In Wake of Capitol Mob, California Officials Brace for More Unrest

A woman displays a pro-Trump sign as hundreds of people gather to protest the lockdown in spite of shelter-in-place rules still in effect at California's state Capitol building in Sacramento on April 20, 2020. (Josh Edelson/AFP via Getty Images)

As state and local officials join federal law enforcement agencies in investigating the role any Californians may have played in last week’s attack on the nation’s Capitol, they are also preparing for the possibility of more unrest in the coming days.

The FBI this week warned of the potential for armed protests at all 50 state capitols; in California, local law enforcement agencies said they are also on alert to protect city and county buildings.

And last week, even before the violence in Washington, D.C., supporters of President Trump flooded the Shasta County Board of Supervisors meeting, the Los Angeles Times reported, threatening the safety of elected officials in that rural county, where residents voted two to one for Trump over now President-elect Joe Biden.

Timothy Fairfield, a resident of Shingletown, blasted county elected officials in his three minutes of public comment.

"You're a traitor — there is one price for traitors. ... Your chance is to now flee this country," Fairfield, 44, said. "When Joe Biden’s long winter sets and the dark night comes in this country, do you think you’re going to get to see the dawn? No, you will not. Flee now while you can. Because the days of your tyranny are drawing to a close, and the legitimacy of this government is waning."

He went on to make a more explicit threat: "So, when the ballot box is gone, there is only the cartridge box. You have made bullets expensive. But luckily for you, ropes are reusable," he said.

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Brian Levin, director of Cal State San Bernardino's Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism, said those who monitor hate groups have been bracing for this moment.

"I was never surprised," Levin said. "This didn't start with President Trump, but it's become a rocket ship since he's been in office."

Levin said violent extremism often flares up in times of change — like the inauguration of a new president — but said that he will also be closely watching what happens after Jan. 20.

"We know that times of transition, particularly around these catalytic political ones, are times of increased risk. The problem is President Trump is the highest transmitter in the land, and has been able to coalesce and galvanize something. So this period of time will be an inflection point," he said.

Gov. Gavin Newsom said Monday that state officials are on “high alert” for any unrest in Sacramento and have a wide range of law enforcement agencies prepared to respond to any violence.

Orange County Democratic state Sen. Dave Min said state lawmakers were briefed on state Capitol security plans this week, and he’s confident in the measures. He noted that the Capitol complex is already closed to the public because of the pandemic.

"I'm not worried about my safety in Sacramento or in the Capitol, but of course, you worry about the rest of the country. You worry about cities, city halls, courts," he said. "We've seen an uprising of domestic terrorism. And certainly there are a lot of people right now at the national level that are fanning the flames of this."

Min, a former congressional staffer, said he was livid watching the insurrection unfold last week. He has since called for local and state prosecutors to investigate any Californians who participated in the violent attack — including a hairdresser from his district who posted videos online boasting about storming the Capitol.

Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer later stated that his office is working on an investigation into the assault and called on the public to share tips with the FBI.

Min said accountability is needed to send a clear message.

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"As more and more evidence has come out that this was premeditated, that Trump supporters were planning this on message boards, on websites, on social media for months and months, we know we have to take action," Min said. "Something like this cannot happen in the United States of America. And I believe every law enforcement agency, federal, state and local, needs to send the same message, which is, 'We will go after you. We will hold you accountable. We will bring you to justice.' "

Two other Democratic state senators also announced legislation this week that would require California's attorney general and the state's emergency agency to create special units dedicated to domestic terrorism.

Across California, law enforcement agencies contacted by KQED said they are monitoring social media for any planned actions. But none cited specific threats.

On Tuesday, the Santa Clara County Sheriff's Office announced it was assembling a special task force to "combat right-wing terrorists" in response to last week's attack on the nation's Capitol and ongoing threats related to the Biden's inauguration next week.

Kings County Sheriff David Robinson, president of the California State Sheriffs' Association, said that the events of the past week, along with ongoing threats, unfortunately come as no surprise to law enforcement.

"This has been a constant barrage for law enforcement," he said of extremist threats. "There's really not a lot of it that we get too excited about because it's just the norm. And I think this is the type of business that we do and we can look back over the history of our country, and from time to time, we have civil unrest like this and we've just got to be prepared for it."

Robinson said law enforcement agencies in areas like his — a small, rural county in Central California — are prepared to send mutual aid to other jurisdictions if they need help.