Lansing braces for violence but fears some threats aren't taken seriously

The FBI is warning about violence in state capitals nationwide, prompting officials to plan to encircle the Michigan Capitol with fencing and increase security. (Bridge file photo)

Lansing officials are bracing for right-wing violence, as the city’s mayor is calling on the Michigan National Guard to safeguard the city and officials plan to erect a six-foot fence around the state Capitol on Friday.

On Tuesday, amid FBI warnings of violent plans nationwide by extremists, Lansing Mayor Andy Schor petitioned Gov. Gretchen Whitmer to deploy the Guard, while Capitol officials confirmed they are taking precautions on the advice of the state police. 

We have plywood ready to go in case windows are broken,” said John Truscott, vice chair of the Capitol Commission that oversees the state’s capitol building.

 

The safeguards follow a chaotic week in Washington, D.C. when a mob of President Donald Trump’s supporters breached the U.S. Capitol, leaving dozens injured and five dead, including a D.C. police officer.

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An FBI bulletin, first reported by Yahoo News, warns that armed protests are planned in all 50 states this week until President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration in Washington, D.C. on Jan. 20. 

The memo claims that Michigan-based members of the far-right Boogaloo movement are planning violence during the protests — and one follower suggested using a gasoline-based device with a tripwire to cause a distraction so others could “take” the Capitol.

Given recent events in Washington, D.C., we must prepare for the worst,” Schor said in a Tuesday statement. 

Michigan joins other states that are boarding Capitol building windows and beefing up security — and state officials say that threats against them are increasing but not always deemed credible by police.

Police acknowledge that broad threats have risen since the Nov. 3 election, but say they must specifically target an individual group or person to be deemed credible for investigation.

“Not every disgusting act of language is a crime,” said Matthew Schneider, U.S. attorney over the Eastern District of Michigan.

Rep. Laurie Pohutsky, D-Livonia, said she and her staff have feared for their safety since last spring but law enforcement hasn’t always adequately pursued credible threats against them.

“The fact that they are willing to protect the Capitol structure, but not the people within it is inexcusable,” she said. 

State Police spokesperson Shanon Banner said she is “not aware of credible threats in which the MSP was involved that have not been acted upon.”

‘Heed that warning’

While Banner disputed Pohutsky’s assertion, she acknowledged that state police are aware of “online promotion” of marches and have increased police presence outside the Capitol “out of an abundance of caution” for the next few weeks.

“Security enhancements include both seen and unseen measures,” she said. “We are in communication with both federal officials and other states.” 

Lansing Police will assist the State Police if they request back up, but the Michigan State Police are the primary law enforcement agency for the Capitol and surrounding grounds, a Lansing police spokesperson told Bridge Michigan. 

“When a group of people tells you they plan to show up with guns, that they have the potential to be violent, we should heed that warning,” said Lansing City Council President Peter Spadafore, who asked the mayor to request the National Guard. 

Chelsea Parisio, a spokesperson for Whitmer, said the governor is monitoring the situation closely and “will ensure that the necessary security measures are in place.” 

The security measures follow a unanimous decision Monday by the Capitol Commission to ban long guns in the Capitol after months of debate and a previous split vote over the measure. 

Concealed weapons are still allowed for permit holders, though, and Democrats say the ban doesn’t go far enough.

“My job is not to provide state employees & residents or other visitors to our Capitol with a false sense of security, especially given the current state of affairs in Michigan and around the nation,” Attorney General Dana Nessel wrote in a Tuesday tweet

“I repeat-the Michigan Capitol is not safe.”

‘Nobody knew where to send me’

Pohutsky is one of several public officials who said they encountered a complicated web of law enforcement responses when trying to report a credible threat from an easily-identifiable person.  

After the election, Robin Laurain, co-chair of the Michigan Green Party, said a man called her repeatedly and told her he would murder her in the street if he saw her because she was a “communist.”

She was able to search the number and find the address and name of the Brighton man making the calls. So she called the Brighton police to report him. 

They told her to call the Michigan State Police. 

Then the Michigan State Police told her to file a complaint with the Attorney General’s office, whom she has yet to hear back from about the status of an investigation. 

“Nobody knew where to send me,” Laurain said. 

“Anybody can come to my house,” she added, noting that having previously run for office, her address is listed online. 

