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January 15, 2021

Mississippi governor: ‘We will be prepared’ for threat of armed protests

Mississippi officials said they’re aware of FBI warnings of possible armed protests at state capitols across the country and that security here is ready — although they won’t go into many details.

“Whether you see us or not, we are there and we are going to protect the integrity of our public buildings here in Mississippi,” Gov. Tate Reeves said Tuesday. “… In Mississippi we are prepared and we will be prepared.”

Reeves said he has been meeting with law enforcement, military and emergency management leaders, and state security is prepared, but, “I will not go into operational details.”

“The Office of Capitol Police is aware of the possibility of protests,” the Department of Finance and Administration, which oversees Capitol Police, said in a statement on Tuesday. “Neither the (DFA) nor the Office of Capitol Police is able to discuss specific, confidential protocols or security measures.”

Capitol Police Director Don Byington, a veteran Mississippi law officer, called last week’s attack of the U.S. Capitol “appalling.” On Tuesday, he deferred all questions about Mississippi Capitol security to DFA.

The FBI has warned of plans for armed protests at all 50 state capitols and Washington, D.C., in the days leading up to President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration on Jan. 20.

When asked if additional steps were being taken to ensure safety in the Mississippi Capitol, Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann, who presides over the Senate, said, “Yes, but I do not want to go into that. You should anticipate we are having regular meetings with (Department of Public Safety) Commissioner Sean Tindell and the Capitol Police.”

Mississippi’s Capitol Police, with about 114 officer positions funded, provides protection and law enforcement at state facilities and grounds including the Capitol. The Mississippi Department of Public Safety and its Highway Patrol force often help provide security around the Capitol for big events.

Capitol Police also have mutual agreements with other county and metro-area law enforcement agencies for help in times of emergency.

Honor guard members of the Mississippi Highway Safety Patrol prepare to raise the new state flag during a flag-raising ceremony at the State Capitol Monday. Credit: Vickie King, Mississippi Today
Law enforcement, primarily members of the Capitol Police Department and Mississippi Highway Patrol troopers, had a heavy presence on the Capitol grounds Monday for the ceremony raising the new state flag.

The new state flag was approved overwhelmingly by voters in November to replace the old state flag that displayed the Confederate battle emblem prominently in its design. The Confederate flag and even the old state flag were carried by some of President Donald Trump’s supporters who attacked the U.S. Capitol last week aiming to prevent Democrat Joe Biden from being sworn in as the nation’s next president.

The pro-Trump rioters on Jan. 6 — incited earlier that day by the president’s oldest son and other close allies of the president — assaulted U.S. Capitol Police officers, smashed windows and tore down security barricades on their way into the building, prompting officials to lock down both legislative chambers of the building and nearby congressional office buildings.

Several high-profile members of Congress were evacuated, and others were told to shelter in place during the lockdown. The electoral vote-counting process was halted.

The mob — many of whom were visibly armed and carrying pro-Trump and Confederate flags — breached the Senate chamber, and others tried to break into the House chamber. Inside the House chamber, police officers drew guns to deter them from entering.

Five people, including a U.S. Capitol Police officer, died in the riot.

Before the 2021 legislative session began, cameras were placed in strategic locations in the Mississippi State Capitol, and machines were recently installed to scan bags at the two main entrances to the Capitol. Currently, Capitol Police officers screen and check people as they enter the building.

Before the Sept. 11, 2001, attack on the World Trade Centers in New York and on the Pentagon, people had unfettered access to the Mississippi Capitol, not only through the two main entrances on the north and south sides of the building, but also through multiple side doors. After those attacks, those side doors were closed and Capitol police were stationed at the only two entrances that remained open to the public.

By Bobby Harrison and Geoff Pender, Mississippi Today

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