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Despite violence in DC, state houses appeared quiet across New England

The Capitol in Boston remains closed to the public amid the pandemic

The dome of the Massachusetts State House looms over the Boston Common.John Tlumacki/Globe Staff/The Boston Globe

A day after a mob stormed the US Capitol, trampling on American democracy’s literal bedrock, its cradle was otherwise quiet.

The Massachusetts State House stood stoically in downtown Boston Thursday, still closed to the public amid COVID-19 precautions. Vermont officials were busy preparing for their governor to be sworn in. In New Hampshire, a small group of elected officials, including Governor Christopher Sununu, gathered Thursday inside a 28-foot-by-48-foot room at State House in Concord, took their oaths, and dispersed after all of 10 minutes.

“And this concludes what is going to go down as the shortest inaugural ceremony in the state’s history,” Sununu said.

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The chaos and violence that shook Washington, D.C. on Wednesday has rattled Americans and put officials on alert. But it’s so far not prevented many regular government events in New England — swearing-in ceremonies, news conferences, legislative work — or spurred what public safety personnel consider specific threats to their own seats of government.

It’s nevertheless likely to prompt some officials to reconsider how they approach protecting their own State Houses, where security and personnel can vary dramatically from state to state.

“I don’t think there wasn’t [an official at] any capitol that wasn’t watching last night and saying, ‘Wow what can I learn from this? What can we improve? What can we harden up?” said Matthew Romei, chief of the Vermont Capitol Police. The State House there is one of a handful nationwide that doesn’t screen people before they enter the building, he said, and tightening protocols is a regular discussion among officials.

“I think there’s definitely going to be conversations about [security] this year,” he said.

In New Hampshire, Sununu already had canceled plans a week earlier for an outdoor inaugural event, citing “armed protesters” who he said targeted his family and protested outside his home, where a person was arrested and nine others were fined following a protest there.

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The person who was arrested said he was legally carrying a concealed gun, according to the New Hampshire Union-Leader, which reported that picketers have regularly gathered outside Sununu’s home to protest his “perpetual emergency” amid the pandemic.

Sununu, speaking at the ceremony Thursday, pointed to “public safety concerns over the past month” that spurred the small, indoor ceremony, with it “really accumulating with the tragedy we saw down in Washington DC.”

“Obviously we’re here under some very unique circumstances,” he said.

Vermont Governor Phil Scott, a Republican who said Wednesday that Trump should resign or be removed from office after inciting the mob of loyalists, was sworn in during an outside ceremony Thursday afternoon and, similar to Sununu, had scheduled a virtual inaugural address Thursday night.

Authorities closed streets and blocked off parts of the lawn at the Montpelier State House, but that was largely due to the fact the event was outside — and, ultimately, Romei said, without incident.

“We have what mounted to a boring day,” he said.

Public safety officials around New England said Thursday they were unaware of any specific threats to their own government buildings in the wake of Wednesday’s siege in Washington. David Procopio, a spokesman for the Massachusetts State Police, said it was monitoring “potential protest activity” and that police’s goal is to ensure people can demonstrate “freely, provided they do so peacefully.”

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Indeed, one demonstration State Police cited on Wednesday involved roughly 50 people peacefully marching to the State House from Nubian Square in Roxbury in protest against President Trump and his supporters. By the evening, the crowd had grown to about 100 people, the Globe reported.

Paul Raymond Jr., a spokesman for New Hampshire’s Department of Public Safety, said police are aware of a number of planned rallies being discussed on social media but there were no threats directed at the State House itself.

“We don’t expect any violence in New Hampshire today or in the coming days,” Raymond said. “We certainly are prepared for any contingency.”

It wasn’t entirely calm elsewhere. Officials in several states, including Texas, Utah, and Georgia, closed or partially shuttered their State Houses on Wednesday, and Georgia’s secretary of state, Brad Raffensperger, was escorted with his senior staff from the state’s capitol building after militia members gathered outside.

Raffensperger has been a frequent target of Trump amid his false claims that the election was stolen from him, and the president last weekend pressured the secretary of state in a phone call to “find” enough votes to overturn Biden’s win there.

Public safety officials historically provide few details about plans for increased patrols or other changes to their operations. At the Massachusetts State House, which is typically patrolled by rangers from the Department of Conservation and Recreation, there wasn’t a noticeable increase in police outside the building, where largely only elected officials, staff, and reporters have been allowed since last spring amid the pandemic.

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Inside, legislative leaders presided over an uneventful swearing-in of the governor’s council Thursday, and Governor Charlie Baker held an afternoon briefing on the coronavirus. He opened the news conference by pillorying Trump for stoking outrage and repeatedly attacking the election, saying Trump “refused to adequately prepare the US Capitol for the possibility of violence and left it nearly defenseless.”

Baker also referred back to the demonstrations against police brutality that proliferated around the country in the spring and summer. Some turned violent, including in Boston, but the vast majority were peaceful.

“The president [back then] was the first to call out local and state officials for not doing enough to protect their residents and demanded that every agitator be arrested and prosecuted,” Baker said. “And yesterday he thanked the mob for their support. The whole thing makes me sick.”

In Rhode Island, Colonel James M. Manni, the superintendent of the State Police, said officials were taking some measures to include “an increased State Police presence statewide,” but otherwise said there were no credible threats to the State House’s security.

It was a similar message in Connecticut, where Brian Foley, a spokesman for the state’s Department of Emergency Service and Public Protection, said police and officials opened “early lines of communication . . . with some folks in D.C. and in state that might have a heightened concern.”

“Generally, if members of our communities see additional law enforcement at any government facility, they should not be alarmed, as these types of actions are taken out as a matter of standard protocol and not related to any specific threat,” he said.

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Material from Bloomberg wire services was used in this report.


Matt Stout can be reached at matt.stout@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @mattpstout.