DES MOINES — With reports that armed protests are possible, steps are being taken to ensure the Iowa Capitol remains a safe place in the coming days, state law enforcement officials say.
An FBI memo, obtained earlier this week by ABC News, warns of plans for armed protests at all 50 state capitals in the days leading up to President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration.
According to the report, one group has called for supporters of outgoing President Donald Trump to “storm” government buildings on Wednesday even if Trump won the state — as he did Iowa.
Hundreds of Trump supporters on Jan. 6 attacked the U.S. Capitol in an attempt to stop the certification of the results from November’s presidential election. Trump has repeatedly lied about widespread voter fraud, leading many supporters to wrongly believe he won the election. The siege on the U.S. Capitol left five dead, including a Capitol Police officer.
Gov. Kim Reynolds’ office did not respond to a request for comment on Statehouse security. She told a radio interviewer Thursday evening that “we are watching, we’re ready and we’re just hoping and praying that that’s not going to happen and I don’t think it will in Iowa.”
An officer with the state public safety department and the Iowa State Patrol, the agency in charge of protection at the Iowa Capitol, said the department’s intelligence division is monitoring social media and other channels for prospective security concerns and is working with federal, state and local law enforcement agencies.
“We at the Department of Public Safety are taking steps and will continue to take steps to secure the safety at the Capitol Complex. Everyone’s well-being is of paramount importance to us,” Sgt. Alex Dinkla, the Iowa State Patrol’s public information officer, said in an email. “Rest assured we have taken extensive precautions to secure everyone’s safety as we continue to serve the people of Iowa.”
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The Iowa National Guard has not been asked to provide support, but is prepared to assist if asked, said Maj. Gen. Ben Corell.
“I’ve been in communication with (Iowa Department of Public Safety Commissioner Stephan Bayens), and he feels that he has — through local law enforcement, through the Department of Public Safety, and through other state agencies — they’re confident that they have the ability to maintain security and maintain anyone who wants to protest, the ability through their First Amendment rights to do so safely,” Corell told reporters Thursday.
“I do have National Guard forces that are trained, they are equipped and they are ready to respond within a period of time once we’re notified if events on the ground would lead us to require additional forces to help within the state of Iowa,” he said.
The Des Moines Police Department also is preparing for a potential need to respond to any incidents, an official said.
“As of now, we have not identified or received any credible threats or indications of potential violence. We will continue to monitor our sources,” Sgt. Paul Parizek, the department’s spokesman, said in an email. “Regardless, we have a strategic plan in place for the day of and days around the inauguration, and the ability to respond to any incident at a moment’s notice.”
Rep. Todd Prichard of Charles City, leader of the Iowa House Democrats, said he is concerned about reports of possible armed protests and has been communicating with the patrol.
“We’re obviously keeping an eye on the situation as we see things unfold in other parts of the country,” Prichard said. “The Iowa State Patrol has assured us and me that they are monitoring the situation, that they’ve taken measures that are appropriate with their manning and their response and those types of actions. I will continue the conversations with the Iowa State Patrol to make sure that we are getting the information that we need to make sure our members are safe when they come here to do their work, and that the public is safe when they come to visit us at the Capitol.”
Sen. Jack Whitver of Ankeny, the Iowa Senate Majority Leader, expressed confidence in the patrol’s ability to handle potential protests similarly to how it has handled previous protests at the Statehouse.
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“We have a higher security presence here than we’ve ever had. I don’t want to talk about details about what that security plan is, but I feel safe here,” Whitver said. “We’ve had protests for years, and we had riots throughout the last year around the Capitol. We’ve had large groups that have been in the Capitol and the Capitol police have made those adjustments over the last year. So we’ve had increased security and will continue to do so.”
Democratic Rep. Wes Breckenridge of Newton, a retired police officer, said the situation is “nerve-wracking” but expressed confidence in law enforcement.
“I do believe we need to be diligent, evaluating every credible threat, and make sure that our law enforcement is doing everything they can to address those potential threats. And I have no doubt they will,” he said.
Speaking Thursday on the Iowa Senate floor, Democratic Sen, Tony Bisignano of Des Moines expressed his frustration that lies about widespread voter fraud have led to concern for the safety of Iowans.
“The fact that some people have put my life in jeopardy, have put my friends in jeopardy, is a shame. And it’s a stain that will be on anyone that went out and gave misinformation about a rigged election knowing it wasn’t true,” he said. “I have my limits. When my life is put in jeopardy, in harm’s way, because of someone else’s rhetoric, I resent that.”
Rod Boshart of The Gazette Des Moines Bureau contributed.