Governor issues warning about disorderly protests at state Capitol

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BY JIM TURNER
NEWS SERVICE OF FLORIDA

TALLAHASSEE – Gov. Ron DeSantis warned Tuesday that law enforcement “reinforcements” will be on hand if anyone plans to participate in armed protests at the state Capitol.

“If anything is disorderly, we’re going to act very quickly. Don’t worry about that,” DeSantis said during an appearance Tuesday in The Villages about COVID-19 vaccinations.

DeSantis comments were in response to a question about an internal FBI bulletin obtained by a number of media outlets indicating the federal agency has received information that armed protests are being planned at all 50 state capitols and the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. in the days leading up to President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration on  Jan.20.

“On 8 January, the FBI received information on an identified group calling for others to join them in ‘storming’ state, local and federal government courthouses and administrative buildings in the event POTUS is removed as President prior to Inauguration Day,” the bulletin said, referring to outgoing President Donald Trump.

“This identified group is also planning to ‘storm’ government offices including in the District of Columbia and in every state, regardless of whether the states certified electoral votes for Biden or Trump, on 20 January.”

Memo to staff

Florida Senate President Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby, sent a memo to senators and staff members saying that “at this time, it is our understanding that our Capitol remains secure and there have been no threats to our safety.”

“It is however very likely that we will have protestors gathering outside the Capitol this Sunday, January 17th,” Simpson wrote. “I understand that this time of year many members of our professional staff are working on the weekends. Out of an abundance of caution, I am requesting that staff work remotely this Sunday, rather than traveling to the Capitol Complex.”

Simpson also wrote that Senate Sergeant at Arms Damien Kelly “works in close cooperation” with the Capitol Police and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to monitor potential threats to the Capitol.

“I want you all to know that security, as it relates to both the health and safety of our professional staff, our Senators, and visitors is my top priority,” Simpson wrote. “You are all already aware of our safety protocols related to health, specifically the COVID-19 Pandemic. Under the leadership of Sergeant Kelly, we have also made significant enhancements to the physical security of the Senate. These enhancements, while confidential, are designed to ensure the safety of all those who visit and work in the Senate.”

FDLE response

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement also issued a statement indicating it is analyzing the situation.

“We are aware of the information regarding possible protests and violence at state capitols,” the statement said. “FDLE and Capitol Police continue to monitor the national situation and analyze information relevant to public safety. We regularly collaborate with our federal, state and local partners to discuss and implement security measures that enhance public safety at Florida’s Capitol.”

DeSantis, a staunch political ally of Trump, said people responsible for the deadly storming on Jan. 6 of the U.S. Capitol need to be held accountable.

“I’m glad to see some of these people getting arrested from the D.C. thing, because I think that the prosecutions will really make a difference,” DeSantis said.

‘Sad thing to see’

DeSantis, who is backing proposals in the upcoming 2021 legislative session to crack down on violent protests (SB 484, HB 1), added that the U.S. Capitol storming was “a really unfortunate thing.”

“I think that a lot of the people that probably went to that speech were just going to do what they normally do,” DeSantis, a former member of Congress, said. “But those folks who took it to the violent level, they need to be held accountable. It’s just unacceptable to do that. And, you know, it was really a sad thing to see.”

DeSantis, who after the November election urged Trump to “fight on” as the president challenged election results, did not suggest names of people who should be held accountable.

Legislation blasted

Florida Democratic lawmakers on Monday held an online news conference to blast the newly filed state legislation about protests, saying the proposals are designed to quash the voices of Black and brown people.

Also, they said Republican leaders’ narrative for the legislation shifted after the storming of the U.S. Capitol. DeSantis initially pitched a similar measure last year after protests about police violence and racial inequities.

But House Speaker Chris Sprowls, RPalm Harbor, said the proposals will protect Floridians from the “nonsensical violence” that took place in Washington, D.C.

“And when these types of despicable acts happen, law enforcement and prosecutors will have the tools and the support they need to keep Floridians safe, communities whole and property undamaged,” Sprowls, a former prosecutor, said in a prepared statement accompanying the release of the bills on Wednesday.

Staff writer Ryan Dailey contributed to this report. 

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