2020 election

Alabama Officials Not That Worried About Protest at State House

Law enforcement officials are hoping the Alabama capitol and all of Goat Hill in Montgomery stay quiet this weekend.(Source: Wikimedia commons)

UPDATED  — The FBI says that “armed protests” could erupt at state capitols in all 50 states, and some officials are making significant preparations to face a possible onslaught of Trump supporters grieved by the impending Biden inauguration.

In Alabama, well, officials seem less worried.

“I don’t foresee anybody trying to really storm the Alabama state capitol, and why they would do it, I don’t know,” said Patrick Harris, secretary of the Alabama Senate. “I mean, we’re the home of everybody that’s supporting all these people,” he said, referring to Alabama Rep. Mo Brooks, whose role in stirring up the insurrection remains under scrutiny. “And we voted for Trump, we certified our votes for Trump.”

The prevailing idea seems to be that rightwing protestors, neo-Confederates, Proud Boys or others are not expected to kick up trouble in Montgomery over the presidential election. Even a spokesperson for the Southern Poverty Law Center and its Hatewatch unit, which closely monitors the activities of such groups, said, “We don’t have any specific notes to share about Alabama at this time.”

At least for Sunday, they appeared to be right. The Montgomery Advertiser reported that there were more police than onlookers at the Capitol building. About two dozen Montgomery police officers and state troopers were on the Capitol grounds Sunday. Several others sat in parked cars at the road barricades, and the police chief paced the block with two officers in an ATV.

Officials are keeping an eye out for signs of unrest through inauguration day. But, unlike states where Trump is less popular, officials in Alabama have been relatively low key in their expressions of concern about the potential for violence.

Patrick Harris, secretary of the Senate. (Source: Alabama Legislature)

“I’m always concerned. I don’t know if I’m really worried,” Harris said, adding that the Montgomery Police, Montgomery County Sheriff and Alabama Law Enforcement Agency, along with federal partners, should be able to handle any threat.

National media has reported that the FBI issued an internal bulletin pointing to intelligence that there could be “armed protests” aimed at all 50 state capitols by Trump-friendly militias.

States across the country have announced they’re taking precautions.

In Alabama, neither the office of Gov. Kay Ivey nor the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Alabama responded to requests for comments about potential protests.

In a prepared statement, the state’s investigative arm indicated a watchful approach. ALEA said in a statement that it is monitoring activity for possible threats, and it is working with local law enforcement and the state Department of Finance, which manages state buildings, to secure buildings in the capitol complex.

“ALEA recognizes that United States Citizens have constitutionally protected rights to assemble, speak, and petition the government,” the statement read. “ALEA safeguards these first amendment rights and reports on only those activities where the potential use of rhetoric and/or propaganda could be used to carry out acts of violence.”

Although SPLC did not see any Alabama-specific threats for the run-up to the inauguration, a staff analyst at the organization said that the threat against state capitols should not be discounted.

In an article on the SPLC site, Michael Edison Hayden, senior investigative reporter at Southern Poverty Law Center, said Hatewatch had found online ads promoting events in Alabama, along with other places.

During a media call Friday, Hayden said he expects pro-Trump groups might prefer to gather at state capitols than to go to Washington, where security for the inauguration has been ramped up considerably and many thousands of National Guard troops are on site.

There is unlikely to be a repeat of Jan. 6 or something equally dangerous in Washington, Hayden said. One reason, he said, is that some far-right groups are actively urging their followers to avoid D.C. Another reason is the unlikely event that the dynamics of Jan. 6 will be repeated — Trump whipping his followers up into a frenzy with the Capitol building, the target, visible in the background.

“There are huge obstacles that they did not face on Jan. 6, and it’s missing that sort of galvanizing moment of the Trump rally,” Hayden said. The huge security presence is also a likely deterrent to many rightwing militias, white supremacist groups and other Trump supporters who might otherwise flock to Washington for the protest, he said.

All of that means that protesting at state capitols might be an easier task.

“This is something that I think is far more likely to galvanize crowds,” Hayden said. “I don’t know how big or small. But I have found on encrypted apps and different fringe websites these maps with little points around capitals and numerical coordinates for maps to try to get people to go to these things. The other side of that is that many states have made statements about the security of their state capitals.”