Nessel’s office declined to comment on whether it is currently investigating any threats.

“We generally do not comment on or disclose details of an investigation until it is complete and charges are authorized, or until a case is closed that does not warrant additional legal action – and we will not discuss ongoing cases,” said Ryan Jarvi, a Nessel spokesperson. 

People need to be charged’

Pohutsky said Nessel told her the Michigan State Police are not always referring credible death threats to the Attorney General’s office. 

As proof, Pohutsky noted that a Charlotte, Michigan, man, Michael Varrone, was arrested and prosecuted only after police alleged he called in a bomb threat to the Lansing Capitol last week — and not immediately following death threats he’s charged with making in December to Rep. Cynthia Johnson, D-Detroit. 

Johnson served on the House Oversight Committee, which heard testimony from President Donald Trump’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani in December. Johnson said she received death threats from Trump supporters after questioning the lawyer.

The Michigan State Police were not directly involved in the investigation of a voicemail message on Dec. 12 that included the threat against Johnson, since the death threats were initially reported to the House sergeant at arms, Banner said. 

“While [the sergeant] shared information with us on Dec. 15 for our situational awareness, there was no request for MSP to become involved or to conduct an investigation,” she said. 

Gideon D’Assandro, a spokesperson for the House sergeant-at-arms, disputed this. 

“The sergeants sent it to the MSP the next day,” he said in a text message. “I can’t speak to what they did or did not do after that.”  

Jarvi, the attorney general spokesperson, said the Michigan State Police is just one agency that may provide reports to the Attorney General’s office for review of potential charges. The state police can also bring cases to county prosecutors, he said. 

“Those officials also have authority to bring charges, and we can’t comment on whether that’s been done,” he said. 

Public officials said they wished law enforcement would be more transparent about how they plan to handle the threats and where they should send them for an adequate investigation. 

“The threats are serious. . .and these people need to be charged,” Pohutsky said. 

No consequences?

Threats of a violence have piled up in recent months because society is “quicker to anger,” said Oakland County Sheriff Michael Bouchard. 

The department takes each reported threat seriously, Bouchard said, but there are legal limits to what constitutes a credible threat. 

When Pohutsky received an email from a constituent which said “all representatives should be shot,” she said it was not referred for investigation because the constituent didn’t single anyone out.  

It’s at law enforcement officers and the courts’ discretion to determine if the threat is targeted, and they might ask themselves “Is it really reasonable that you are going to kill all Michigan’s representatives?” said Schneider, the U.S. attorney. 

But the threats, veiled or unveiled, have ramifications for the public officials they threaten, Pohutsky said. 

“Clearly, these people are being encouraged by the fact that there have been no consequences for any of the things that they have done,” she said. 

The onus is not just on law enforcement to quell the threats, said Canton Township Clerk Michael Siegrist, who has received an uptick in harassing messages from voters since the U.S. Capitol siege last week. 

Republicans who spread false information about the election must admit the allegations are untrue to help ease the divisive climate, he said.  

Otherwise, he said, “I just don't know how you unpickle this cucumber.” 

“If they can't secure the nation's Capitol, what can they do for us?” Siegrist said. 

Bridge reporter Jonathan Oosting contributed to this report.

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Comments

DWStiles
Wed, 01/13/2021 - 9:27am

JMHO: I'm all for restricting ANY VISITOR from bearing arms on the capitol grounds and absolutely within the Capitol building. but I would allow employees and staff (including legislators and their staffs) who desire to exercise their option to be trained and issued CCW permits to do so for their own selfdefense and in conjunction with their duties in and on Capitol Grounds and within the Capitol and associated buildings.
Every citizen in good standing has a right to self defense, Business have a right to allow or deny employees to exercise that right in the work environment while prohibiting non-employees from coming onto the premises while armed. while some businesses decline to do so others in high risk businesses are inclined to permit it.
Given the current hyper-heated political environment and the past and current history of actual and threats of more intruders . publicly announcing that Employees are allowed to be armed might help keep the loudmouth grandstanders and militia flaunters away and also employees and staff to exercise their right if necessary. While I doubt that very many will actually exercise their right to self-defense some will (and i'd keep those number a matter or business privilege) and the public awareness that they are prepared to do so may inhibit the armed demonstrations.

