SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah National Guard is sending approximately 350 troops to the nation’s capital ahead of next week’s presidential inauguration.
Meanwhile, Utah Gov. Spencer Cox has declared a state of emergency ahead of expected protests at the state Capitol building.
National Guard spokesperson Lt. Col. Jaime Thomas said the group is headed to Washington, D.C., to support civil authorities for the inauguration of now President-elect Joe Biden, which is scheduled for Wednesday, Jan. 20. Thomas said the service members will stand ready to “protect lives, preserve property, protect critical infrastructure, and the right to peacefully assemble” during the inauguration.
After the storming of the U.S. Capitol and the subsequent riots that occurred there on Jan. 6, federal officials in Washington have been on high alert to prevent further attacks. According to Reuters, the FBI has warned of armed protests being planned for Washington and all 50 U.S. state capitals in the days leading up to the inauguration.
Acting U.S. Attorney General Jeffrey A. Rosen said preparations continue to be made to prevent such a scenario.
“Security preparations for the presidential inauguration and peaceful transfer of power continue,” Rosen said in a Thursday Department of Justice press release. “We will have absolutely no tolerance whatsoever for any attempts to disrupt any aspect of the inauguration or associated events leading up to, on, and following January 20.”
Rosen also said progress is being made to identify, apprehend and charge those who were involved in criminal activity during the riots.
To date, approximately 80 cases have been charged and 34 individuals have been arrested for their alleged criminal conduct during the Capitol building attack, according to the DOJ release. The FBI has opened approximately 200 case files and received about 140,000 digital media tips from the public. Many of the tips are coming from friends, co-workers and other acquaintances of those alleged to have been involved in the attack, the DOJ says.
As for the Utah Guard response, Thomas said service members who are being deployed for the inauguration were scheduled to be flown from Salt Lake City to Washington on Friday, by the Utah Air National Guard’s KC-135 military aircraft.
“The Utah National Guard has responded to domestic emergencies on an unprecedented level this past year,” Maj. Gen. Michael Turley, UNG adjutant general, said in a statement. “We are proud to support our partners and serve our fellow Americans once again. Every member of the Utah National Guard is committed to our national and military values and our oath to uphold and defend the Constitution of the United States.”
Some 14 airmen from the Utah Guard’s 130th Engineering Installation Squadron will also be in Washington, providing “Joint Incident Site Communication Capability” in support of the inauguration. According to the Department of Defense website, JISCC provides a “communication bridge” to first responders during emergencies. The system is often used in areas hit by hurricanes after local communication infrastructure is damaged and unreliable.
Cox, a Republican, has asked the National Guard, Utah Highway Patrol and local police departments to stand by to intervene and protect the Utah Capitol in case protests turn violent.
His order allows authorities to close Capitol grounds through Jan. 21, the day after Biden’s inauguration in Washington.
“We respect the right of Utah residents to peaceably assemble as guaranteed in the U.S. Constitution,” Cox said in a statement. “But we draw the line at threats to physical safety or to the Utah Capitol building. No violence of any kind will be tolerated.”
One group secured a permit to protest at the Capitol on Sunday, according to state troopers. Authorities expect 500 to 1,500 people to attend.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.