Connecticut law enforcement agencies are bracing for protests at the state capitol this weekend. The FBI is warning all 50 states to prepare for the potential that those armed protests could turn violent.
Though local agents say there’s been no substantiated threat to Connecticut, authorities aren’t taking any chances.
While the Connecticut National Guard is headed to help secure Washington D.C. ahead of the inauguration, an untold number of troops will stay behind to handle security here at home, joining State and Capitol police.
“Obviously due to the security situation we can’t speak to any specifics. We’ll certainly be in the area but we are also throughout the entire state,” said Captain David Pytlik of the Connecticut National Guard.
Besides the size of the troops called up to help, their exact locations, and other operational details will not be made public.
Pytlik said the guard’s job isn’t to stop any potential protests but to make sure they remain peaceful.
“As members of the military we’re sworn to uphold and defend the constitution of the United States. Obviously, our duty is to protect people, property, people’s constitutional right to peacefully protest,” he explained.
The Hartford Police Department said it will also have more officers on standby in the area over the weekend.
“We will not tolerate any violence of any kind and we’ll be fully prepared for it,” said Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin.
That preparation comes from the more than 200 protests, marches, and rallies that were staged throughout Hartford last year.
Reaction to the results of last November's presidential election took a violent turn in the nation's capital earlier this month. Now, the FBI is warning all 50 states that their own capitol buildings could be the next target.
"We're concerned about the potential for violence at multiple protests and rallies,” FBI Director Christopher Wray told Vice President Mike Pence this week.
"Some of these people really do believe that democracy is being stolen,” said Sen. Gary Winfield, a Democrat who represents New Haven and West Haven. “I think they believe their duty is to defend democracy. The way you defend democracy is by defending elections and making sure that they are real and true and represent the will of the people.”
Controversy has certainly carried over to the state Capitol before. Associate criminal justice professor Mike Lawlor says even massive protests here have always remained peaceful.
"There's never been any damage to the property, there's never been an assault on a police officer or a member of the legislature,” said Lawlor, who teaches at the University of New Haven. “I remember back in 1991 when the income tax was first enacted here in our state there was a crowd of 40,000 people who came to the Capitol to protest.”
More recently, vaccinations, COVID orders that shut down parts of the state’s economy, and the presidential election have drawn crowds to the Capitol.
CT Freedom Alliance, the group that organized a rally outside the state capitol on the opening day of the legislature, told NBC Connecticut that it is not planning to participate in any protests in the coming days nor has any knowledge of protests being planned.
"I think it's really important for everybody to know that while there have been reports of planned activities at state capitals nationwide, FBI and other sources are not indicating any specific threat here in Hartford or against our state Capitol, that being said we will be prepared for anything that presents at threat to our community or our state capitol,” said Bronin.
The FBI’s New Haven bureau told NBC Connecticut it will continue to monitor for potential threats around the clock through Wednesday’s presidential inauguration.
Bronin and Winfield both urged those who want to counter-protest to also stay home.
"Anybody who is thinking they need to come and resist the other side, don't take that burden on yourself," said Bronin. “Let law enforcement handle it."
“I don’t think that counter protests are the thing that we should be doing,” added Winfield. “We saw in Washington DC that these aren’t just protests. These are potentially something more, something much more dangerous, and adding agitation into that mix isn’t the wisest thing.”
Winfield suggested those on both sides of the debate to find a different way to defend democracy.
“We have election results that some people love, some like, and other people don’t like, move on and do the work of building this country not tearing it down,” he said.