Security tightening as Capitol hopes for the best

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The state Capitol is going to feel a lot different in the coming days, and it starts with a 6-foot-high fence around the front.

The protective barrier will be built Friday as a preemptive move against any potential destruction stemming from protests presumed to be coming to Lansing next week in advance of President-elect Joe Biden’s swearing-in.

The FBI sounded the alarm that all 50 state Capitols could expect destructive demonstrations similar to what went down at the nation’s Capitol last week, and nobody is taking any chances.

A big pile of plywood is being brought in just in case a window is broken and needs to be covered up immediately. The plan — for now — is not to preemptively board up windows, but that could change.

The theme for now is to plan for the worst and hope for the best when it comes to protecting the state Capitol — outside and inside.

Retired Michigan National Guard Brigadier General Michael McDaniel, the associate dean of Western Michigan University’s Cooley Law School, told “Michigan’s Big Show” the siege of the Capitol last week was seen as a win by those involved. They’ll “certainly” be willing and wanting to try it again.

“Once you sort of permit or recognize or normalize political violence, it doesn’t go away,” he said.

Clearly, the Capitol folks are starting to take the matter much more seriously by their abrupt decision to ban the open carrying of guns at the Capitol on Monday.

After putting off a similar proposal for three months at the end of 2021, the Capitol Commission not only approved the ban, they did it at a hastily called meeting this past Monday, a full week before they were scheduled to get together.

Attorney General Dana Nessel and numerous Democratic legislators doesn’t think the move goes far enough. Nessel said she’s afraid someone will need to be killed in a hail of gunfire before a full firearms ban is implemented at the Capitol.

That may or may not be. Republican legislators aren’t in a hurry to institute stricter gun control measures that they’ll need to justify to their conservative constituents. They also don’t want to create a logjam getting into the building once COVID-19 isn’t as much of a thing.

Making lobbyists, journalists, guests and staffers stand behind a parade of school kids in line at a metal detector is something legislative leaders are trying to avoid.

Logistically, the Capitol Commission felt they couldn’t have banned all weapons immediately anyway.

In the shadow of these feared violent protests, they couldn’t have put in the metal detectors soon enough to make a difference if the FBI’s concerns of violent protests at all 50 state Capitols prior to Jan. 20 comes to pass.

What else you can expect at the Capitol area the next couple weeks? A lot more police officers and fewer state employees.

At the Attorney General’s Office, employees who still need to show up at their Capitol Complex offices are being asked not to show up on specific days next week out of fear of the protests.

Michigan State Police spokesperson Shanon Banner said that security enhancements include both seen and unseen measures and that the MSP are aware of the online promotion of upcoming marches on state Capitols. 

“In general, we don’t publicly discuss security measures so as not to provide an advantage to agitators, but I can confirm that out of an abundance of caution, we have already increased visible MSP presence at the Capitol, and these resources will remain in place for at least the next couple of weeks,” Banner said. 

The security planning is fluid, she said, and adjustments are being made as needed from day to day. According to Banner, the MSP is in communication with both federal officials and law enforcement in other states, with more information foreshadowed to be shared on either Thursday or Friday.

(Kyle Melinn of the Capitol news service MIRS is at melinnky@gmail.com.)

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