With heavy security in place, pro-Trump rallies draw small turnout at Minnesota Capitol

Two people sitting in camp chairs in front of a capitol building.
Robert Marvin and rally organizer Becky Strohmeier sit in front of the Minnesota State Capitol on Sunday. They were two of a half-dozen people who demonstrated in support of President Donald Trump as a heavy presence of law enforcement were on guard for possible violence.
Christine T. Nguyen | MPR News

Updated: Jan. 17, 5:30 p.m.

Protests to support President Donald Trump at the Minnesota Capitol on Saturday and Sunday drew only a handful of people. They came as authorities in state capitals across the country are on alert for possible violence ahead of President-elect Joe Biden's inauguration on Wednesday.

Dozens of state troopers and conservation officers in riot gear ringed the Capitol building in St. Paul both days. An armored vehicle was parked at the base of the Capitol steps, and National Guard armored vehicles blocked nearby streets.

On Saturday, a small group gathered for a planned rally that organizers, who had requested an event permit, called a "Freedom Fest."

There were no speeches or banners, just a few handheld signs expressing doubt about the presidential election and government integrity. The crowd mostly talked among themselves, ringed by dozens of cameras, microphones and journalists — vastly outnumbering the demonstrators.

The group expressed their ongoing support of Trump and opposition to coronavirus restrictions in the state. Rally organizer Becky Strohmeier said there was never any danger of violence. But she said rallies will likely continue, even after Biden's inauguration.

"I imagine we'll keep gathering because at this point we're all being censored, and we're losing outlets to communicate with each other. So it might turn from rallies and protests to just like a town square gathering. This could be our new town square," she said.

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But Strohmeier said the legitimacy of the presidential election will likely be a moot point for the group in a few days.

"That probably won't be my main focus. I think there are a lot of other things we could be protesting. But no, I probably won't be out here doing that," she said.

On Saturday there was a brief confrontation with a counterprotester, who played a recording of calliope music and shouted obscenities at the pro-Trump group. The counterprotester left within minutes after being asked to step aside by the State Patrol.

One demonstrator was carrying a rifle, but the gathering ended peacefully by mid-afternoon.

Strohmeier also organized another gathering at the Capitol on Sunday, for what was called a “church service.” Like Saturday, people attending the event were outnumbered by journalists — and law enforcement officers outnumbered them all.

Ahead of the weekend, state officials had asked Minnesotans to avoid the Capitol complex — though Public Safety Commissioner John Harrington said Friday that there was no immediate, credible threat of violence in Minnesota.