Closer to Home

In Alabama, Harris said, he’s confident local law enforcement, working with federal authorities as needed, can deal with any protest. And he pointed out that the COVID-19 pandemic has made it harder to get into state office buildings. “We have had, this entire time since the legislative session last year, restricted entry to the building itself and … they’ve closed the capitol building,” he said.

He also noted that part of the FBI bulletin referred to protests on Sunday when the buildings are closed. “So there wouldn’t have been anybody here. anyway.”

And people can’t just show up and gain entry.

“We’re not going to allow anybody in the building,” Harris said. “Before you can get into the building … you have to go through a temperature check and metal detectors and all that. You have go through that system before you can even come in the building … . Plus we’ve got a fire code that we can’t let over so many people in this dilapidated old building that we’ve got, anyway.”

He added that people protesting outside is one thing. “In the history of Alabama, we’re fairly well used to demonstrations out front,” he said. “Everything from civil rights to every other issue that people want to voice their opinion on.”

“As long as nobody tries to force their way in. And if they force their way in, we’ll do whatever we have to to prevent somebody from coming in the building unlawfully. Right now, it’s a combination of the procedures that we’ve taken for both the pandemic and the warning that’s come out from the FBI.”


In Birmingham, which did not go for Trump during the presidential election, there is awareness of the potential for anti-Biden protests, but officials say they’re not overly concerned.

“The Birmingham Police Department has been monitoring intel as well as national trends throughout the nation relating to possible protest,” said Birmingham Police Department Public Information Officer Sgt. Rod Mauldin. “We have also been in open communication with federal, state and local surrounding agencies. There are no indications of threats or protest in the city of Birmingham. Although there are no known intelligence of threats, the Birmingham Police Department has a contingency plan to respond to any incidents that may arise.”

Where significant protests will occur and when seems unclear. ABC News reported, “While every state is preparing, as a practical matter, the FBI and Homeland Security are most concerned about the potential for violence in Minnesota, Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, where election controversies became overheated and there’s a considerable presence of supporters of armed militia movements, according to law enforcement sources.”

Increased Threat Response in Washington, D.C.

In Washington, federal authorities have indicated they are taking the potential threats from Trump supporters seriously.

Acting U.S. Attorney General Jeffrey A. Rosen in a video statement said the Department of Justice is aware of the threat. “I want to send a clear message to anyone contemplating violence, threats of violence or other criminal conduct. We will have no tolerance whatsoever for any attempts to disrupt the peaceful transfer of power on Jan. 20 that our constitution calls for. We will have no tolerance for any attempts to forcefully occupy government buildings. There will be no excuse for violence, vandalism or any other form of lawlessness.”

Riot in front of the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. (Photo by Tyler Merbler via Wikipedia)

The website Military Times notes that the Defense Department has orders to help secure the inauguration and has authorized up to 15,000 troops to be deployed to Washington. Alabama has activated 750 guard troops to go to Washington and help with the defense, according to Ivey’s spokeswoman.

National Guard Bureau Chief Gen. Daniel Hokanson said there initially will be a deployment of 10,000 troops, an increase of about 4,000 from those in D.C. now. That figure is twice the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan and Iraq combined.

Hokanson said in the Times article that the troops will assist district and federal agencies with “security, logistics, communications and liaison missions.” He said they will perform law enforcement functions if requested, but that would be a last resort.

He said he did not know whether the National Guard troops were being screened for ties to extremist groups. Several members of police departments, former military and others were among the insurrectionists Jan. 6, according to media reports.

Margaret Huang, president and CEO of the SPLC, said that the Jan. 6 insurrection is unlikely to be the last salvo fired by Trump’s more extremist supporters.

“Law enforcement personnel are bracing for potential violence this weekend at the armed protests planned for Washington, D.C., and all 50 state capitals,” she said. “Washington has been locked down like a fortress with tens of thousands of troops in the streets and broad swaths of the city including the national mall walled off and barricaded.

“Hate groups across the country meanwhile are using every technological tool at their disposal to connect and coordinate future attacks. They’re sharing tactics and lists of targets. They say they’re ready to fight and kill in Trump’s name. And there’s every reason to take them at their word.”