With reports of a planned protest on Sunday and more possibly running through Inauguration Day, security at the Utah State Capitol building has been increased, according to the Utah Highway Patrol.
“We are increasing staffing going into the legislative session in response to planned protests starting this weekend,” said Lt. Nick Street, public information officer for the Utah Highway Patrol.
UHP is in charge of security at the Capitol in Salt Lake City, and the increased security comes after an FBI bulletin obtained by ABC News outlined armed protests expected at all 50 state capitols starting this week.
The bulletin also added that the FBI has received information on a group calling for the “storming” of state, local and federal government administrative offices on Inauguration Day, and also if President Donald Trump is removed from office prior to Inauguration Day.
Street confirmed that a protest is planned for Sunday at the Utah State Capitol, and from the information UHP has been able to gather through open source media, it sounds as if there will be a large showing of protesters.
He added that Sunday’s planned protest will have “all hands on deck,” from UHP troopers along the Wasatch Front.
As for the biggest concerns for troopers on Capitol Hill, Street said that troopers swear an oath to protect constitutional rights but also have to protect life and limb.
“If January 6th taught us anything, it’s that there is a delicate balance between freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, freedom of the press and the right to bear arms, which all were on display on January 6th,” Street said, referring to Trump supporters swarming into the U.S. Capitol.
“However, our first priority is to protect life and limb, and if that needs to supersede allowing certain other rights, then that is going to be superseded by our need to protect life and limb,” Street said. “It’s a delicate balance and it’s not something that we take lightly; we’re in consistent discussions and know that this is on the radar.”
Street also brought up the vandalism that occurred at the Capitol building on May 30 during protests following the death of George Floyd, adding that troopers will be protecting private property as well as taxpayer property.
While the bulletin from the FBI warned of armed protest, this is something Utah has seen often at the grounds of the state Capitol.
“Here in Utah that is nothing new to us,” Street said.
He then cautioned people against bringing firearms to the Capitol to provide “security.”
“To those individuals that, as we learned through 2020, are showing up to planned protests armed to offer additional security, please understand we are not asking for that, we are not sanctioning that,” Street said. “We feel that additional firearms at an event like that, or firearms in general outside of the ones carried by state troopers, add an extra variable to an already heated situation.”
He stressed that the Utah Highway Patrol is in no way soliciting additional security help and if it were to do so, it would call on local law enforcement or the National Guard through the governor.
With the planned protests for the coming weeks, the start of the legislative session and the governor’s State of the State address coming up, UHP also pulled a planned 40 troopers from heading to Washington, D.C., for Inauguration Day.
Street was actually supposed to participate this year, just as he had four years ago, but the decision was made after looking at risk assessments with the upcoming protests. The feeling was that the extra 40 troopers would be better if available in the state than they would be assisting with security in the nation’s capital.
“Providing travel for that many people and especially with the limited amount of flights that are occurring during the pandemic, one missed flight or one issue with a flight and it might be a day or two before those same 40 troopers could get back here to do the job that the taxpayers in the state of Utah pay them to do,” Street said.
When asked if the increase in security was something UHP did every year, Street said that 10 or 15 years ago the Utah Capitol looked much different. There used to be only five troopers on assignment each day but now there are about 10 times that number.
The increase is aimed at keeping the building as open as possible to the public during the session. Street said that UHP is currently in discussions about safety protocols at the Utah Capitol, but he did say people can at minimum expect bag checks going in and out of the building during the legislative session as well as some more potential security measures.
As for a message to protesters who may be planning on attending protests at the Utah Capitol, Street emphasized the importance of the First Amendment before focusing in on peaceful protests.
“The key thing I would like to tell people that want to have their voice heard, that want to come up and take advantage of their First Amendment rights, is that unlawful activity will not be tolerated and will be met by state troopers,” Street said. “We will not stand for unlawful activity. When you’re at the Capitol to protest, please do so peacefully and we will be very supportive of your right to do that.”
The Utah legislative session starts on Jan. 19, the day prior to Inauguration Day.