TALLAHASSEE — Law enforcement from around the state was on high alert at Florida’s Capitol complex Sunday, but there were no protesters and, except for the presence of officers on the roofs of the buildings and the sound of a law enforcement helicopter hovering, it was a sleepy, cool morning in the state that in three days will become the permanent home to outgoing President Donald Trump.
“I hope you’re going to be very bored today,’' said Florida Department of Law Enforcement Commission Rick Swearingen as he emerged from the Old Capitol after a series of meetings with dozens of law enforcement officials who had assembled in the Capitol complex.
He said that there was little sign of activity from pro-Trump activists the FBI had warned about, but noted that much of their communication channels had been disabled on social media.
The National Guard “has been activated and will be in the area,’' Swearingen said. He would not confirm how many troops or where they would be located “should anybody show up” to protest, he said.
The presidential inauguration of Joe Biden is scheduled at noon Wednesday in Washington, D.C.. The FBI warned in a bulletin issued last Monday that pro-Trump protesters, emboldened by the violent attack on the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 that left five dead, could take their hostility to statehouses and protests could become violent.
By Sunday morning, there were no specific threats reported by law enforcement, but the FBI coordinated with state and local officials as well as police from Florida State and Florida A&M universities to demonstrate a show of force and deter violence.
Local officials announced they were closing Tallahassee City Hall and the Leon County Courthouse on Tuesday and Wednesday as a precaution in the event of violence at the state Capitol, which sits between them.
On Sunday, the streets surrounding the courthouse were blocked from traffic and, shortly after noon at least 28 Florida Highway Patrol troopers arrived at the Capitol, along with an armored rescue unit from Tallahassee Police Department.
Throughout the morning, the City of Tallahassee police’s bike squad patrolled the Capitol complex. A bomb-sniffing dog patrolled the perimeter and police occasionally peered down from the outside roof of the state House and Senate chambers.
Besides a few tourists, the Capitol was barren. By mid-afternoon a lone protester appeared, holding a sign that accused Trump supporters of being “brainwashed by a fascist.”
In the past few days, leaders of some far-right groups, such as Enrique Tarrio, the Miami man who leads the Proud Boys, a neo-fascist extremist group, have urged their members to avoid showing up for pre-inauguration protests because they said they feared the events were a “trap.”
Tallahassee Mayor John Dailey said at an afternoon press conference that all landmarks in the city had been covered by teams of security. He thanked Gov. Ron DeSantis for calling out the National Guard, which will remain on alert until Jan. 24.
“We are very well aware of the tensions in American society today,” Dailey said. “We know that everybody is on edge and we know that there are people who probably don’t have the best intentions towards our state Capitol. We want to reassure citizens of Tallahassee and those who are visiting that we are prepared.”
He added, “I hope we have a peaceful day in Tallahassee, but hope is not enough.”
In other states on Sunday, there were some protests. In Columbus, Ohio, about two dozen people, several carrying long guns, protested outside the statehouse as several dozen state troopers positioned around the building monitored them. In Columbia, South Carolina, several dozen people — some carrying American flags — gathered at the state Capitol. And at Michigan’s Capitol in Lansing, a small group of demonstrators, some armed, stood near a chain-link fence surrounding the building as state police walked the grounds and National Guard vehicles were parked nearby.
Tall fencing also now surrounds the U.S. Capitol, the National Mall is closed to the general public, and the District of Columbia’s mayor asked people not to visit. Some 25,000 National Guard troops from around the country were due in the city in the coming days.
“This place is like Fort Knox,” a law enforcement official told the Miami Herald, describing the extensive security precautions in Washington, D.C.
On Friday, the FBI said it “averted a crisis” when federal and state officials arrested a man who identified as a “hardcore leftist” for threatening to kidnap or injure Trump protesters.
Daniel Alan Baker, 33, a former U.S. Army soldier from Tallahassee, was arrested on federal charges after he issued a “call to arms” for a violent attack on protesters on Sunday, according to a news release issued by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Florida.
Florida’s Capitol was seen as an unlikely site for pro-Trump forces to protest government action. Trump now plans to call Florida his permanent home and the Washington Post reported Sunday that his supporters are making plans to turn the state into a “MAGA oasis.”
The Associated Press reported on Friday that the president is planning to depart Washington for his Mar-a-Lago club in West Palm Beach on Wednesday, just before Biden takes the oath of office. Trump’s family, including his adult children Ivanka, Tiffany and Don. Jr, are also moving forward with plans to move to South Florida.
Unlike Georgia, which Trump lost by a narrow 11,780 votes, the president handily won Florida by 3.4 percentage points over Biden, more than doubling his performance in 2016 and no one has contested the results of the election.
Trump needed Florida’s 29 electoral vote in any Electoral College victory, but his narrow losses in a several other states left him with a deficit of more than 7 million votes and about 4.5 percentage points.
Unwilling to accept defeat in a year when the pandemic forced a record number of voters to rely on mail-in ballots, Trump and his supporters attempted to invalidate an estimated 20 million votes, mostly in large cities with large Black populations.
The lawsuits pursued unsubstantiated claims that the “election was stolen,” and many of the challenges had the support of Republican state attorneys general including Florida’s Ashley Moody. But the efforts were rejected by dozens of courts, including many judges appointed by Trump, for lack of evidence.
Pro-Trump protesters have been a weekly Sunday presence at the Florida’s Capitol for several weeks, as they attempted to advance the disputed claims, but the events have been peaceful, police said.
Florida’s congressional delegation has also been kind to Trump. All but five of the 18 Republicans in Florida’s congressional delegation voted to object to Biden’s Electoral College victory and when the U.S. House of Representatives voted to impeach the president for the second time on Wednesday for inciting the rioters who attacked the U.S. Capitol, none of the state’s GOP House members voted to impeach.
Miami Herald staff writer Jay Weaver contributed to this story.
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