FRIDAY, Jan. 15 — A chain link fence was erected this morning around Lansing City Hall as state and city officials brace for the potential of armed and violent protests in the capital city this weekend. The resounding warning: Stay the hell away from downtown Lansing on Sunday.
“It won’t be the best day to go out and take pictures in front of the Capitol,” said Mayor Andy Schor. “Maybe find another route to walk your dog if you live downtown. If you’re a protester, you’re welcome to come and do that peacefully, but violence will not be tolerated on Sunday.”
The Lansing Police Department — in tandem with the Michigan State Police, the FBI, the National Guard and the Ingham County Sheriff’s Office — is expecting an uncertain number of right-wing protesters in Lansing beginning Sunday and possibly continuing through Wednesday.
Many are expected to be armed with rifles. And after at least four people died at the insurrectionist riots in D.C. on Jan. 6, Schor is also prepared for the situation to turn violent.
“We’re hearing reports of Boogaloo Boys, among others, with possibly violent intentions,” Schor said. “Nothing is certain. My hope is that nothing happens, but we thought the fence would be wise. If they can’t get into the Capitol building, the fear is they may turn toward City Hall.”
Meanwhile, the Michigan State Police has ramped up foot patrols surrounding the Capitol building. A 6-foot-high fence is also expected to be assembled around the property today.
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer also authorized the deployment of an unnamed number of National Guard soldiers to Lansing today. Lansing Police Chief Daryl Green labeled the security precautions as “unprecedented preparedness” at a statewide press conference this morning.
“We believe firmly in your expression of First and Second Amendment rights,” Green explained to reporters this morning. “We just ask that you do it safely and respect our city. Those without an intentional purpose and a specific reason to be downtown are encouraged to stay home.”
Details about the number of officers or their specific operational plans were not shared at today’s press conference. MSP officials said they didn’t want to lose the “element of surprise” in being able to effectively combat any potential violence in downtown Lansing on Sunday.
Schor said he will be stationed on Sunday either alongside other law enforcement leaders at the undisclosed location of the state Emergency Operations Center or at a satellite office in City Hall. He said he plans to remain in downtown Lansing as much as possible throughout the day.
“I anticipate a good presence from law enforcement. It won’t be a huge show of force to try to intimidate or instigate things, but people can expect some to be visible and others to be ready to jump into action as necessary,” Schor added. “We’re all going to be working together on this.”
Schor faced criticism — including a call for his resignation — over the summer after local cops lobbed tear gas at protesters and bystanders at a Black Lives Matter protest-turned-riot in May. But that doesn’t mean any crowd control protocols have been changed, Schor explained today.
“If we do decide to use tear gas or some type of chemical agent, then our chief will be involved in that decision. I trust him to make the best operational decision on the ground,” Schor said. “We don’t want to use tear gas, but we’ll have it ready to go if we see things turn violent.”
If the protests get out of hand, Schor is also prepared to issue a citywide curfew as necessary. He said those would be announced on megaphones and across the city’s streetlight speaker system before any tear gas is deployed in order to give people a chance to leave the scene.
“We’re going to see how the day progresses,” Schor said. “It’s not something I expect to do preemptively. Again, we’re not assuming there will be violence but we’re prepared just in case. Our priority would then be on clearing out the streets in the quickest and safest way possible.”
Schor said rubber bullets will not be used on protesters on Sunday. He also doesn’t expect police officers to plow their way through crowds with nightsticks or other reciprocal violence.
“I’d rather not risk any police brutality claim or action,” Schor explained. “Again, tear gas is not something I want to use here, but I will take recommendations from officers on the ground. If there’s a danger and there are safety concerns downtown, that certainly remains a possibility.”
MSP Col. Joseph Gasper said a coordinated law enforcement response to Sunday’s expected protests have been in the works for the lastsaeven to 10 days. And while Gasper refused to shed light on any specific threats on Sunday, he also said that he has been in “talks” with state lawmakers about postponing scheduled legislative sessions next Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.
Green also reportedly sent out an email this week encouraging the public to avoid downtown Lansing unless they have a “state purpose” to be near the Capitol building. That email also disclosed that increased police patrols would begin today and continue through into next week.
In a hint of problems ahead of the protest, the Southeast Michigan Volunteer Militia has also directed its membership to avoid Lansing on Sunday amid the expectation of “maximum chaos” from right-wing hate groups like the Proud Boys and other white supremacist organizations.
“We have received intelligence that this may be a false flag event,” said Michael Lackomar, a militia team leader. “We have additional intelligence that the Proud Boys intend to be there to cause ‘maximum chaos.’ In our security assessments, we believe protesters will not have safe escape from downtown should things go sideways. We are encouraging people to stay away.”
Lackomar also suggested that communist and anti-fascist groups are also covertly planning violence in Lansing on Sunday as part of a conspiratorial type of “false flag” demonstration.
Reporters and other media professionals will not be given formal credentials for Sunday’s protests in Lansing, though they are encouraged to display some form of identification. Still, many are expected to be reluctant to identify themselves as journalists to the crowd after receiving death threats and being painted as “soft targets” by several right-wing extremists.
The Lansing chapter of Black Lives Matter also released a bulletin this week specifically advising Black and Hispanic residents to take the weekend off work and to shelter in place amid fears of growing white supremecist sentiments tied to Sunday’s protests. A post on the chapter’s Facebook page claimed that semi-automatic gunfire was heard today in Owosso, which has been interpreted by the group’s organizers as militia “practice” ahead of the weekend.
Michigan State Police officials also warned that several roads will be closed Sunday during the protests. Those who spot suspicious or unusual activity are asked to submit anonymous tips by dialing 911, 1-855-MICH-TIP, 1-800-CALL-FBI or online at michigan.gov/michtip.
City Pulse will have reporters on the scene. Check back for more updates as they become available.