Less guns better
Fri, 01/15/2021 - 1:05pm

Right now the FBI is investigating if members of congress were complicit in the capitol attacks by providing private building tours, supplying recognizance to radicals the day before the attack. Some Qanon believers have been elected to legislative office. The Michigan capitol should be treated like courthouses, police stations, and airport terminals. Knowing people have guns doesn't deter crazy terrorists with guns and a martyrdom wish.

Don
Wed, 01/13/2021 - 9:45am

Will the police protect OUR state capital from these traitors or will they join them?????

Think about it
Fri, 01/15/2021 - 1:08pm

Only when they accept our elections. Trump needs to say the 2020 election was fair and he lost. PERIOD. Buffaloman's attorney says his client loved Trump and was only following Trump's orders when he left a threatening letter on Mike Pence's desk.

A Yooper
Wed, 01/13/2021 - 10:45am

The State Capitol and grounds need to be cordoned off starting now and for an unspecified amount of time. Nobody gets in unless they have an appointment and NO handguns get in. Tough crap if the Republicans don't like it. All it takes is one nut case with a handgun to find a target and shoot. And then we will hear about all the sadness, condolences to the families, and how they should have done things differently from the same old, same old slackjaw jaw wagging Republicans. Sorry folks, if you are a Republican who regrets the loss of life on DC, and who is against all of this, it's a tad late. Satan has opened the Gates of Hell and his troops are armed and aim to go hunting.
Lansing, let's not be stupid about this.

Anonymous
Fri, 01/15/2021 - 1:11pm

Yes, we must stop the GOP from spreading lies, excusing insurrection, and allowing their base to kill cops.

EB
Wed, 01/13/2021 - 11:26am

Insurrection needs to have consequence. Without consequence, the insurrectionists and those who incite insurrection are emboldened.

Michigan's insurrection response should start with the Michigan lawmakers who incited insurrection by attempting to nullify our election. Our Michigan Attorney general should charge these lawmakers with sedition and request arrest warrants, starting with Congressmen Jack Bergman, Bill Huizenga, John Moolenaar, and Tim Walberg, all of whom backed efforts to NOT count Michigan's Electoral College presidential votes, the goal of the U.S. Capitol mob that killed a police officer and wounded 58 other officers, vandalized the Capitol Building, and attempted to kill and hold hostage members of Congress and our vice president.

Several Michigan State House members also supported this sedition and should be charged and arrested. These lawmakers are: Gary Eisen, John Reilly, Julie Alexander, Matt Maddock, Daire Rendon, Beth Griffin, Douglas Wozniak, Michele Hoitenga, Brad Paquette, Rodney Wakeman, Greg Markkanen, Jack O’Malley, Joe Bellino, Bronna Kahle and Luke Meerman.

Several Michigan State Senators signed a letter urging Congress to throw out Michigan's Electoral Collge votes and they also should be charged with sedition and arrested: John Bizon, Tom Barrett, Kim LaSata, Kevin Daley, Dan Lauwers, Rick Outman, Jim Runestad, Lana Theis, Curtis Vanderwall, Roger Victory, and Dale Zorn.

Insurrectionists were incited and emboldened by these seditious Michigan lawmakers, but they were also emboldened by the appeasement of law enforcement following the armed incursion of the Michigan Capitol Building April 30th and other armed demonstrations in Michigan. If our State Capitol Building is again breached by armed insurrectionists, State Police should use all necessary means to defeat the attack and arrest the insurrectionists who survive the battle.

Trump's GOP
Wed, 01/13/2021 - 11:42am

They didn't take covid seriously. Why would they take insurrectionists seriously when they actually agree with the insurrectionists?

Jennie B
Fri, 01/15/2021 - 1:16pm

Back in April and May the Michigan Republican leadership saw nothing wrong with the armed Militia attending congressional sessions when they practiced for what happened in DC on January 6. Their feckless leader Trump said "Liberate Michigan" from "that woman".

Lyn Wisdom
Wed, 01/13/2021 - 11:49am

Looks like law enforcement at all levels also needs to work on unity, coordination and cooperation, like the rest of us.

US Patriots
Wed, 01/13/2021 - 8:12pm

If you see or hear something, say something. Defeat domestic terrorists!

Todd Priest
Thu, 01/14/2021 - 7:36pm

Fences/walls work huh? Who knew?