ST. ALBANS — Following warnings from federal law enforcement about more potential protests occurring in state capitols across the country next week, local and state officials are staying vigilant and watching for potential threats.
These protest rumors swirl as President Donald Trump was impeached for the second time by the U.S. House of Representatives on Wednesday.
So far though, law enforcement officials in Franklin County haven’t heard of any specific protests planned for the run up to the inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden.
“We have not gotten any real updates for this area as of yet,” said St. Albans City Police Chief Maurice Lamothe on Wednesday morning.
Lamothe said a conference call was scheduled Wednesday afternoon with state and local law enforcement officials regarding any potential protests. He said there have been “social media pockets” discussing protests in certain areas around the state.
“There is definitely intelligence coming across the whole state,” Lamothe said, adding that any intelligence regarding potential local protests will be shared with city leaders.
“We’re just trying to get ahead of it,” he said.
Following the events of Jan. 6, when protestors stormed the U.S. Capitol Building as Congress worked to certify Biden’s victory, the FBI warned that protests were planned in state capitols nationwide from Jan. 16 through inauguration day, Jan. 20, according to media reports. Five people died as a result of the riots last week in Washington, D.C.
At the state level, Vermont Department of Public Safety Commissioner Mike Schirling said officials are “in close coordination with federal state and local authorities.” During a press conference Tuesday, Schirling said there were no indications of disruption in Vermont.
Gov. Phil Scott said that while protesters have a First Amendment right to free speech, Vermonters should understand why they are protesting, citing information that protests are being billed as Second Amendment rallies.
“My fear is they’re using law-abiding citizens who believe in the Second Amendment, and using them as pawns in this scheme to cause disruption and overthrow the government,” Scott said. “That’s my biggest fear, is that Vermonters are being duped.”
Deb Billado, chair of the Vermont GOP, released a statement Tuesday urging those considering attending any potential protest to do so peacefully — and unarmed.
“First, I want to stress that to my knowledge, not one Republican I know has plans to attend, or has any interest in attending such an event here in Vermont. While Vermont holds a proud tradition of a right to bear arms, doing so at this rally in our current climate in light of what happened last week would demonstrate an incredible lapse of judgement,” Billado said in the statement.
Lamothe on Wednesday said he is “all for peaceful protest and people peacefully speaking their mind,” but what happened in the nation’s capitol is crossing a line.
“Even outside of hearing anything, we’re not naive. Anything that happens nationally happens in New England, happens in Vermont, happens in Franklin County,” he said. “We as a community and as a police department have to prepare for anything that can occur.”
Swanton Police Chief Leonard Stell said there hasn’t been any “actionable intelligence” regarding any potential local protests, but urged anyone who has heard of any such events — whether in Swanton or elsewhere in Vermont — to call their local law enforcement officials.
“It’s pretty tragic and upsetting what we saw the other day … that people would stoop to that level,” Stell said of the events of Jan. 6.
Lt. Jerry Partin, station commander at the Vermont State Police St. Albans barracks, said as of Wednesday he has not heard word of a protest in St. Albans.
“I’ll be keeping my fingers crossed that everything’s peaceful,” he said of the days leading up to inauguration day.