotesters held signs but did not interact with the small group.
Slowly, some troopers pulled back to other areas, seeing no large crowd forming.
"It just felt like it was a good day to bring God to the Capitol," said Strohmeier, who ended up spending more time doing media interviews than conducting a prayer service.
Strohmeier said she was not sure what day to do the prayer service but stuck with Sunday after hearing that some people were talking about taking violent action.
"I said, 'Well, that's probably not a good idea to allow that to happen.' So I decided it was a good day to come here and focus on God," she said.
Strohmeier attracted about 500 people to the Storm the Capitol rally on Jan. 6 that is now under investigation by state law enforcement. The event featured increasingly violent rhetoric throughout the afternoon as speakers and attendees cheered the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, where five people died, including a police officer.
Saturday's pro-Trump rally, also organized by Strohmeier, lasted about two hours and drew about 20 supporters, far fewer than the 150 participants the group expected when they applied for the permit.
Some carried U.S. flags and strapped on firearms. One held a "Stop the Steal" sign. The group spent much of the time on folding chairs, chatting. Strohmeier maintained that fears of a counterprotest by antifa, a loose description for far-left demonstrators, kept turnout low.
There were no arrests either day at the Capitol, state public safety spokesman Gordon said.
Star Tribune staff writers Liz Sawyer, Jessie Van Berkel and Stephen Montemayor contributed to this report.
Paul Walsh • 612-673-4482