Police Chiefs: No specific threats yet against Pa. Capitol, but ‘an abundance of caution’ still necessary
Two Capitol Police officers with rifles stand in the East Wing Rotunda on Monday, Jan. 11, 2021. (Capital-Star photo by Stephen Caruso)
A coalition of state, local and federal law enforcement agencies plan to deploy a bomb squad and close city streets in order to secure Pennsylvania’s Capitol complex next week, as reports of armed attacks on government buildings nationwide circulate on social media.
Law enforcement officials told reporters on Thursday that there have not been specific threats against the state Capitol in Harrisburg, which abuts residential neighborhoods and the city’s downtown business district.
But in the wake of the bloody siege of the U.S. Capitol by pro-Trump extremists last week, officials say they’re forced to fortify the Capitol building against generalized threats of violence.
Officers from the Pennsylvania State Police and Harrisburg Police Department will help the Capitol Police guard the Capitol complex and its surrounding areas on Sunday to fend off potential property damage or acts of aggression by groups that may stage protests that day, said Joe Jacobs, superintendent of the Capitol Police Force.
The Pennsylvania National Guard also has activated 400 members to provide backup, but only some of them will be in Harrisburg, Jacobs said. Others have been providing security in Washington, D.C.
Those agencies will have support from the Federal Bureau of Investigation and state Attorney General’s Office.
Jacobs said the threat they are most closely monitoring is an online flier calling for an armed march to the U.S. Capitol on Sunday, which instructs marchers to descend on state capitols instead if they can’t make it to Washington, D.C.
“We are taking actions out of an abundance of caution to be prepared should any situation arise,” Jacobs said.
The state Capitol will be closed to the public for two days next week, and many employees with offices there have been instructed to work from home.
The Capitol Police, the state-run agency that patrols the Capitol complex, has already heightened its visible police presence outside the Capitol in the days since the Jan. 6 attack, Jacobs said.
This coming weekend, the Pennsylvania State Police plans to supplement its normal troop complement around the Capitol; lend helicopters and drones for aerial surveillance; deploy mounted units for crowd control; and station its bomb squad at the Capitol to monitor suspicious packages and potentially defuse explosive devices, State Police Lt. Col. Scott Price said.
The Harrisburg Police Department will patrol city streets around the Capitol and secure Harrisburg’s city government building on North Second Street.
City Chief Thomas Carter said the agency would also close some city streets to traffic this weekend, but said he couldn’t disclose which ones.
Each agency said it would continue to monitor social media platforms and online message boards to gather intelligence in the coming days.
But Price said intelligence gathering efforts have been somewhat complicated as tech platforms and executives crack down on incendiary speech.
The microblogging platform Parler, which touts itself as a free-speech haven, went offline this week after multiple web vendors denied it service.
After banning President Donald Trump from its platform on Friday, Twitter purged more than 70,000 accounts linked to the Capitol riot, the company announced this week.
Price said intelligence-gathering agencies have seen users migrate across social platforms and message boards in the days since Jan. 6. Some online channels have also become less active, he said, since users may now assume they’re under the eye of law enforcement.
“It’s become somewhat of a challenge, but not insurmountable,” Price said. “We have other conduits to glean information.”
Law enforcement officials are also appealing to the public to report suspicious activity. Pennsylvanians can report tips by email at [email protected], or by downloading the state’s See Something, Send Something app.
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