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Additional troops sent to D.C., Ohio Statehouse closed through next week ahead of presidential inauguration protests

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Posted at 11:26 AM, Jan 14, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-14 19:37:32-05

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Eight days after a violent mob stormed the U.S. Capitol building, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine and law enforcement officials publicly announced safety measures and closures in place ahead of any planned presidential inauguration protests in Columbus this weekend.

“The sad truth is there are people in our country who want to turn peaceful protests into opportunities for violence. These are violent people. And their violence will not be tolerated in Ohio. It will not be tolerated anywhere,” said DeWine on Thursday in a stern warning to anyone looking to agitate any peaceful planned protests.

Beginning Jan. 17, through the 20th, the Ohio Statehouse will be closed as well as all state office buildings in downtown Columbus. Personnel who work in any state office building will work from home or other alternate work locations.

While much of the focus of Thursday's announcement centered on anticipated protests in the state's capitol, state leaders also said National Guard members and state troopers will also be at the ready to respond to situations in other parts of the state, including Cleveland.

"We have a close relationship with the mayors throughout the state of Ohio and when they perceive a problem and when their police chiefs perceive a problem and they need assistance, we will be there in regard to what they need," DeWine said. "It's important to have enough force there from the beginning and not have to bring force in. The ability to control violence or to lessen the chance of violence. I think that dynamic has changed by simply the presence of a large number of forces."

DeWine also approved the activation of several hundred additional members of the Ohio National Guard to assist federal authorities in Washington D.C, bringing the total number of guardsmen at the Capitol to approximately 700.

The governor signed a proclamation Thursday that mobilizes the Ohio National Guard to assist law enforcement in Columbus and anywhere else in the state they are needed.

Maj. Gen. John C. Harris of the Ohio National Guard said federal authorities in Washington D.C. requested members with specific capabilities ranging from units equipped to provide voice and data backup to the Homeland Response Force—a dedicated unit that is highly trained to perform search and rescue missions in confined and high spaces, in the worst-case scenario.

The call of soldiers from around Ohio to come together to protect the state capital raises concerns about the threat of the coronavirus.

"These are the kind of risk decisions we have to make. We have to respond. This is our responsibility to the people of Ohio and the oath that we took," said Harris as he discussed protocols in place to keep soldiers as safe as possible.

Because there’s still a pandemic, Harris said every member will be tested for the virus. Masks will be worn and social distancing will be practiced as much as possible.

Col. Richard Fambro, the superintendent of the Ohio State Highway Patrol, said law enforcement around the state has been actively gathering intelligence on any potential groups or individuals that are intent on using the protests for nefarious purposes. He said the violent outbursts on Jan. 6th are on law enforcement's minds.

"Yes, the events of January 6th changed the way we look at things but it's not really different from a planning perspective as we look at security throughout what we do as an agency," Col. Fambro said. "We're there to listen and to hear what you have to say. We understand that you have a right and a belief system that you want to display and we're there to assist you in doing that. But we ask that you follow those ground rules and more importantly communicate with us and if you see something, say something."

The potential threat for bad actors seeking to hijack the protests is a main concern, officials said. Last summer, some peaceful protests following the death of George Floyd, including those in Cleveland and Columbus, devolved into riots because of those bad actors. Those situations re-affirmed the need for better communication amongst local and state agencies.

"Throughout the summer as we saw the demonstrations and protests, it was abundantly clear to us that communication is key and the belief that peaceful protests are always welcome," Fambro said. "We're just prepared to ensure that we have partnered with all of the people and agencies and entities to allow for peaceful protests. That's the hope, that's the messaging and that's the communication."
Col. Richard Fambro, the superintendent of the Ohio State Highway Patrol, said law enforcement around the state has been actively gathering intelligence on any potential groups or individuals that are intent on using the protests for nefarious purposes. He said the violent outbursts on Jan. 6th are on law enforcement's minds.

"Yes, the events of January 6th changed the way we look at things but it's not really different from a planning perspective as we look at security throughout what we do as an agency," Col. Fambro said. "We're there to listen and to hear what you have to say. We understand that you have a right and a belief system that you want to display and we're there to assist you in doing that. But we ask that you follow those ground rules and more importantly communicate with us and if you see something, say something."

The potential threat for bad actors seeking to hijack the protests is a main concern, officials said. Last summer, some peaceful protests following the death of George Floyd, including those in Cleveland and Columbus, devolved into riots because of those bad actors. Those situations re-affirmed the need for better communication amongst local and state agencies.

"Throughout the summer as we saw the demonstrations and protests, it was abundantly clear to us that communication is key and the belief that peaceful protests are always welcome," Fambro said. "We're just prepared to ensure that we have partnered with all of the people and agencies and entities to allow for peaceful protests. That's the hope, that's the messaging and that's the communication."

Law enforcement and DeWine remained tight-lipped on specific security tactics and information against the possible threats to the statehouse and other buildings. DeWine said the Columbus Division of Police, the Ohio State Highway Patrol and the National Guard will be out “in full force” in Columbus.

The public can expect visible fencing around the statehouse and other state office buildings. Officials said they didn't have a specific number of people planning to protest but stressed whether it was 1 or 1,000 people, law enforcement is ready.

Columbus Mayor Andrew Ginther recommended residents who don’t need to be downtown this weekend should stay home.

"In the coming days, we will not allow hate, violence, or destruction to be part of our city," said Ginther. "Our constitution gives everyone the right to protest peacefully. It does not give anyone the right to incite violence, harm, or to intimidate others or destroy property. This is not a partisan issue. It is our responsibility as Americans and elected leaders to protect the safety of our residents and defend our city, state, and nation against those who seek to tear it down."

RELATED: ‘We’re very concerned’ – Gov. DeWine activates National Guard ahead of potential armed protests in Ohio, Washington