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FBI warns of plans for nationwide armed protests next week

Armed men stood on the steps at the State Capitol on Jan. 6 after a rally in support of President Trump in Lansing, Mich.
Armed men stood on the steps at the State Capitol on Jan. 6 after a rally in support of President Trump in Lansing, Mich.Paul Sancya/Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — The FBI is warning of plans for armed protests at all 50 state capitals and in Washington in the days leading up to President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration, stoking fears of more bloodshed after last week’s deadly siege at the U.S. Capitol.

An internal FBI bulletin warned that, as of Sunday, the nationwide protests may start later this week and extend through Biden’s Jan. 20 inauguration, according to two law enforcement officials who read details of the memo to The Associated Press. Investigators believe some of the people are members of some extremist groups, the officials said. The bulletin was first reported by ABC.

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“Armed protests are being planned at all 50 state capitols from 16 January through at least 20 January, and at the U.S. Capitol from 17 January through 20 January,” the bulletin said, according to one official. The officials were not authorized to speak publicly and spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity.

A spokesperson for the FBI Boston field office released a statement to the Globe when asked about the bulletin.

“The FBI respects the rights of individuals to peacefully exercise their First Amendment rights,” the statement said. “Our mission of protecting the American people and upholding the Constitution is dual and simultaneous, not contradictory. Accordingly, we are committed to investigating violent behavior and those who are exploiting legitimate, peaceful protests and engaging in violations of federal law.

As of Monday, the statement continued, “the FBI Boston Division is not in possession of any intelligence indicating any planned, armed protests at the four state capitals in our area of responsibility. (ME, MA, NH, and RI) from January 17-20, 2021. As always, we are in constant communication with our law enforcement partners and will share any actionable intelligence.”

In a statement, the Massachusetts State Police said it was aware of “general statements” but no specific threats to public safety in Massachusetts.

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“The Massachusetts State Police are aware of many general statements that have been made online regarding potential protest activity, including one posting calling for ‘peaceful armed protest’ in all 50 state capitols that was the basis for an FBI bulletin,” the statement said. “To date, we are aware of no specific threat to government venues or to public safety generally in Massachusetts. We are in contact with the FBI continue to share information through our Fusion Center with federal, state, and local partners. We will continue to monitor all available intelligence over the coming days, will be prepared for any contingencies, and will adjust our security operations accordingly.”

The FBI issued at least one other bulletin — they go out to law enforcement nationwide on the topic — before the riots last week. On Dec. 29, it warned of the potential for armed demonstrators targeting legislatures, the second official said.

Army Gen. Daniel Hokanson, chief of the National Guard Bureau, told reporters on Monday that the Guard is also looking at any issues across the country,

“We’re keeping a look across the entire country to make sure that we’re monitoring, and that our Guards in every state are in close coordination with their local law enforcement agencies to provide any support requested.”

The riots followed weeks on online calls for violence in Washington in the waning days of Donald Trump’s presidency.

A tweet in which Trump promised that last Wednesday’s event “will be wild” fueled a “month-long frenzy of incitements, strategizing, and embrace of violence against lawmakers,” according to a research group that tracks online extremism activity, In a report issued Saturday, the SITE Intelligence Group also warns that the Capitol attack has emboldened Trump-supporting extremists.

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“No matter how all this plays out, its only the beginning,” posted a user on TheDonald message board, according to the report.

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Kunzelman reported from College Park, Maryland.