Heavily fortified statehouses around US see small protests

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Martin Szelag stands outside the state capitol in Lansing, Mich., Sunday, Jan. 17, 2021. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

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 fell, 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 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 decry 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.