COLUMBUS, Ohio — Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine activated 580 National Guard members Tuesday in preparation for what the FBI identified as massive armed protests planned in Columbus and every state capital in the country leading up to Inauguration Day.
“We all saw what happened at the U.S. Capitol. And we know we are very concerned,” DeWine said.
The Republican governor authorized National Guard members from Jan. 14 to Jan. 21 to conduct training and be prepared in case called upon to police the armed riots authorities say are planned at the U.S. Capitol.
The FBI reported online chatter is calling for armed marches Sunday in all 50 state capitols. The marches would occur three days before President-elect Joe Biden is to be sworn in at the U.S. Capitol in Washington.
“You don’t want to condemn the people who are out exercising their First Amendment rights, but you do want to prosecute people who break the law,” state Senate President Matt Huffman said.
Columbus police are working with other law enforcement agencies in the area to coordinate a response to whatever planned or unplanned protests arise, Sgt. James Fuqua, a spokesperson for the Columbus Division of Police, told The Associated Press.
He said a “red line” situation has been declared, which freezes time off for all officers without pre-planned vacations. Fuqua declined to discuss specifics of what is expected or how law enforcement will be deployed.
“We are aware of several planned protests that we take very seriously and continue to plan for, so that we’ll literally be prepared for anything that comes our way,” he said.
Roughly 200 people — some openly carrying weapons and wearing camouflage — protested last Wednesday on the grounds of the Statehouse in downtown Columbus, but made no attempt to force their way into the building as was the case in Washington.
Many of those in Columbus carried pro-Trump flags and signs. Some wore T-shirts declaring their allegiance to the far-right group the Proud Boys. At times they clashed with counter-protesters from the Black Lives Matter movement.
It is legal to openly carry firearms in Ohio, and it often occurs on Statehouse grounds. But guns — openly carried or concealed — are forbidden inside the Statehouse.
Huffman told The Lima News he met with the state patrol and other law enforcement agencies on Tuesday, but called the meeting routine, noting it is held prior to the opening of any new legislative session. It’s unlikely the Senate will be in session until February, Huffman told The Lima News.
“Traditionally, some members of the Senate want to attend the inauguration of the presidents in their party, so we weren’t going to schedule something then in deference to any Democrats who wanted to attend the inauguration.”