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More security added to Montana's Capitol after FBI warning
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More security added to Montana's Capitol after FBI warning

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Montana State Capitol

Snow falls on the Montana State Capitol in Helena on Jan. 4.

Security has been increased at the Montana State Capitol following a deadly insurrection in Washington, D.C., last Wednesday and an FBI bulletin warning of armed protests at all 50 state Capitols leading up to Inauguration Day.

ABC News first reported the FBI bulletin Monday. The document said through Jan. 20, the day Democrat Joe Biden will become president, armed protesters plan to "storm" government buildings.

Last week's insurrection, which has led to at least five deaths, was fueled by unfounded claims of election fraud by Republican President Donald Trump, who lost the November election to Biden.

The Associated Press reported Monday the D.C. mob was made up of  "longtime Trump supporters, including Republican Party officials, GOP political donors, far-right militants, white supremacists, members of the military and adherents of the QAnon myth that the government is secretly controlled by a cabal of Satan-worshiping pedophile cannibals."

Amber Conger, the communications director for the state Department of Administration, said Monday that security has increased in the state Capitol.

The building includes the governor and secretary of state's offices, as well as the Montana Legislature, which started its 90-day session Jan. 4. Several other buildings in the adjacent blocks house state agencies. 

"Our security team is actively monitoring the situation. We are working with our local, state and federal law enforcement partners to address any potential issues if they arise here at the Montana State Capitol," Conger said in an email.

Conger was unable to say where the additional security staff are from.

"While we do not comment on specific security measures, we have increased the law enforcement presence to ensure the safety of everyone at the Capitol complex," Conger continued.

No permits have been issued for any protests or events outside the Capitol for the timeline laid out in the FBI bulletin. Protests are expected beginning Jan. 16 through Jan. 20.

There's no deadline to apply for permits, which are accepted by email and processed during regular business hours. Any request would need enough time to be evaluated and processed, the Department of Administration said.

Republican Gov. Greg Gianforte has said he will not approve events inside the Capitol because of concerns over the pandemic. On Monday, Gianforte' office pointed to his remarks last week that included saying "civil violence is completely inappropriate" when asked if the governor was encouraging people to stay home.

People do not need permits to gather on the sidewalks around the Capitol, a workaround used by protests over the summer held by people objecting to public health measures to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

Leo Dutton, the sheriff for Lewis and Clark County, said his office has implemented plans, but that he could not discuss them in detail.

"We have taken it seriously and we do have plans in place to respond if the issues come to fruition," Dutton said. "We're prepared for it. We're not being passive about it. But also you won't notice us either. If things do happen, we do have people that will be ready."

Susan Fox, executive director of the Legislative Services Division, said Monday that she expected to get information later this week and may make decisions based on new details.

Others in the Capitol associated with the Legislature said they were unable to discuss security measures.

Last Wednesday as the violent mob battered their way into the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., a small crowd gathered in an associated protest in Helena outside the state Capitol. Local protestors stuck to walking around holding flags and signs, though some were armed, a not-uncommon sight at state Capitol rallies supporting Trump.

Republicans leadership in the state Legislature condemned the violence in D.C. and held up Montana's protest as an example.

"We are blessed in Montana to have a long tradition of respectful and spirited dialogue and peaceful expression of diverse viewpoints through our First Amendment rights," read the statement last week from state Senate President Mark Blasdel, R-Kalispell, and Speaker of the House Wylie Galt, R-Martinsdale.

"Violence is not an acceptable response to political differences. Already (last) week, we've had multiple peaceful demonstrations here at the State Capitol in Helena. We encourage Montanans to continue serving as an example for the nation during these times of intense division."

On Monday, a spokesperson for Galt said House leadership does not have any increased concerns about Capitol security or safety in Montana.

Democratic leadership in the Legislature denounced the violence in D.C. last week and the false claims of voter fraud that led to it.

Montanans were also in D.C. at the insurrection, a state lawmaker confirmed last week.

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