AUSTIN, Texas – Greater than 100 Texas troopers in riot gear stood outdoors the state Capitol, sporting tactical vests and face shields. Dozens extra patrolled the hallways, some carrying zip-tie handcuffs. Past the entrance gates, a small group of armed demonstrators paced on the sidewalk.
The beginning Tuesday of a brand new legislative session in Texas was guarded by a unprecedented present of state police and Nationwide Guard members, following the violent riot on the U.S. Capitol final week and new FBI warnings of armed protests nationwide forward of President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration.
However the heavy safety went unmentioned by Republican Gov. Greg Abbott and lawmakers throughout a largely ceremonial gaveling in of a brand new session, leading to a scene of putting distinction, as heat speeches within the Home and Senate carried on with troopers on alert for unrest simply outdoors the chamber doorways.
No incidents had been reported and Texas Division of Public Security troopers tremendously outnumbered what turned out to be a small variety of protesters outdoors and guests contained in the Capitol, the place officers required fast COVID-19 checks for entry as circumstances surge statewide.
“It is unhappy that our nation is in a state of turmoil the place we’ve to concern violence like what occurred in Washington,” Democratic state Rep. Julie Johnson mentioned. “I am actually grateful that DPS has actually took this severely to guard us.”
Lawmakers gathered on the identical time President Donald Trump was in Texas, tons of of miles south on the border with Mexico, the place he trumpeted his marketing campaign in opposition to unlawful immigration in an effort to burnish his legacy with simply eight days earlier than leaving workplace. Exterior the Texas Capitol, a number of pro-Trump demonstrators used a bullhorn pressed up in opposition to a telephone to amplify Trump’s border speech.
Others outdoors included a number of armed males in fight gear sporting “Texas Militia” labels on their garments. The chairman of the Republican Get together of Texas, former Florida U.S. Rep. Allen West, took an image with them and posted it on the Texas GOP’s official Twitter account.
The primary day of session for the Texas Legislature — which meets for 140 days each two years — is usually among the many most crowded, making the calm and sparsely populated Capitol grounds Tuesday all of the extra noticeable.
Hovering COVID-19 caseloads saved no less than two lawmakers away, together with Rep. Michelle Beckley, who referred to as the gathering a possible “superspreader” occasion. Shortly after the opening ceremony ended, state well being officers reported that Texas had surpassed 14,000 hospitalized COVID-19 sufferers for the primary time, in addition to 22,000 extra newly confirmed circumstances.
The newly chosen Texas Home speaker, Republican Dade Phelan, mentioned “a lot of our residents query the electoral course of itself” whereas laying out among the points lawmakers will confront over the following 5 months. He didn’t point out Trump or that there was no proof of widespread election fraud.
Abbott didn’t instantly tackle the election or violence on the U.S. Capitol briefly remarks to lawmakers, urging them to help police and get folks again to work in Texas, the place the pandemic has left a half-million fewer jobs than a yr in the past.
Requested Monday about whether or not he believed Trump had incited violence, Abbott mentioned, “Violence at all times clearly is unacceptable. However the people who find themselves answerable for the violence are the individuals who did it.”
An inner FBI bulletin has warned of plans for armed protests in any respect 50 state capitals and in Washington, D.C., within the days main up Biden’ inauguration on Jan. 20. State officers mentioned extra safety could be deployed to the Capitol however made no point out of particular threats.
“I feel we’re proactive with DPS and sending a message that is the folks’s home,” Democratic state Sen. John Whitmire mentioned of the safety. “It’s going to be protected. You must take note of the (FBI) bulletins. However you’ll be able to’t not do your small business or the opposite facet wins.”
Related Press author Paul J. Weber contributed to this report.
Acacia Coronado is a corps member for the Related Press/Report for America Statehouse Information Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit nationwide service program that locations journalists in native newsrooms to report on undercovered points.
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