Florida lawmakers tell staff to avoid state Capitol Sunday because of election protests

Senate President Wilton Simpson said he made the move “out of an abundance of caution.”
The Florida Capitol.
The Florida Capitol.
Published Jan. 12, 2021|Updated Jan. 12, 2021

TALLAHASSEE — Senate President Wilton Simpson, one of the most powerful Republicans in the state, had a message for Florida’s senators Tuesday: stay away from the Capitol this weekend.

Right-wing election protests — or worse — could come to state Capitols across the country in the coming days, authorities have warned. Many of those planning to participate in these events believe the fallacy that President Donald Trump had the 2020 election stolen from him. A Trump-supporting mob of hundreds stormed the U.S. Capitol last week, causing a scene which resulted in five deaths, including that of a police officer.

“It is...very likely that we will have protestors gathering outside the Capitol this Sunday, January 17th,” Simpson wrote to his Senate colleagues and their staff. “Out of an abundance of caution, I am requesting that staff work remotely this Sunday, rather than traveling to the Capitol Complex.”

The Times/Herald reported Monday on an online call for “an armed march on Capitol Hill & all state capitols” set for Jan. 17. It appears Florida leaders saw the same flier.

Jenna Sarkissian, a spokeswoman for House Speaker Chris Sprowls, said in a statement that “The Sergeant at Arms has been in contact with Capitol Police regarding graphics being circulated online that call for storming all state capitol buildings ‪at noon on Sunday, Jan. 17.”

Sprowls, R-Palm Harbor, has also told staff to stay home Sunday, but he did not send out a letter, Sarkissian said.

Both the Senate and the House have increased security measures in recent days. Simpson’s letter noted that his office has made “significant enhancements to the physical security of the Senate.” But he said those upgrades are confidential. And the House has trained its members on an active shooter scenario, Sarkissian said.

Earlier Monday, Gov. Ron DeSantis said he would respond “very quickly” to any demonstrations that become disorderly.

Related: DeSantis says he’s ‘glad’ violent Trump protesters are being arrested