After Capitols Become Fortresses, Far-Right Protesters Are Mostly a No-Show

After Capitols Become Fortresses, Far-Right Protesters Are Mostly a No-Show

SAN FRANCISCO — And this is how the last weekend of the Trump presidency wound down, with state capitols across the nation ringed by barricades, military vehicles guarding closed-off streets and Washington, D.C., all but shut down. In the end, it was for a handful of protesters, most from the right, a few from the left, many looking more like ragtag stragglers than the furious mob of Trump supporters that ransacked the U.S. Capitol more than a week ago.

In Concord, N.H., five masked men dressed in tactical gear and carrying assault rifles gathered on the sidewalk in front of the statehouse lawn to express concerns about “government overreach.” In Lansing, Mich., National Guard soldiers watched as a dozen members of the far-right Boogaloo Bois group showed up with military-style weapons.

Across the country, legislative chambers — the people’s houses — became citadels. At least 17 states called up their National Guard.

In Washington, 15,000 troops, more than the nation has stationed in Iraq and Afghanistan, established a Green Zone, adding to the impression of an occupied city. The National Guard said the troops came from all 50 states and three territories, a force that could grow to 25,000 by Wednesday.

The large presence of troops and police officers across the country came after warnings from the F.B.I. that armed protests were planned in all 50 capitals and following online chatter promising demonstrations or worse in the days leading up to Wednesday’s inauguration of Joseph R. Biden Jr. as president.

The nation’s militarized streets on Sunday were a remarkable spectacle as police and National Guard officers faced off with promised right-wing protests that, at least on Sunday, were reduced to a whimper. Protesters in some states could be counted on one hand.

At the Massachusetts State House, where hundreds of police officers deployed around the perimeter, a pedestrian shouted, “What’s going on?”

“Maybe a demonstration, maybe not,” an officer responded.

But officials say they will remain on alert through Wednesday’s inauguration.

In Denver, where public offices were boarded up and police officers perched on rooftops, the smattering of Trump supporters who showed up to the State Capitol wondered whether they had come on the wrong day. “I was expecting more than me,” said Larry Woodall, 59, who wore a Trump 2020 face mask. “I feel like I’m the lone wolf.”

A reporter in Lincoln, Neb., counted two protesters marching around the State Capitol, one armed and the other carrying a homemade sign.

Outside the Pennsylvania State Capitol there were so few protesters that reporters lined up on the sidewalk to interview a man who gave his name only as Alex and wore a sweatshirt that said “Fraud 2020.” Reporters then turned to a man named Eddie who was selling “Biden is not my president” T-shirts but who left soon after for lack of customers.

There were those who made light of the moment. In Lansing, a man arrived with a large Nerf gun and wore a T-shirt declaring himself part of the Michigan Nerf Militia.

But there was no denying the anxiety of a nation wounded from a divisive transition of power and suffering from a pandemic and anxious exhaustion, particularly after the deadly Jan. 6 assault on the Capitol in Washington.

The United States Postal Service announced that it was removing or locking many blue mailboxes from the streets of Washington as a precaution. Secret Service agents checked wheels and the interior of cars parked along Massachusetts Avenue for anything suspicious.

In Salem, Ore., fewer than a dozen men dressed in military-style clothing marched onto the grounds of a park across the street from the State Capitol, waving flags. One held a sign made with marker on white posterboard: “Disarm the Government!” it said.

At the Texas Capitol, pro-Trump protesters gathered as officers from the Texas Department of Public Safety patrolled the grounds and guarded the entrance to the nearby Governor’s Mansion.

A protester lounged against a stone wall, holding a semiautomatic rifle and smoking a cigarette. He declined to give his name, saying he was there to “observe what was going on.”

Daniel Hunter, a 34-year-old handyman, drove down from Waco on Sunday, he said, to ensure that no one assaulted the Capitol.

“If they do, I’ll get in front of them,” he said. “Storming the Capitol isn’t civilized behavior.”

The events of Jan. 6 remained on everyone’s minds. Unlike other seminal moments of the Trump presidency, the attack on the Capitol has not dropped away from the news cycle or been eclipsed by some subsequent outrage. With more footage becoming public over the weekend, the riot became even more vivid and personalized.

In a 12-minute video posted Sunday by The New Yorker magazine men are seen rifling through the desks of senators in the Senate chamber and flipping through their files. “I think Cruz would want us to do this,” one man says, referring to Senator Ted Cruz, the Texas Republican. The video captures conversations between the rioters and police officers inside the Capitol. “You are outnumbered,” one of the men tells officers, adding that the rioters are there at the behest of President Trump, “your boss.”

For many of those watching from a distance, the storming of the Capitol and its aftermath combine into a picture of a nation almost unrecognizable to them.

“The last week and a half has been off-the-charts bad,” said Rich Kenny, a food distributor in Burlingame, Calif., who was cleaning out his garage on Sunday.

“It’s very surreal, and it’s very depressing,” he said. “And for somebody who has friends in other countries, they’re saying ‘What the hell is going on over there. You guys are the better democracy, and it looks like it’s falling apart.’ So it’s a really tough time. And I’m ashamed.”

In Sacramento, Calif., there was little sign of any protesters but the authorities were not taking any chances. A chain-link fence and portable metal barriers surrounded the Capitol building and armed National Guard troops were posted on street corners outside the state library and the office of the Secretary of State. Helicopters circled overhead.

A man on a scooter stopped to gawk and muttered from behind his face mask.

“Can you believe this is happening in America?” he said.

Reporting was contributed by Jack Healy from Denver; Shawn Hubler from Sacramento; Campbell Robertson from Harrisburg, Pa.; Simon Romero from Santa Fe; Ruth Graham from Concord, N.H., Ellen Barry from Boston; Sabrina Tavernise, Dionne Searcey, Elizabeth Dias and Giulia McDonnell Nieto del Rio from Washington; Michael Hardy from Austin, Texas; Kate Andrews from Richmond, Va.; Joe Purtell from San Francisco; Kathleen Gray from Lansing, Mich.; and Lauryn Higgins from Lincoln, Neb.


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