Legislative staff says threats of unrest at state capitals being taken ‘very seriously,’ preparations underway

The director of the Legislative Counsel Bureau says her agency has been paying close attention to the unrest happening nationally and has been preparing in case more demonstrations take place in downtown Carson City in the days ahead of Joe Biden’s inauguration.

Legislative Counsel Bureau Director Brenda Erdoes’ comments come after the FBI issued a bulletin to law enforcement warning of armed protests being planned in all 50 state capitals and threats of an uprising if President Donald Trump is removed from office. The agency also warned of groups threatening to storm state government offices on Inauguration Day.

“This is something that we're taking very seriously. And we believe that we will appropriately react as things occur,” Erdoes said in an interview on Wednesday. “A lot of planning has gone into this, a lot of training, and the amount of training that has gone into this ... I think we're in a good place.”

She said there’s been preparation since the spring and detailed plans on how to keep people safe, although she declined to elaborate on the specific tactics because of the sensitive nature of the information.

Thousands of National Guard members, including more than 200 from Nevada, are being deployed to Washington D.C. with the goal of deterring violence in the wake of a siege on the U.S. Capitol last week. Troops in fatigues were seen filling the building on Wednesday.

Officials with the Nevada National Guard said that as of Wednesday, Gov. Steve Sisolak has not deployed them to provide extra support in Nevada in the lead-up to inauguration. Sisolak’s office didn’t immediately return a message seeking comment on any special plans there might be to address potential unrest.

The Legislature has not yet convened for its regular session, which brings much more activity to the Capitol complex than there is in the off-season. 

As the House voted Wednesday to impeach Trump based on allegations that he incited insurrection last week, the president issued a statement urging calm.

"In light of reports of more demonstrations, I urge that there must be NO violence, NO lawbreaking and NO vandalism of any kind. That is not what I stand for, and it is not what America stands for. I call on ALL Americans to help ease tensions and calm tempers. Thank You," Trump’s statement said.

Carson City has been a hub for a variety of protests since the spring, from demonstrations against Sisolak’s shutdown orders to Black Lives Matter rallies and more recently, events featuring Trump supporters who have not accepted the results of the presidential election.

Carson City Sheriff Ken Furlong told the Nevada Appeal that multiple law enforcement agencies have been meeting at least once a week to prepare for civil unrest. But he told the publication the statehouse and legislative building are impossible to secure because of their many windows, and said the type of weapons that demonstrators are bringing to the events “is the big issue.”

“It only takes one thing to go wrong and you will have a disaster,” he told the newspaper.

Pro-Trump protesters in Carson City peaceful even as supporters of president storm, occupy U.S. Capitol

As supporters of President Donald Trump stormed the U.S. Capitol and forced members of Congress into hiding as the certification of Joe Biden’s victory began, a few hundred protesters lined the main thoroughfare in Carson City for a more subdued demonstration.

Authorities had set up metal barricades to keep protesters out of the street and off the grounds of the Governor’s Mansion, and Carson City Sheriff Kenny Furlong issued a warning telling people to avoid the downtown area. Demonstrators were seen waving Trump flags, and some wore fatigues and toted guns, while the president’s speech Wednesday morning sounded through a loudspeaker.

“State and local law enforcement agencies are collaborating to ensure all resources are available in response to the anticipated demonstration,” Furlong said in a statement ahead of the protest. “Law enforcement will continue to respect the rule of law and the rights of those in peaceful demonstrations, without regard to a particular agenda.”

A pro-Trump demonstration in downtown Carson City on Jan. 6, 2021. Photo by David Calvert.
A pro-Trump demonstration in downtown Carson City on Jan. 6, 2021. Photo by David Calvert.
Participants wear fatigues at a pro-Trump demonstration in downtown Carson City on Jan. 6, 2021. Photo by David Calvert.

The atmosphere at the Carson City gathering was festive, with rock and country music playing over a PA system including a version of the YMCA song with the acronym “MAGA” swapped in. Participants drank beer, shook hands with uniformed officers, cheered passing motorists that showed support and booed those that flipped them off.

No government property was damaged, at least in the initial hours of the demonstration.

On the other side of the country, however, chaos reigned on the day that Congress was set to count Electoral College votes and some members were expected to challenge the results. Following a speech from Trump, supporters breached barriers and pushed their way into the Capitol, smashing windows and taking over the floor of the Senate as members hid.

The siege disrupted the proceedings well before Nevada’s Electoral College votes were counted and drew condemnation from elected leaders in Nevada.

“The chaos that has erupted in the United States Capitol is the opposite of patriotic -- it is undemocratic and un-American,” Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak said on Twitter. “I am praying for the safety of Nevada's federal delegation, all congressional members and staff, & law enforcement officers. This must stop.”

Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto was slated to speak against the Arizona objection before the chamber was cleared at about 2:30 p.m. on the East Coast. A commotion was heard just before the chamber was cleared, according to the pool report. 

