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NM officials prepare for possible violent protests

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A temporary chain-link fence has been erected on the east side of the state Capitol. Officials have been preparing for the possibility of mayhem leading up to the inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal

SANTA FE – Fences were erected Wednesday on the east side of the Roundhouse in Santa Fe, one of the more visible measures local officials are taking to protect against possibly violent protests in Santa Fe over the next several days.

A recent FBI memo warns of possible armed protests at all 50 state capitols after the armed insurrection at the U.S. Capitol last week.

New Mexico Legislative Council Services Director Raul Burciaga said Wednesday that more fencing would be added around the Roundhouse in coming days, but he declined to say where exactly.

He also said security will be increased at the Roundhouse during the 60-day legislative session, which begins Tuesday, the eve of President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration.

But the full extent of security operations remains unknown. Burciaga said that given the threats of armed protests, it was best to keep some information “under wraps,” although he said more details would be released on Friday.

The FBI alert came days after a violent mob of President Donald Trump’s supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol to keep Congress from certifying the November election, which Trump claims, without proof, was stolen from him. The FBI warning said that the protests may start as early as this week and could extend through Biden’s inauguration on Wednesday.

Investigators believe some protesters could be members of extremist groups, The Associated Press reported.

Members of the Proud Boys, the only group in New Mexico labeled a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, attended a pro-Trump demonstration at the Roundhouse the day of the insurrection in Washington. A man wearing a New Mexico Civil Guard T-shirt and several people donning QAnon apparel were also present.

New Mexico-based Cowboys for Trump were also on hand. Cowboys for Trump leader Couy Griffin attended the demonstration in Washington. He later posted a video of himself on Facebook, saying, “There’s going to be blood running out of that building,” in reference to the possibility of holding a 2nd Amendment rally at the U.S. Capitol. The video has since been removed.

In a video released Wednesday, President Trump addressed reports of planned violent protests around the country and called for calm. He urged “no violence, no lawbreaking and no vandalism of any kind.”

Frank Fisher, a spokesman for the FBI field office in Albuquerque, said the agency was working to identify any potential threats of violence resulting from demonstrations in New Mexico.

“Our focus is not on peaceful protesters, but on those threatening their safety and the safety of other citizens with violence and destruction of property,” Fisher said in a statement to the Journal.

While authorities said they were preparing for possible threats, none specified what threats have been identified.

National authorities are hoping to prevent a repeat of last week’s riots by deploying about 20,000 National Guard members to Washington, D.C., including some from New Mexico. The New Mexico National Guard announced late Wednesday that Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham authorized sending Guard members to Washington next week, but a spokesperson declined to say how many. It’s unclear whether any National Guard members will be deployed to Santa Fe.

During a meeting with reporters Monday, Santa Fe Mayor Alan Webber said his office was working with various law enforcement agencies, as well as the Governor’s Office, to “prepare for any eventuality.” He, too, declined to provide specifics.

The Santa Fe Police Department said it is working with other law enforcement agencies to ensure they’re prepared to assist New Mexico State Police, if necessary.

A spokesman with the Santa Fe County Sheriff’s Office said the department holds regular intelligence briefings with other law enforcement agencies to be prepared for any civil unrest that might arise.

State Police said it continually monitors potential “large-scale demonstrations” and is working with other law enforcement agencies to prepare a coordinated response if protests aren’t peaceful.

“Given the current climate in our country, we will not rule out such events taking place during the upcoming legislative session, or on Inauguration Day; or in the days and weeks surrounding either event,” State Police said in an emailed statement.

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