Utah governor declares state of emergency: what you need to know as police prepare for Capitol protest

Right-wing Boogaloo group planning “morale booster” event and Spencer Cox warns of planned siege

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) A small group of the extremist Boogaloos, argue with Proud Boys gathered for a pro-Trump rally at the Utah State Capitol in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021.

Utah’s governor declared a state of emergency. Law enforcement officers plan to circle Utah’s Capitol. Boards cover windows at Salt Lake City Hall.

The FBI’s Salt Lake City field office says it has not received any “specific or substantiated threats”, but federal agents and local police will be ready.

The precautions are in response to nationwide unrest spurred by the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol by supporters of President Donald Trump. Hundreds of protesters, many armed, gathered at the Utah Capitol on the same day.

The FBI is warning about potential unrest in all 50 states. Some reports have singled out Salt Lake City. The only known rally planned at the Utah Capitol, while right-wing, is not a pro-Trump event, an organizer says.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) A heavily armed member of the Proud Boys, a far-right, neo-fascist organization walks amongst Trump supporters listening to speeches at the State Capitol in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021.

A state of emergency

Gov. Spencer Cox issued an emergency declaration Thursday that starts on Friday and last until Jan. 21, the day after President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration. The order is labeled “anticipated civil unrest,” and it warns of “the planned siege of the Utah State Capitol.”

The declaration allows the governor, in consultation with the Department of Public Safety, to quickly shut down parts of the Capitol complex and limit who can enter. He’s also said the National Guard will be on the ready.

Cox said during his weekly COVID-19 media briefing that “it’s not going to take much at all” to bring in the National Guard.

“As soon as we see these gatherings start to occur, they will be here to make sure that our Capitol is not vulnerable in any way,” Cox said. “We respect and honor your First Amendment rights to gather. But we want to make it very clear that the Constitution only protects your rights to gather peaceably. There will be zero tolerance for any violence whatsoever, or any property destruction.”

Who is protesting this weekend and what do we know about them?

Members of a right-wing, anti-government group called the “Boogaloo bois” requested the protest permit. It’s their event, but they say it’s open to anyone and will be peaceful. Tyson Reese, the Boogaloo who applied for the permit, said the rally was meant to be a “morale booster” to show Americans their problems aren’t with each other but the government.

Other right-wing groups, like Utah Patriots and Utah Citizens’ Alarm, are telling supporters to stay away, calling the Boogaloo organizers are “bad actors” intent on inciting violence.

Reese said no one will try to breach the Utah Capitol on Sunday. Instead, there will be a series of speakers and he hoped to attract unaffiliated, like-minded people.

The New York Times reported Wednesday that some groups may be lying low during planned protests this weekend to try to recruit more members for a later attack.

The Anti-Defamation League said the Boogaloo ideology is still being cultivated, but in general it is anti-government, anti-authority and anti-police. Some are white supremacists, but some aren’t. They are typically heavily armed and wear Hawaiian shirts as uniforms.

There is tension between Boogaloos in Utah and other right-wing groups because the Boogaloos attended and supported Black Lives Matter and anti-police violence protests this summer.

Are there other protests planned in Utah between now and the inauguration?

The only rally with a permit at the state Capitol is the Boogaloo event Sunday. That doesn’t mean people won’t show up to protest, though. The FBI had warned law enforcement of armed protests expected at capitols in all 50 states this weekend and through the inauguration on Jan. 20.

What do Utah leaders say about the protest?

Law enforcement and government officials have said they’ve received no specific threats, but they are keeping the Capitol closed to the public and asking staffers who work in the building to stay home as the legislative session begins Tuesday. The windows at Salt Lake City Hall and the Matheson Courthouse have also been boarded up — a move Mayor Erin Mendenhall said was made “out of an abundance of caution.”

Utah legislative leaders have said they don’t expect the Capitol closure to interrupt the 45-day legislative session.

House Speaker Brad Wilson said in a statement, “It is unfortunate we have to take this step but we have the procedures and technologies in place to allow us to adjust and move forward. We will work closely with the Utah Highway Patrol as we evaluate conditions and determine when in-person options can resume.”

Jennifer Napier-Pearce, the governor’s spokesperson, said Thursday that since the rally at Utah’s Capitol on Jan. 6 was relatively peaceful — minus a demonstrator pepper-spraying a Tribune photojournalist and another protester taking a journalist’s phone — the office hoped this one would be, too.

“We want to keep everyone safe. We encourage people to peaceably assemble, but peaceably, means peaceably,” she said. “Don’t get violent. We will have extra security on the premises to make sure that the capital is left intact.”

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune). A small crowd of Trump protesters gather at the capitol with signs, flags and guns on Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021.

What will security at the Capitol look like?

Law enforcement won’t tell us a lot about its plans, but we know 40 Highway Patrol troopers who planned to be in Washington D.C. this weekend to help with security for President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration are staying here because of the potential for unrest.

We also know Salt Lake City police will be staged around the Capitol on Sunday, in addition to UHP troopers. Law enforcement will form a line in front of the building to keep people from getting inside. The FBI will have a “heightened posture” and a command post near the Capitol, said Dave Fitzgibbons, assistant special agent in charge for the FBI’s Salt Lake City field office.

UHP spokesperson Sgt. Nick Street had said that nobody will breach the Capitol on the Highway Patrol’s watch.

“We know what happened last Wednesday,” he said. “We have this pit in our stomach of what happened in our nation’s capital ... then to have credible information coming down from our federal counterparts that this is planned for all 50 state capitals in the coming week, we can’t ignore that.”

The Utah Capitol grounds will remain open, and no officials have tried to restrict protesters from carrying firearms there, like officials did recently in Michigan.

Fitzgibbons urged anyone with information about suspicious activity to contact the FBI. For more information, visit www.fbi.gov/tips.