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Quiet Vt. Statehouse amid concerns about armed protests nationwide

Published: Jan. 17, 2021 at 5:33 PM EST
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MONTPELIER, Vt. (WCAX) - There were no protests at the Vermont Statehouse on Sunday.

The FBI warned of armed protests at all 50 state capitals after pro-Trump supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6.

But Montpelier’s Statehouse was quiet.

Still, Vermont law enforcement officers were ready to defend. Heavily armed officers from Vermont State Police, Montpelier Police and Capitol Police surrounded the building all day, many with rifles.

Police said they did not know of any credible threat of violence against the Statehouse, but they wanted to ensure any potential violence would be met with appropriate force.

Luckily, there wasn’t any violence to respond to. The turnout was much lower than anyone was expecting, including Ian from Montreal, the only Trump supporter who showed up.

“I wasn’t expecting to be here alone, especially as a Canadian,” Ian told WCAX News.

Ian, who didn’t want to give his last name, said he wanted to express his support for free speech and for President Donald Trump.

“A lot of people see the good he’s done. A lot of people see the good and wish he hadn’t said or done some of the things he’s done,” said Ian. “I think he’s been a good president and I just hope the next four years are equally as positive and constructive.”

The two counter-protesters who stopped by said they were pleased with the low turnout.

“I think it’s great. It’s awesome. That’s what we want,” said Belynda Jestice, who described herself as ANTIFA.

She said she wanted to let people know that violence of any kind would not be tolerated in Vermont.

“When the far-right are planning rallies and anti-fascists show up instead, the far-right often cancel and don’t show up at all and that’s the plan,” she said. “The plan is just to let them know that we’re here and it’s not going to happen and we’re going to make sure of that.”

Dozens of counter-protesters did show up at Montpelier’s City Hall. They gave out free food and masks.

Vermont State Police Capt. David Petersen said police made no arrests on Sunday and no citations were given.

He says law enforcement will maintain their presence at the Statehouse for the next few days.

“We’re going to go ahead and continue this posture at least through the inauguration and in this present time, there’s no plans to change that,” Petersen said.

Petersen also declined to say how many officers were guarding the Statehouse.

“I’m not going to go into details on the number of law enforcement present. We had adequate staffing. Our goal was to have a very visible presence today, and I think we accomplished that goal,” he said.

Police officers from Burlington, Colchester, Shelburne, Berlin and Newport were also in Montpelier surveying the area.

SMALL COUNTER-PROTEST AT MONTPELIER CITY HALL

Down the street at Montpelier City Hall, about three dozen counter-protesters held signs calling for the end of fascism and demanding Washington, D.C., riot-goers be held accountable.

“That’s why I’m here, because a statement that fascism with firepower is crossing a line in democracy,” said one organizer, who wouldn’t share their name.

The “Neighbors Against Fascism” organizers did say they want to create discussions in the community, opposing the far-right.

“To process current events deepens understandings and relations and to weave our individual capacities into a collective fabric and to create a world with no tolerance for fascism,” an organizer said.

The gathering went against pleas from the governor, community leaders and law enforcement to stay away from Montpelier Sunday. They said they went anyway because Vermonters can’t rely on the military, police and government to oppose fascism, so the community must take the matter into its own hands.

“History shows that opposing the far-right demands that there be active, organizing mobilization and protest for people who want a different future,” said Paul Fleckenstein of Burlington.

Though this particular event was planned to counter potentially armed protests at the Statehouse, the group also gathers at City Hall every week, handing out free food and masks to the community.

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