Ahead Of Potential Violent Demonstrations, Montpelier Mayor Calls On Counter-Protesters To Stay Home
Vermont law enforcement is monitoring calls and plans for armed gatherings at state capitols, including the Vermont Statehouse in Montpelier, on Sunday, Jan. 17 and Inauguration Day on Jan. 20. Groups have also started to organize counter-protests. But the mayor of Montpelier is asking counter-protestors to stay home, because she says the risk of violence is too great.
VPR's Mitch Wertlieb spoke with Montpelier Mayor Anne Watson about how Vermont's capitol city is preparing for this weekend and Inauguration Day. Their conversation below has been condensed and edited for clarity.
Mitch Wertlieb: We've heard from Montpelier Police Chief Brian Peete and Public Safety Commissioner Michael Schirling about these calls across the country for people to show up armed at state capitols on Sunday, and again on Inauguration Day. Do you know of any specific threats to people or property in Montpelier?
Mayor Anne Watson: At this point, we have no indication of a specific threat, just the general calls that you referenced earlier.
Will there be any road closures, buildings shuttered? What kind of precautions, if any, are being put in place for the capital city?
We are anticipating that we may close down State Street. That is a possibility. The Statehouse will be closed, as well as the school buildings and city hall on Wednesday, Jan. 20. So we are taking some precautions. We’re anticipating that we'll need to be making some accommodations to ensure that everyone stays safe. And that is really our focus in this effort, is to keep everyone safe through the next week.
One further point: If you are coming to protest (or counter-protest for that matter), please leave your guns at home. It's legal to bring them, but please don't.— Anne Watson (@anneofvermont) January 13, 2021
You've been very clear that lawful assembly and political speech will be honored and protected. But what do you want people who are planning to show up at the Statehouse this Sunday to know?
We are hoping that anyone who comes to protest will, first of all, leave any firearms at home. I know there have been calls for an armed insurrection, but we're anticipating that if anyone does want to show up, we hope that they will be peaceful. And having a peaceful protest means that there's no need for firearms. Also, because of the risk of violence, in case people do bring arms, we're hoping that folks will refrain from in-person direct counter-protesting, because that could lead to the risk of violence.
I'm wondering about that message to those who would counter-protest against the kind of actions that we saw the mob take in the nation's capitol. In a way, would that sort of hand a victory to that mob, if you will, if counter-protest is discouraged?
I totally sympathize with any folks who would come to counter-protest. I think the election was legal, and the results were clear. The American people, basically, have spoken. And so I sympathize with that perspective.
What I would hope for this idea of a counter-protest is: Let's find another day to come together and celebrate the victory of the election for the inauguration of Joe Biden. Let's do that at a time when it's not going to pose a risk to people's safety, when there's been this national call for armed protests.
I think it's also worth celebrating, really, the defeat of a president who would otherwise seek to have authoritarian rule. And if we can find that on a different day — a day that doesn't pose a risk to people's safety — I would be all in favor of that. And in addition, I think there are other ways that people can use their voice to stand up for what's right and to express their beliefs in a way that that's not direct, in-person counter-protesting on either Jan. 17 or Jan. 20.
We probably shouldn't forget, too, that there is a pandemic still going on, and there's always that risk when people do show up to these kind of protests that mask wearing will not be followed. And isn't that a danger as well?
Absolutely. You know, as we saw, even when people were in close quarters in lockdown at the state capitol, that folks were not wearing masks; refusing to wear masks. And it's tough to anticipate, if there are people that are coming to the Statehouse to protest, whether or not they would be wearing masks in the first place. That’s absolutely also a risk.
Montpelier is the state capitol. It will continue to be the focus of political gatherings in the future. I'm wondering if you think the kind of security that you're preparing for this Sunday becomes a kind of new normal for protesting in Montpelier, or if you think that this is particular to this moment in time?
It's hard to know right now whether or not this is the new normal. I suspect it's not, mainly because I think this is an event that has been egged on [and] fomented by a president who has refused to concede. And that sort of behavior is not normal. And I think the American people are not going to stand for that over time.
You've been mayor of Montpelier since March 2018. Do you think that Vermonters can demonstrate a better way of being, perhaps by not — as you're asking them — by not showing up on Sunday?
I have a lot of faith in Vermonters, and I have confidence that folks who may show up will be peaceful, and that ultimately, we're going to make it past Jan 20. We're going to make it through Jan. 21. And we'll be able to get to the business of government and to making Vermont a better place.
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