“Capitol Police circled the Senate chamber, ordering all staff and reporters and any nearby senators into the chamber -- which was immediately sealed off, locked down on the second and third floors, sealing off any entry to the chamber,” the report said. 

In the House, lawmakers in the chamber and near it were told by Capitol Police to don gas masks to protect themselves from what some members said was tear gas used to repel rioters.

Cortez Masto gave her speech after the proceedings resumed about six hours later.

Rep. Susie Lee said in an interview that she was evacuated from two locations before being moved to an undisclosed location with her colleagues. 

She started the day in her office, having been driven by a staffer to avoid the protests. She typically walks or bikes to work. 

Democratic leaders had asked that members not be on the floor if they were not speaking because of the pandemic. The counting of the electors had just begun and the House was debating the objection to Arizona’s election result, so there was no need to be on the floor.

Lee said she saw no sign of panic and that the Capitol Police “were good at really keeping us informed.” 

Her office is pretty far from the House floor, so she felt safe. “I imagine if I were on the floor of the house, I probably would have seen a little more panicking,” Lee said. 

Asked what punishment, if any, Trump should suffer, perhaps impeachment as Rep. Steven Horsford called for. She said all sanctions should be explored: “When something this horrific happens, I think all options are on the table.”  

Biden’s 33,596 vote margin of victory in Nevada has been baselessly challenged by both President Trump and his campaign operation, despite the state’s Republican Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske declaring that her office has not seen any evidence of widespread fraud and with multiple state courts ruling against Trump campaign lawsuits alleging mass voter fraud.

Mark Amodei, the state’s lone Republican congressional representative, tweeted that all of his Washington staff is safe and that “History made today for all the wrong reasons. Shameful.”

In an interview with the Reno Gazette-Journal on Tuesday, Amodei declined to say if he would vote against certifying Biden’s win during the congressional ratification process.

The state’s other congressional representatives were much more forceful in public statements denouncing the violent actions by supporters of the president. Democratic Rep. Dina Titus said on Twitter that “lawless domestic terrorists encouraged by the President of the United States are attempting to destroy our democracy. They will not succeed.”

Fellow Democrat Lee wrote on Twitter that she and her staff were safe, while calling on President Trump to “unequivocally call for an end to this violence.”

“This is more than protesting. This is more than rioting. This is violent extremism aimed at the very heart of our democracy. It needs to stop,” she wrote on Twitter.

Trump put out a video message on Twitter Wednesday afternoon that was dominated by his claims that the election was stolen from him, but also told occupiers that he loved them and they should go home.

Horsford blamed Trump for causing the occupation and called for accountability for those involved.

“This violence and chaos around the Capitol is a direct result of the call to arms by President Trump and his allies who organized and incited today’s events,” he said. “While there are some forces who want to destroy our democracy and deny the results of the election, make no mistake: I remain resolved to perform my duty, certify the election results and defend free and fair elections.”

Cortez Masto, meanwhile, denounced the events at the Capitol as “un-American and unacceptable” and condemned the violence “in every way possible.” Sen. Jacky Rosen described the storming of the Capitol as “reprehensible.”

“It’s time for us as a nation to come together and denounce hate and violence,” Rosen said on Twitter. “Together, we will overcome and rebuild our nation.”

Former Gov. Brain Sandoval, a Republican, described the situation in Washington, D.C. as “a clear attempt to hijack the very foundation of our democracy.”

In Las Vegas, protesters participated in a car caravan that started at the Ahern Hotel, according to KLAS-TV. Trump supporters were seen carrying flags on the sidewalk outside the federal courthouse, and cars honked at demonstrators as they drove past.

Republican and Democratic members of the Legislature took to Twitter to condemn Thursday’s events. Assemblyman Jim Wheeler, the former Republican leader, said on Twitter that anyone in the Capitol who is “causing violence” should be “immediately arrested and prosecuted.”

State Sen. Ben Kieckhefer, a Republican, called the storming of the Capitol “patently un-American” and described the images emerging from Washington, D.C. as “horrific.”

“Every leader who believes in the value and virtue of our nation needs to condemn these actions, and the criminals should be arrested and prosecuted to the full extent of the law,” Kieckhefer wrote on Twitter.

Senate Democratic Leader Nicole Cannizzaro described rioters’ actions as “nothing short of an illegal attempt to overturn a free and fair election” and called on all elected officials to denounce the violence and “the disgraceful lies that led to it.”

“It is unimaginable that some would seek to dismantle our government because they do not like the results of an election,” Cannizzaro wrote on Twitter. “This violence cannot be the answer and we cannot sit idly by and either ignore or encourage it.”

Others were more succinct in their thoughts.

“No words,” state Sen. Yvanna Cancela, a Democrat, wrote on Twitter. “Just awful.”

