MONTPELIER — Gov. Phil Scott on Tuesday asked would-be protesters not to be “used as pawns” by extremists if they choose to demonstrate at the Statehouse this weekend, and up to Inauguration Day.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation is warning that groups are planning armed protests at all 50 state capitols and at the U.S. Capitol on Sunday, and potentially “storming” state, local and federal government courthouses and administrative buildings if President Donald Trump is removed before the inauguration, as well as on Inauguration Day, January 20.
Vermont State Police, Capitol Police and local police departments are coordinating and preparing for “any eventuality,” Public Safety commissioner Michael Schirling reiterated Tuesday. Schirling said Monday there were no specific threats against the Statehouse.
Asked during his twice-weekly COVID-19 briefing if he had a message for Vermonters, and for those considering protesting, Scott said the potential for gatherings is “something that has our attention.”
“It’s your First Amendment right to gather and protest and make your feelings known,” Scott said. “But I would say don’t be played. Don’t be used as a pawn by some of these extreme groups that are planning these protests throughout or nation to undermine our democracy, to overthrow the government.”
“They are using those who have strong feelings ... they’re using them as pawns,” Scott said of those groups. “They used them in Washington. … Be aware of your surroundings and don’t be used.”
A busload of Vermonters attended the Jan. 6 rally in Washington, which turned into a mob that stormed the U.S. Capitol building after being goaded to action by President Donald Trump and former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani.
Lawmakers inside the Capitol, in the process of affirming Joe Biden’s Electoral College victory in 2020 the presidential election, sought cover just ahead of the mob, including some carrying weapons, explosives and zip-tie handcuffs. Five people died in the insurrection, including a U.S. Capitol Police officer.
Scott said he’s “concerned about the safety of Vermonters every single day.”
Tuesday, Vermont House Speaker Jill Krowinski said she and Senate President Pro Tem Becca Balint had sent an email to legislators, updating them on plans being formulated by the Legislature and by the Capitol Police to make sure lawmakers are protected.
In the memo, Krowinski and Balint said they had heard from many members expressing concerns about security, and that they had been briefed by Chief Matthew Romei and by the Statehouse Sergeant at Arms on “emergent threats,” including national plans for armed rallies on Sunday and Inauguration Day.
“We are working to ensure that Capitol Police have what they need and are coordinating with other relevant law enforcement agencies, including the Vermont State Police and Montpelier Police Department,” Krowinski and Balint said.
Krowinski urged House members to reach out to Capitol Police with questions or concerns, and advise law enforcement of anything they see or hear that may indicate trouble.
“This is a unique and very challenging situation for all of us,” Krowinski said.
“This is still an evolving situation. … We will get through this together,” she said.
State Police Col. Matthew Birmingham said protecting elected officials is a “high priority.”
“If there’s any threat to any legislators anywhere in the state we will work closely with police and federal authorities if necessary,” he said Monday.
Vermont Republican party chairperson Deb Billado, in a release issued late Tuesday afternoon, said despite the state’s tradition of gun ownership, bearing arms “at this rally in our current climate in light of what happened last week would demonstrate an incredible lapse of judgement.”
“We support everyone’s right to peaceably protest their government. The best way to demonstrate that your intents are peaceful is to act peacefully. So if you know of anyone going to such a protest, please encourage them to bring nothing with them which could be used as a weapon,” Billado said.
“If you feel that you need a weapon for your own safety, I would strongly encourage you not to attend the event at all – that may be the safest approach for everyone involved.”