HARRISBURG, Pa. — The steps outside the Pennsylvania Capitol building were quiet Sunday amid heavy security in anticipation of potential armed protests.
An FBI memo warned armed protests were being planned Sunday in Washington, D.C. and all 50 state capitals ahead of the inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden.
In Harrisburg, Pennsylvania’s state capital, security personnel and journalists covering the expected protests far outnumbered the few protesters who showed up.
At least 500 law enforcement personnel were involved in protecting the Capitol Complex, with participation from multiple agencies including Pennsylvania State Police, Pennsylvania State Capitol Police, Harrisburg Police and about 400 National Guard.
While police cars blocked off some streets surrounding the Capitol, a number of mounted police were stationed nearby and police in riot gear guarded the entrance. A State Police helicopter flew overhead.
One of the handful of protesters who did come, Matt Flower of Northampton County, said people feel targeted by the high amount of security, which had a chilling effect on speech.
“There is so much fear that is brought on by government, brought on by the state, that people who would otherwise be here have decided not to use their First Amendment right to peacefully dissent,” Flower said.
Low turnout, however, doesn’t mean there isn’t still a significant group of people in Pennsylvania who share his views.
“I think maybe we have reached a turning point where there are enough people that don't trust their government, that don't trust the motives of their government,” Flower said.
That lack of trust is a major reason 70 percent of Republicans don’t believe the election was fair, according to a November Politico/Morning Consult poll.
Flower said he didn’t feel he could trust information from government officials or journalists.
“It doesn't bother me too much because I've always been skeptical,” he said.
But skepticism goes both ways.
Pennsylvania law enforcement officials said at a Capitol security press conference that they hoped any election protest would remain peaceful.
In the event the situation changed, they were still prepared.
Pennsylvania State Capitol Police said last Thursday there were no specific threats to the Pennsylvania Capitol.
Heightened security will remain in place and the building will remain closed at least through Inauguration Day, this Wednesday.