Walz to deploy National Guard to protect Minnesota Capitol
ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Gov. Tim Walz said Tuesday he plans to deploy the Minnesota National Guard to protect against potential threats to the state Capitol ahead of President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration.
Walz told reporters he plans to issue the executive order activating the National Guard late Tuesday or on Wednesday, but that troops will be activated for several days.
The governor said he spoke earlier Tuesday with Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer about a Dec. 29 FBI memo warning of threats to the Minnesota and Michigan state capitols for this weekend. He said tweets from President Donald Trump last spring with calls to “liberate” the two states that Biden went on to win in November “kicked a whole lot of gears into motion.”
Walz said he also got a briefing from a joint force of several state law enforcement officials. The governor said they are taking the threat very seriously and are taking the necessary precautions as they expect protesters to return to the Capitol.
“You can probably anticipate you will see a presence of (law enforcement) protecting folks’ First Amendment right to peacefully assemble and protest,” he said. “I would make the case that you have 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.”
The Minnesota National Guard said in a separate announcement that it would deploy a company of more than 130 solders to Washington in support of security for the inaugural. Col. Scott Rohweder, the Guard’s operations director, said the Guard has sent members to previous inaugurations, too.
The storming of the U.S. Capitol last week by Trump’s supporters has raised concerns about the potential for more violence. The FBI has warned of the potential for armed protests at all 50 statehouses and in Washington ahead of Biden’s inauguration.
The Dec. 29 FBI memo said “a few Minnesota-based followers of the Boogaloo movement” attended legal protests at the Minnesota Capitol last month to “perform reconnaissance” on law enforcement and to identify “escape points and defensible positions in the event that violence occurred.” It said they also scouted out “law enforcement sniper locations” that would need to be blown up to protect extreme right-wing Boogaloo fighters if a gun battle broke out.
No permits have been issued for any protests at the state Capitol through the inaugural, according to the state Department of Administration.
Trump supporters in Minnesota held a “Storm the Capitol” rally outside the statehouse last Wednesday, with one speaker warning of “a civil war,” and another drawing cheers when she predicted “casualties” in Washington. Walz revealed at a legislative forum Monday that state troopers evacuated his son from the governor’s residence when the demonstration later shifted there.
Walz said Tuesday there is a “heightened increase of concern” among lawmakers after Minnesota protesters threatened to show up to the homes of elected officials and posted their addresses online. The governor said his administration is coordinating with local police departments, boosting security at the Capitol and setting up a 24-hour hotline for lawmakers to access state resources. The Capitol is currently closed to the public and the Legislature is conducting most of its business remotely due to the pandemic.
Besides the fence that has surrounded the Minnesota Capitol since last summer since the unrest over the death of George Floyd, the State Patrol has increased its presence there to respond to various threats and prevent unlawful entry, Department of Public Safety spokesman Bruce Gordon said in an email.
“We are aware of the national reports of potential insurrection and are tracking possible protest activity as we stand ready to guard the Capitol and protect state employees from harm,” Gordon said. “We will continue to enhance our response and change tactics as needed.”
Walz, a former history teacher, announced plans to visit several American historical monuments across the state to call for peace and civility following last week’s events. The governor started with the Minnesota History Center on Tuesday, and plans to visit the Wasioja Historic District in southern Minnesota on Wednesday and the Soldiers and Sailors Monument in Duluth on Thursday.
Karnowski reported from Minneapolis. Ibrahim is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.