Wednesday, February 24, 2021
Feb. 24, 2021

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In Our View: Officials prepare for threats to U.S. democracy

The Columbian

Overshadowed by last week’s violence at the nation’s Capitol is the fact that insurrections also took place at state capitols.

In Olympia, about 100 pro-Trump supporters breached the steel fencing of the governor’s mansion and roamed around the grounds, which are adjacent to the state Capitol complex. “I was at the residence and I felt that there was good security at the building,” Gov. Jay Inslee revealed the following day. “There was a lone cadet at the gate; he did an admirable job given the circumstances.”

The incident was devoid of the violence that left five people dead during an uprising at the U.S. Capitol. Yet it is shameful that security for elected officials is a more immediate concern than the coronavirus pandemic or the economy; it is shocking that lies about election fraud, put forth by President Donald Trump and echoed by right-wing outlets, have brought our nation to this place.

FBI officials report that “armed protests” are being planned for all 50 state capitols next week in conjunction with the inauguration of Joe Biden as the 46th president of the United States. The inauguration is Wednesday in Washington, D.C.

And an FBI bulletin said officials “received information on an identified group calling for others to join them in ‘storming’ state, local and federal government courthouses and administrative buildings in the event POTUS is removed as president prior to Inauguration Day.”

In Olympia, as the Legislature convened its 2021 session on Monday, security fencing at the state Capitol was defended by National Guard members amid concerns that armed groups might try to occupy the building, which is closed to the public because of the pandemic. In Salem, Ore., the start of the legislative session was accompanied by a heavy police presence. Washington Sen. Patty Kuderer, D-Bellevue, said, “It’s a sad day for our country, isn’t it, where you have to have that kind of security around the people who were elected to represent you.”

Last week’s insurrection in Washington, D.C., and other threats highlight the depths of discord. And they highlight the need for people of good conscience to defend the institutions that have served this nation well.

President Trump has verbally attacked lawmakers, the courts and the media with self-serving, unfounded claims of election fraud. That has diminished us all while serving as a call to arms for his most ardent supporters.

Americans, indeed, have a right to protest and to make their voices heard. But when those protests devolve into threats of “storming” government buildings, it must draw the attention of those who believe in our Constitution and our system of government.

Following last week’s security breach at the governor’s mansion, Sgt. Darren Wright of the Washington State Patrol said: “We weren’t expecting that. We were somewhat prepared, but we could do better and we are evaluating our situation and our tactics.”

Officials must be prepared and must be aware of persistent threats to our democracy. Most important will be a show of force from security officers combined with de-escalation tactics. The right of the people to protest must be protected, so long as those protests remain peaceful.

Inslee has activated 750 National Guard troops to help maintain order at the state Capitol. And Wright said of the Washington State Patrol, which protects the governor’s mansion: “We will have a seen and unseen presence. Beyond that, we are not really going to discuss specifics on security plans.”

It is a sad commentary that we need to discuss them at all.