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Police In Riot Gear Patrol A Quiet Vt. Statehouse On Sunday

Orange cones and a black chain lead to four law enforcement officers on the snowy steps of the Vermont Statehouse
Elodie Reed
Members of the Capitol Police, seen here with Vermont State Police members in riot gear, set up a barrier around the Vermont Statehouse on Sunday, Jan. 17.

Updated 6 p.m.

Sunday was a mostly quiet day in Montpelier, and the armed protests that law enforcement officials had been preparing for did not materialize.

Police officers in riot gear patrolled the Statehouse grounds and set up a 20-foot boundary around the building, telling one reporter that anyone who crossed the cone-and-chain barrier would "be rushed." Aside from one man holding up a sign reading "Canadians for Trump," the only event of note was a small counter-protest outside Montpelier City Hall.

Pink and yellow signs on a table
Credit Elodie Reed / VPR
The group Neighbors Together Against Fascism held a small demonstration outside Montpelier City Hall on Sunday.

Burlington resident Paul Fleckenstein said he joined the counter-protest to register his concern about the rise of the far-right.

“The takeover of the [U.S.] Capitol shows that the far right is growing, and it will continue to grow until the conditions that are driving the growth of far right politics are addressed,” Fleckenstein said.

According to a joint statement Sunday from Vermont State Police, Capitol Police and the Montpelier Police Department, law enforcement agencies established an “enhanced presence” at the Statehouse as a “precautionary response to potential disruptions or violence following the Jan. 6 insurrection in Washington, DC.”

More from VPR: Extremist Groups Have Planned Armed Marches In State Capitals Sunday. Here's What We Know About Vt.

The statement said the heightened law enforcement presence was also in response to “calls for nationwide action, including an ‘armed march,’ in all state capitals.”

Police officer in military gear, holding a gun, in front of marble statue of man
Credit Elodie Reed / VPR
Police in riot gear guard the front of the Vermont Statehouse on Sunday, Jan. 17.

Law enforcement officials said they’re unaware of any specific threats to targets in Vermont.

But in a briefing to lawmakers on Thursday, Public Safety Commissioner Michael Schirling said law enforcement agencies across the nation are on an alert level unseen since after 9/11.

Schirling said state and federal intelligence officials are paying especially close attention to “fringe rightwing groups,” such as the Proud Boys, Oath Keepers, Boogaloo Movement and QAnon. He said those groups “are central to many of the threat streams that are circulating in the United States, and ones that exist here in Vermont.”

At 5 p.m. Sunday, Captain David Petersen, special operations commander for the Vermont State Police, debriefed reporters on the day’s events.

“Pleased to report that there’s nothing to report, quite frankly,” Petersen said.

He added that police had zero incidents reported to them Sunday, and law enforcement officers made no arrests and issued no citations.

Two police cars by a brick building with a gas pump and the sign for Capital Deli
Credit Elodie Reed / VPR
Police cruisers from areas outside Montpelier, including Burlington and Shelburne, could be seen patrolling Vermont's capital city on Sunday.

Though Sunday came and went without incident, Petersen said the capital city will continue to see a heightened law enforcement presence in the coming days, until President-elect Joe Biden officially takes office.

“We’ve stated before that we’re going to go ahead and continue this posture at least through the inauguration, and at this present time, there’s no plans to change that,” he said.

Petersen wouldn’t disclose how many law enforcement personnel were on hand in Montpelier Sunday.

Correction 9 a.m. 1/18/2021: A previous version of this story misspelled Capt. David Petersen's last name.

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The Vermont Statehouse is often called the people’s house. I am your eyes and ears there. I keep a close eye on how legislation could affect your life; I also regularly speak to the people who write that legislation.
Liam is Vermont Public’s public safety reporter, focusing on law enforcement, courts and the prison system.
Elodie is a reporter and producer for Vermont Public. She previously worked as a multimedia journalist at the Concord Monitor, the St. Albans Messenger and the Monadnock Ledger-Transcript, and she's freelanced for The Atlantic, the Christian Science Monitor, the Berkshire Eagle and the Bennington Banner. In 2019, she earned her MFA in creative nonfiction writing from Southern New Hampshire University.
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