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Jan. 17, 2021, 6:49 p.m. EST

Small groups of right-wing protesters — some armed — gather at statehouses; no reports of clashes

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By Associated Press

Small groups of right-wing protesters — some of them carrying rifles — gathered outside heavily fortified statehouses around the country Sunday, outnumbered by National Guard troops and police brought in to prevent a repeat of the violence that erupted at the U.S. Capitol.

As darkness began to fall, there were no reports of any clashes.

Security was stepped up in recent days after the FBI warned of the potential for armed protests in Washington and at all 50 state capitol buildings ahead of President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration on Wednesday.

Crowds of only a dozen or two people demonstrated at some boarded-up, cordoned-off statehouses, while the streets in many other capital cities remained empty. Some protesters said they were there to back President Donald Trump. Others said they had instead come to voice their support for gun rights or oppose government overreach.

“I don’t trust the results of the election,” said Michigan protester Martin Szelag, a 67-year-old semi-retired window salesman from Dearborn Heights. He wore a sign around his neck that read, in part, “We will support Joe Biden as our President if you can convince us he won legally. Show us the proof! Then the healing can begin.”

As the day wore on with no bloodshed around the U.S., a sense of relief spread among officials, though they were not ready to let their guard down.

The heavy law enforcement presence may have kept turnout down. In the past few days, some extremists had warned others against falling into what they called a law enforcement trap.

Washington State Patrol spokesman Chris Loftis said he hoped the apparently peaceful day reflected some soul-searching among Americans.

“I would love to say that it’s because we’ve all taken a sober look in the mirror and have decided that we are a more unified people than certain moments in time would indicate,” he said.

The security measures were intended to safeguard seats of government from the type of violence that broke out at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, when far-right Trump supporters galvanized by his false claims that the election had been stolen from him overran the police and bashed their way into building while Congress was certifying the Electoral College vote.

The attack left a Capitol police officer and four others dead. More than 125 people have been arrested over the insurrection.

Dozens of courts, election officials and Trump’s own attorney general have all said there was no evidence of widespread fraud in the presidential race.

On Sunday, some statehouses were surrounded by new security fences, their windows were boarded up, and extra officers were on patrol. Legislatures generally were not in session over the weekend.

Tall fences also surrounded the U.S. Capitol. The National Mall was closed to the public, and the mayor of Washington asked people not to visit. Some 25,000 National Guard troops from around the country are expected to arrive in the city in the coming days.

The roughly 20 protesters who showed up at Michigan’s Capitol, including some who were armed, were significantly outnumbered by law enforcement officers and members of the media.

At the Ohio Statehouse, about two dozen people, including several carrying long guns, protested outside under the watchful eyes of state troopers before dispersing as it began to snow.

Kathy Sherman, who was wearing a visor with “Trump” printed on it, said she supports the president but distanced herself from the mob that breached the U.S. Capitol.

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