Illinois lawmakers respond to threats aimed at state capitals during Inauguration week

The FBI is warning states of plans for armed protests at all 50 state capitals and in Washington, D.C. in the days leading up to President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration on Jan. 20.

An internal FBI bulletin last week warned that nationwide protests could begin soon, according to two law enforcement officials who read details of the memo to the Associated Press. Investigators believe some of the people are members of extremist groups.

“Armed protests are being planned at all 50 state capitols from 16 January through at least 20 January, and at the U.S. Capitol from 17 January through 20 January,” the bulletin said, according to one official. The officials were not authorized to speak publicly and spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity.

The FBI issued at least one other bulletin — they go out to law enforcement nationwide on the topic — before the riots last week. On Dec. 29, it warned of the potential for armed demonstrators targeting legislatures, the second official said.

“While our standard practice is to not comment on specific intelligence products, the FBI is supporting our state, local, and federal law enforcement partners with maintaining public safety in the communities we serve,” the bureau said in a statement. “Our efforts are focused on identifying, investigating, and disrupting individuals that are inciting violence and engaging in criminal activity.”

The FBI said it wasn’t focused on peaceful protests but “on those threatening their safety and the safety of other citizens with violence and destruction of property.”

The state Senate is not scheduled to be in session next week, and as of now, there has been no information released about a specific threat to Springfield. However, several state lawmakers have expressed confidence in law enforcement to keep them, as well as the public, safe from any potentially violent situations.

“The men and women of our law enforcement have worked tirelessly to ensure that all of us are safe and secured as we engage in our democratic duties,” state State Sen. Don DeWitte, R-St. Charles.

State Rep. Daniel Ugaste, R-Geneva, said he has been “very concerned” about the attempt of armed insurrection on Jan. 6, and said that the “condemns it.”

“If a person does not like what is going on in government, use the electoral process, engage with other people in your community and do this through elections and voting majorities and do it that way. I was not happy about the state of Illinois, but I would never never think of anything beyond peaceful protest. I wholeheartedly condemn it.”

Ugaste said what concerns him is that people work there and could be impacted if threats on state capitols are carried out.

“I am hopeful we will not have problems there and they (the employees) will all be safe as well as at every capitol.”

Illinois Senate Republican Leader Dan McConchie and Illinois Senate President Don Harmon were briefed by state police Thursday morning on how they would be responding to the security threat, McConchie said in an interview Thursday.

“The state police appears to have the threat, as far as what their response would be, well planned so I believe that we have everything addressed in that regard,” he said.

As an added cautionary measure, McConchie has instructed his staff in Springfield to work from home, he said.

State Representative for Illinois House District 66 Suzanne Ness said she agreed with McConchie that state police seemed to be working hard to ensure everyone is “well-protected,” but added that she is glad to be avoiding the capital next week. Ness has not received any threats of violence personally, but said that, unfortunately, a certain level of caution becomes necessary just by stepping up to run for public office.

“My daughter was very concerned ... and friends have been voicing concern for my well-being and safety,” she said. “For anybody that steps up to run for office, you have to have those thoughts and conversations with your families because we’re putting ourselves out there. It’s a real thing. So I take it seriously but I also know how important it is to do this work.”

McConchie condemned the violent acts of Jan. 6 and called for unity and a return to democracy.

“What is being proposed in these leaflets that the FBI have discovered is plain and simple illegal activity,” he said of the threats of violence on state capitals. “It’s not protest, it’s actually talking about armed violence. That is always illlegal.”

“... Even employing rhetoric of that nature, I think that that undermines democratic principles, ideals and systems that are important for us to continue to be what the United States has been which has been a beacon of freedom for the world,” McConchie said.

State Sen. Craig Wilcox, R-McHenry, said his chamber felt safe and secure while doing business in the Capitol building this week.

“We all saw the FBI report. We got a chance to talk with a number of the Capitol police here. They’re not sure what to expect. They’ve seen intel reports like this before and seen nothing occur,” Wilcox said. “They’re treating this like a couple of the protests from earlier this [past] year. They’re prepared. They have backup plans in place in case.”

He said the restrictions due to the coronavirus made this year’s lame duck session experience more strange than any security concerns.

“Illinois wasn’t participating. It was just the legislature. No lobbyists, no residents, no tours in the Capitol,” Wilcox said.

State Rep. Steve Reick, R-Woodstock, whose District 63 seat represents the western and northern halves of McHenry County, said he felt confident in the police presence in Springfield to contain any potential threats to members of the House and state property.

“We had absolutely no concerns for our safety,” Reick said. He also referred to the passage of a controversial criminal justice reform bill that will impact police policies, if signed into law after its passage by the legislature this week.

“Our law enforcement officers are standing their posts despite the knee-capping they took yesterday from the General Assembly. They deserve better,” Reick said.

State Rep. Marty McLaughlin, R-Barrington Hills, who was sworn into office on Wednesday, said he just left Springfield, where everything in the General Assembly ran very smoothly.

“There didn’t seem to be any excessive or additional public safety presence,” McLaughlin said.

Though there was a lot of excitement in Springfield, especially surrounding the seating of a new speaker of the House, Emanuel “Chris” Welch, to replace longtime Rep. Michael Madigan, he said there were no overlying concerns he was made aware of.

Illinois State Rep. Jeff Keicher, R-Sycamore, said on Thursday he hasn’t heard anything yet about any potential state capitol protests happening in Springfield. However, he said, he has spent the last week at the Bank of Springfield convention center with Illinois State Police troopers helping with security and has felt safe, despite the potential protest concerns.

“I have the utmost confidence in their ability to allow Illinois governemnt to function as intended, no matter the circumstances,” Keicher said.

Keicher said he does support citizens’ rights to protest, peaceful assembly, free speech and free press.

“But where it crosses over into intimidation and threats, that is against the integrity of the republic that we live in,” Keicher said.

Keicher said he thinks on many fronts the state and country have engaged in more diligent and thoughtful attempts at dialogue. He said he believes the tribalism that persists has torn at everyone’s souls nationwide.

“And I look forward to open and honest dialogue and debate on the most pressing issues of our country, including our civil and social discourse,” Keicher said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report