A pro-Trump demonstration in downtown Carson City on Jan. 6, 2021. Photo by David Calvert.
An attendee at a pro-Trump demonstration in downtown Carson City on Jan. 6, 2021. Photo by David Calvert.
Legislative police officers stand by near a pro-Trump demonstration in downtown Carson City on Jan. 6, 2021. Photo by David Calvert.
A dog at a pro-Trump demonstration in downtown Carson City on Jan. 6, 2021. Photo by David Calvert.
An attendee wearing a Trump flag as a cape at a pro-Trump demonstration in downtown Carson City on Jan. 6, 2021. Photo by David Calvert.
An attendee at a pro-Trump demonstration in downtown Carson City on Jan. 6, 2021. Photo by David Calvert.
A pro-Trump demonstration in downtown Carson City on Jan. 6, 2021. Photo by David Calvert.
An attendee at a pro-Trump demonstration in downtown Carson City on Jan. 6, 2021. Photo by David Calvert.

This article was updated Wednesday Jan. 6, 2021, at 7:16 p.m. to include comments from Rep. Susie Lee. This article was updated Wednesday Jan. 6, 2021, at 3:55 p.m. to add details about Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto being in the speaking queue and about the use of tear gas around the House chamber.

Protesters outside Governor’s Mansion in Carson City attract police presence

A group of protesters, some dressed in military fatigues and open-carrying guns, gathered outside the Governor’s Mansion in Carson City on Saturday to call on Gov. Steve Sisolak to open all businesses.

Marked and unmarked vehicles from the Nevada Highway Patrol, Carson City and Douglas County sheriff’s offices parked several cars deep blocked vehicle traffic on some streets around the mansion. Carson City Sheriff Kenny Furlong said demonstrators had been around since the morning, and by 2 p.m., it appeared about 100 protesters were within a block of the governor’s residence.

“If you are an elected representative or a governor and you don’t like the Constitution, you want to govern or rule [like a] dictatorship, go to another country,” one protester said through a bullhorn.

A pickup truck parked outside the mansion had a wooden cross attached to the back hung with a Trump campaign flag, and wooden signs declared “Open our Churches,” “Open All Business Now” and “Set NV Free!!!” Some officers around the perimeter wore ballistic vests and held rifles, while others appeared less heavily armed, including some who stood on the lawn of the mansion monitoring the scene.

The demonstrations have been taking place on weekends since at least mid-April, with protesters pushing back on Sisolak’s business shutdown and stay-at-home orders. Sisolak announced modest rollbacks of the orders this week, including the reopening of golf courses and an expansion of retail sales through curbside pickup, but has said more broad revocations in a “Phase 1” of his reopening plan won’t come until perhaps mid-May.

Conservative groups press lawmakers to support criminal justice overhaul bill

A coalition of national conservative and Republican-leaning groups has sent a letter to lawmakers urging them to support a bill overhauling substantial sections of Nevada criminal law that lowers penalties and increases access to “diversion” programs.

The letter was jointly sent by the American Conservative Union, Americans for Tax Reform, Right on Crime, FreedomWorks, R Street Institute and the Faith & Freedom Coalition to lawmakers after the bill, AB236, was voted out of the Assembly Ways and Means Committee on Friday morning.

The letter, addressed to Assembly Republican Leader Jim Wheeler, echoes concerns that Nevada’s prison population has grown above the national average and led to prison overcrowding, largely due to “minor technical violations” committed while individuals are on probation or parole. It states that lawmakers could save the state hundreds of millions of dollars over time by passing the bill, while saying following the recommendations made in the bill by the Nevada Advisory Commission on the Administration of Justice would follow in the path of the recently adopted federal “First Step Act.”

“By adopting the recommendations of the ACAJ, the Legislature can follow the lead of President Trump and conservative states across the country, getting Nevada’s justice system back on a sustainable track,” the letter states. “We strongly urge you to follow the path of the President by responsibly reducing the prison population while protecting public safety, focusing resources on serious and violent offenders, and providing mental health and substance use treatment to those in need in order for them to better reintegrate and become successful citizens.”

AB236, which is being shepherded by Democratic Assemblyman Steve Yeager, is based on a set of 25 recommendations made by the ACAJ that lowers various criminal penalties, increases diversion programs and makes several other tweaks to the state’s criminal justice code. The bill was voted out of the Assembly Judiciary Committee earlier in May after two months of “heavy lifting” and negotiations on the bill. All five Republicans on the committee voted against the bill.

Lawmakers also received a letter Friday from Carson City Sheriff Kenny Furlong in support of the bill, saying that he supported measures to end the “revolving door” where individuals with mental health issues or addiction end up either in prison or on the streets without proper treatment.

“By redistributing resources within the criminal justice system, this bill will help fund law enforcement initiatives that identify and treat people in crisis,” he wrote. “Proactive responses such as this are the best way to address crime and make our communities safer.”

AB236 Letter of Support Sheriff Furlong by Riley Snyder on Scribd

Updated NV - Natl Partners Letter 05.23.19 by Riley Snyder on Scribd