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FBI bracing for potential protests at Utah State Capitol

(Exterior of the FBI office in Salt Lake City. Credit: Paul Nelson)

SALT LAKE CITY – The FBI will assist in securing the Utah State Capitol in anticipation of protests leading up to Inauguration Day. However, agents say they won’t be interfering in peaceful protests.

Assistant Special Agent in Charge Dave Fitzgibbons, like many others, was sickened to watch protestors break into the US Capitol building in Washington D.C.  A lot of the work being done by the D.C. office to identify the people who participated is being passed out to other field offices, including Salt Lake City.

“They have received in excess of 100 thousand digital tips and all of that is getting sorted through.  They’ve also, in six days, identified 150 people,” Fitzgibbons reported.

While agents in Salt Lake City are assisting with that, Fitzgibbons said they’re going to help local and state law enforcement agencies in increasing security around Utah’s statehouse.  He’s not at liberty to give all the details about what they’ll do, aside from saying they’ll have a command post there.

“We’ve got a heightened posture here at the FBI carrying through the weekend and inauguration on the 20th,” Fitzgibbons says.

An internal memo shows FBI offices have been warned about possible armed protests at statehouses around the country, but, they haven’t seen any evidence of a specific or substantiated threat in Utah. 

Plus, they have no interest in interfering with protests that remain peaceful and will only move in if people cross the line into criminal activity. However, Fitzgibbons said it can be tricky to distinguish between someone who is expressing themselves on social media and someone who is trying to incite violence.

“We work very closely with our US Attorney’s office on the statutes and where that line is drawn.  Sometimes, it can be a grey line,” Fitzgibbons said. “When it comes to surveillance, for example, we don’t surveil First Amendment protests and things like that.  They have to have violated the law.”

An event planned for Sunday is expected to draw between 500 and 1,500 people.  Governor Spencer Cox declared a state of emergency in anticipation of the protests, stating they respect the rights of Utah residents to peacefully assemble, but, “we draw the line at threats to [the] physical safety or to the Utah Capitol building. No violence of any kind will be tolerated.”