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Wisconsin gears up for possible violence at state Capitol

Wisconsin gears up for possible violence at state Capitol

Riot Prep 011321 10-01132021213905 (copy)

Some windows of the Wisconsin State Capitol Building have been boarded in anticipation of potential armed demonstrations or unrest.  

State officials have boarded up the windows of the Wisconsin Capitol building, upped the number of law enforcement on the grounds and taken other steps to prepare for potential unrest in downtown Madison this weekend.

While no direct threat is anticipated, according to the Madison Police Department, leaders in Madison and other state capital cities across the nation are heeding a warning from the FBI and gearing up for possible armed protests in the days ahead of President-elect Joe Biden's inauguration on Wednesday.

['We are prepared': No threat anticipated, but Madison police plan 'enhanced' presence]

Earlier this week the windows of the Capitol were boarded up, and additional law enforcement officers are expected to be stationed in and around the building over the next few weeks, according to a recent memo. A later email from Capitol Police announced parking restrictions for the weekend in the stalls and driveways around the Square.

Officials are also encouraging Capitol staffers to work remotely through the end of the month "while law enforcement agencies continue to monitor potential threats," Department of Administration Secretary Joel Brennan wrote in a memo to the Legislature and other Capitol occupants Monday that was shared with the Cap Times.

"The  tragic  and  alarming  events  of  last  week  at  the  U.S.  Capitol  in  Washington,  D.C.,  coupled with the current political climate, have created a situation that necessitates stronger security protocols for the capitol building," Brennan wrote, adding that law enforcement in recent days and weeks "have identified numerous credible threats to state capitols across the country, including Wisconsin."

While Capitol Police have not yet advised the Legislature to avoid in-person hearings or sessions next week, a Friday notice from Chief David Erwin to lawmakers that was shared with the Cap Times noted law enforcement would "have an increased presence in the capitol during legislative business the week of the 18th."

The notice also specifically asked staff and legislators to "avoid being present at the capitol building this weekend." While it said Capitol Police is currently "not aware of specific threats to lawmakers," it warned the situation was evolving "and there continues to be active social media commentary regarding the threat of ongoing unrest."

DOA and Capitol Police are working with local, state and national partners to bolster security and monitor threats, the notice said.

Some of those local partners include the Dane County Sheriff's Office, which has been asked to assist Capitol and Madison police "in the event of any unrest," a spokeswoman said.

Meanwhile, MPD Acting Chief Vic Wahl said Thursday the agency will maintain an increased presence (including additional MPD personnel and specialized teams as they’re needed) through Inauguration Day to better respond to potential issues.

Wahl said MPD is aware of two events — one focused on the election — planned for Sunday and recommends residents avoid the area if they don’t need to be downtown.

A second event, described as “antifascist mutual aid action,” is planned for Sunday and is hosted by Urban Triage and the Madison General Defense Committee of the IWW. The event’s announcement on Facebook also calls for justice for Jacob Blake, a Black man who was shot in the back seven times by a Kenosha police officer.

MPD is also working with the UW-Madison Police Department and State Patrol, while Gov. Tony Evers earlier this week activated members of the state's National Guard.

Little information about the troops, part of the Wisconsin National Guard Reaction Force, was announced, including details about numbers, timelines and equipment, which officials said in a release was intended "to protect operational security."

Later in the week, Evers authorized some 500 members of the Guard to head to Washington, D.C. to help safeguard the national Capitol. Those troops include soldiers from various Wisconsin Army National Guard units, as well as airmen from the Wisconsin Air National Guard, per the release.

Separately, the U.S. Postal Service is also preparing for potential violence at state capitols across the nation, including in Wisconsin, by temporarily removing blue collection boxes near the statehouse, according to a Friday report from CBS 58.

The removal is occurring "out of an abundance of caution for the safety of our employees and to prevent damage to postal equipment," a spokesman told the outlet.

Abigail Becker contributed to this report.

Briana Reilly covers state government and politics for the Cap Times. She joined the staff in 2019, after working at WisPolitics.com. Follow her on Twitter at @briana_reilly.

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