Security chief calls Minnesota Capitol 'safe' despite protests

Law enforcement stand on the steps of the state capitol as people protest.
Minnesota state troopers stand on the steps of Minnesota State Capitol during a rally in support of President Donald Trump on Wednesday.
Christine T. Nguyen | MPR News file

Officials have taken steps to ensure the Minnesota Capitol is safe despite recent and planned protests there by supporters of President Donald Trump, the state's public safety chief told lawmakers in a letter released Friday.

But Public Safety Commissioner John Harrington also urged legislators to restrain their rhetoric, saying the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol proved that words matter.

Harrington wrote to legislators Thursday after a peaceful “Storm the Capitol” protest by about 500 people, including at least three Republican lawmakers, in St. Paul on Wednesday. Organizers of that rally have since announced a “Stop the Steal” event at the Capitol for Saturday, with plans for protests outside the homes of unspecified public officials afterward.

“We all play a critical role in ensuring the continuation of safety at the Capitol and I encourage you to carefully consider the effect of our rhetoric,” Harrington wrote. "As leaders in our state, I think it is up to all of us to call out language or activity that endorses or encourages illegal or destructive behavior. We simply cannot stand by — and certainly not participate — while some choose to instigate violence or ignore law and order in our state and nation.”

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Trump supporters attend a rally at the Minnesota State Capitol.
Protesters attend a rally in support of President Donald Trump on Wednesday in St. Paul.
Richard Tsong-Taatarii | Star Tribune via AP file

Demonstrators, some openly carrying guns, went to the homes of some state representatives last weekend, Harrington wrote, noting that “some groups” have said they plan to protest against judges and state constitutional officers. Among the targets of speakers’ ire Wednesday was a judge who approved a consent decree last summer that made voting by mail easier during the pandemic. The commissioner said his department has alerted all police chiefs and sheriffs in the state and told them that his department is tracking that sort of activity.

Harrington didn't name the targets of last weekend's protests for security reasons. But Democratic Rep. Carlos Mariani, of St. Paul, tweeted Saturday that about “100 whites in MAGA hats protested #Covid rules at my home.” He said they blocked the street with trucks and that some carried guns and wore military-style clothing.

“Terrorism has many faces,” Mariani wrote. “Democracy is fragile. We must stand together.”

Harrington noted that there were “no active attempts” to breach the state Capitol on Wednesday, though many of the roughly protesters yelled that they wanted to and cheered the news of the storming of the U.S. Capitol. He said the reinforced security presence helped discourage trouble and that the stepped up security will continue at the Capitol, which has been fenced off since the unrest following the death of George Floyd in police custody last summer.

“These plans are preventative in nature, as there are few known active threats to the State Capitol at this time" Harrington wrote. "The State Patrol will continue in this posture as needed, based upon what we learn about upcoming protests, rallies and events at the Capitol Complex and surrounding area.”

Capitol security watch protesters during a rally
Capitol security watch protesters during a rally in support of President Donald Trump on the steps of the Minnesota State Capitol on Wednesday.
Richard Tsong-Taatarii | Star Tribune via AP file

Wednesday's rally was organized by Hold the Line MN, a Facebook group for self-proclaimed “patriots” committed to “rallying behind our President and America as we navigate this uncharted territory together.”

Becky Strohmeier, a leader of the group, said she didn't know how many people would attend Saturday.

At least three Republican lawmakers appeared at Wednesday’s rally, including fiery conservative Reps. Steve Drazkowski, of Mazeppa, Minn., and Eric Lucero, of Dayton, Minn., though the commissioner didn’t criticize any specific legislators.