State law enforcement preparing for possible armed protests at SC capitol

State law enforcement preparing for possible armed protests at SC capitol
The South Carolina State Law Enforcement Division confirmed it received a warning from the FBI about plans for possible armed protests in the nation's state capitals, including Columbia. (Source: WCSC/WIS)

COLUMBIA, S.C. (WCSC) - The South Carolina Department of Public Safety says it is on a state of heightened security as state law enforcement prepares for possible armed protests in the state.

The agency increased security last week, according to Bureau of Protective Services Maj. Dwayne Brunson.

“We are remaining in a state of heightened security and vigilance and monitoring developments in the state and around the nation,” he said.

He said SCDPS is continuing to work with state and local law enforcement agencies.

South Carolina State Law Enforcement Division spokesman Tommy Crosby confirmed the agency received a warning from the FBI about plans for “possible armed protests in the nation’s state capitals,” including Columbia.

“We are and have been in constant communications with our federal, state and local partners about this information and are prepared to provide any necessary assistance as required,” Crosby said.

Neither SLED nor the FBI have provided specific details about the possible protests.

Gov. Henry McMaster’s spokesman, Brian Symmes, said the governor “has great confidence in South Carolina’s law enforcement agencies.”

Columbia Police Chief Skip Holbrook said his department is working with state and federal partners “to monitor and engage in intelligence gathering related to events leading up to and including Inauguration Day.

Holbrook released this statement:

We will have a multi-agency security plan in place for all planned or spontaneous events. CPD is also monitoring social media, human intelligence and other open information sources regarding planned upcoming events.

Additionally, CPD has received communications from the Federal Bureau of Investigation through the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division’s Fusion Center as part of the daily intelligence briefing.

City of Columbia citizens can expect to see high visible police presence on and around the South Carolina State House, or other identified protest locations as events are announced or detected. Other law enforcement partner assets, such as mobile field force, hazardous device units, aviation, and tactical teams will all be available for our consideration.

FBI warns of armed protests in all 50 states, Washington

The FBI sent warnings to law enforcement in all U.S. states and the District of Columbia warning of plans for armed protests ahead of President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration next week.

In South Carolina, FBI Special Agent Donald Wood said he could not discuss specific information, but provided the following statement:

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. Our efforts are focused on identifying, investigating, and disrupting individuals that are inciting violence and engaging in criminal activity. As we do in the normal course of business, we are gathering information to identify any potential threats and are sharing that information with our partners. The FBI respects the rights of individuals to peacefully exercise their First Amendment rights. Our focus is not on peaceful protesters, but on those threatening their safety and the safety of other citizens with violence and destruction of property.

State capitols were reinforced with extra police officers and National Guard units Monday as some legislatures returned to business.

Fencing had already gone up around some capitols during racial injustice protests last summer, and it is being added at others.

In Michigan, where armed demonstrators against coronavirus restrictions entered the capitol last year, a state commission voted to bar the open carrying of weapons in the Capitol building.

Copyright 2021 WCSC. The Associated Press contributed to this report. All rights reserved.