By Guy Page
Vermont Public Safety Commissioner Michael Schirling, Capitol Police Chief Matt Romei and Montpelier Police Chief Brian Peete held a press conference this afternoon to discuss yesterday’s announcement that an armed gathering of protesters is expected at state houses across the country, January 17. Here’s what reporters learned (and what we didn’t).
There is no known, specific threat of armed protest at the Vermont State House – now. “At this stage there is not a specific threat or set of threats specific to Vermont,” Schirling said. “But at this stage it’s early in the process.” Just a few minutes later, it was reported to Schirling and the reporters on the Zoom call that the FBI had just issued a statement confirming all 50 states should expect armed gatherings at their state houses. Vermont Daily has been unable as of 4:38 pm to confirm that FBI announcement.
Nevertheless, Capitol Police Chief Matt Romei, Montpelier Police Chief Brian Peete, Vermont State Police and other agencies are coordinating their defensive response for anything that might happen. Montpelier residents should expect, at least, traffic disruption, Peete said.
Protesters may carry firearms, but are advised to consider whether it’s wise to do so. “If people are peacefully carrying a weapon it’s not an issue,” Schirling said. “It’s when it’s brandished that it obviously is.”
Still, Schirling appealed to protesters to think twice before bringing a firearm. “I don’t think it’s an unreasonable general request. I don’t want to be overly proscriptive. I would urge folks to consider what’s prudent.”
State House will be virtually empty Sunday, January 17. Even on weekdays the State House is virtually empty, but on Sunday Jan. 17 it will be especially so. Schirling said police will take that fact into account as it prepares its defensive posture for any gathering.
Vermont Trump bus travelers have no known militia connections. Schirling said that while he’s not aware of every Vermonter who rode the Trump bus’ to and from the Jan. 6 rally, he’s unaware if any of the 50-plus riders associated with right-wing militia groups.
Trump martial law declaration “a stretch,” won’t discuss Vermont police cooperation. Vermont Daily asked Schirling: “Part of the Q-Anon conspiracy talk on social media is that President Trump will use the Emergency Broadcast System to declare martial law. If President Trump does declare martial law, would Vermont law enforcement cooperate with him?”
“I don’t want to speculate on anything of that sort,” Schirling said. “Ultimately that would be the governor’s call. I think it would be a stretch for something like that to happen.”
Was the 17th of January chosen by Q-Anon because Q is the 17th letter of the alphabet?, a reporter (not Vermont Daily) asked. Schirling said he doesn’t know anything about that.
Vermont gun/ammo sales not known to be up in recent weeks. A reporter asked Schirling if gun and ammunition sales have spiked since the riot last Wednesday. The commissioner said he’s not aware of any. Over the last year “it’s been a theme.” [Schirling is correct: Vermont firearm sales last year exceeded 50,000 for first time since federal recordkeeping began in 1998. The annual total was 57,965.] It’s not uncommon for sales to spike when an incoming administration is believed to be more restrictive about gun and ammunition sales, he said.
Police have advised all state officials about dealing with protests at home. Noting that many lawmakers and state officials work from their homes, a reporter asked if they have been trained to deal with protesters. Schirling said they have been given some training, and “In the days to come we do anticipate doing a briefing for the legislators.”