Legislators’ work continues despite FBI warnings


For the Athol Daily News
Published: 1/13/2021 4:00:22 PM
Modified: 1/13/2021 4:00:17 PM

ATHOL — The FBI has warned that armed protests are being planned at all 50 state capitols — as well as again in Washington, D.C. — between now and next week’s inaugural ceremony. A statement released by the Bureau Tuesday morning said, in part, “The FBI is supporting our state, local and federal law enforcement partners with maintaining public safety … Our efforts are focused on identifying, investigating and disrupting individuals that are inciting violence and engaging in criminal activity.”

A statement from Massachusetts State Police spokesman David Procopio said Tuesday, “To date, we are aware of no specific threat to government venues or to public safety generally in Massachusetts. We are in contact with the FBI and continue to share information through our Fusion Center with federal, state and local partners. We will continue to monitor all available intelligence over the coming days, will be prepared for any contingencies and will adjust our security operations accordingly.

“The State House is protected by a rigorous, multi-layered security operation that includes MSP, DCR (Department of Conservation and Recreation) Rangers, and building security. As in all cases of protest activity, protection of lives and property and preservation of the right of lawful assembly are our objectives; we will be prepared to protect the rights of freedom of assembly in our areas of jurisdiction provided those involved abide by the law and respect the rights, safety and property of others.”

State Representative Susannah Whipps said, if there are protests at the State House, few lawmakers are likely to witness them.

“The Massachusetts Constitution requires the legislature to meet every 72 hours,” she explained. “Informal sessions happen twice per week and usually have very few legislators present as these sessions generally only deal with home rule bills and legislation which doesn’t require debate. As far as formal sessions go, the vast majority of legislators are participating remotely due to COVID-19.”

The Athol Independent said the issued of security has been on the minds of state officials since last week’s storming of the nation’s Capitol.

“The Governor, Senate President and Speaker of the House assured us last week that they would be assessing the current safety protocols at the State House.”

Whipps then provided a memo sent to lawmakers:

“The safety of the Massachusetts State House, its employees and its neighbors is of utmost importance. As we witness the events in Washington, D.C. and across the nation, we are aware of the need to ensure the safety of this building and those who work within it. We continually assess our security needs and will adjust as necessary.

“People threatening elected officials is not something new, although recently it has become much more intense. I have received threats in the past and State House security has always acted quickly.”

Asked if she and other legislators had been given any instruction in personal safety, she said, “Several years ago we had a presentation by State House security on best practices but nothing in recent years.

“I have always felt that the Massachusetts State House is a soft target and that there are deficiencies in security. That being said, my staff and I continue to do our work in the district, as we have many people relying on us.”

While many people hope that political divisions will ease following the inauguration, Whipps said that will only occur when leaders in the GOP begin telling their followers the truth.

“I don’t believe political tensions will lessen until Republican leaders and lawmakers stand up and say that we had a fair and honest election and that President-elect Biden won. They must lead the way for this nation to heal.”

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