MADISON — Armored vehicles, barriers to stop unwanted vehicles and National Guard troops in full riot gear stood at the entrances to the Wisconsin State Capitol on Sunday to protect the statehouse against anyone planning to attack it in opposition to the transfer of power to President-elect Joe Biden.
The fortification of a building typically open all day every day without even a metal detector comes after thousands of supporters of President Donald Trump converged on the U.S. Capitol Jan. 6, attacking police officers and reporters, and threatening to hang the vice president.
Aside from a nonspecific flyer circulating on social media calling for more protests against the Nov. 3 election at all 50 state Capitols, police said there is no specific threat to Wisconsin’s.
As of 1 p.m., joggers and dog walkers accounted for most of the activity around the statehouse. Just a few people holding signs in support of Jesus Christ assembled on the Capitol grounds.
Similar scenes played out in other state capitals around the country on Sunday morning.
Police guided a bomb-sniffing dog around the Capitol square in Madison, leading it to each garbage can and doorway across the street from the building. Law enforcement from Madison and Dane County, Milwaukee, and the state were on the Capitol’s grounds in addition to National Guard troops.
Law enforcement officers parked armored Humvees at each Capitol entrance and borrowed barricades from the University of Wisconsin-Madison that can quickly be stood up to stop vehicles from approaching the building. Ground-floor windows were boarded up.
“We’re certainly planning in a very robust way, and we’re prepared and are certainly going to have a lot of resources available,” Madison police Acting Chief Vic Wahl said Friday.
“We’re not going to make any assumptions or take any chances,” he added. “But certainly, we haven’t seen anything specific, and over the last two months since the election we have not had huge crowds related to that type of protest activity in Madison.”
On Thursday, State Capitol Police Chief David Erwin issued a memo to legislators, pointing out that “law enforcement will have an increased presence in the Capitol during legislative business” next week.
Erwin said his force is working with others “to monitor threats and ensure the safety of staff, legislators and the public in and around the Capitol. This includes monitoring social media chatter and investigating threats.
“Capitol Police is not aware of specific credible threats to legislators; this remains an evolving situation and there continues to be active social media commentary regarding the threat of ongoing unrest.”
Assembly Speaker Robin Vos in a tweet on Sunday said Democratic Gov. Tony Evers was “obsessed” with Capitol security and suggested he should shift the attention to the state’s vaccine rollout instead.
“Maybe we aren’t focusing on the vaccine rollout because the Evers administration has been obsessed with other things?” the Rochester Republican tweeted.
An aide to Vos did not answer whether Vos was suggesting Evers was paying too much attention to protecting the Capitol. A spokeswoman for Evers did not respond to a request for comment.
Jim Palmer, executive director of the Wisconsin Professional Police Association, said most people probably wanted Evers to err on the side of caution because of threats on state capitols.
“No one can know whether news reports of the security precautions being taken in Madison had a deterrent effect,” he said. “Regardless, the hard lesson learned by not having enough of a security presence in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 6, which included the brutal death of a police officer, is not one that we can afford to repeat in Madison. We should celebrate the extent to which this weekend’s security measures were superfluous.”
A Madison man was arrested early Sunday morning after he drove his vehicle up the exterior stairs of the state Capitol, but not in protest. Madison police arrested him for drunken driving.
Patrick Marley of the Journal Sentinel staff, the Columbus Dispatch and the Austin American-Statesman contributed to this report.