Gov. Phil Murphy and New Jersey’s top law enforcement officials said they are aware of and planning for what are being called “peaceful armed demonstrations” in Trenton and other state capitals throughout the United States on Sunday, part of a string of antigovernment actions that began with the riot at the Capitol last week and are expected to continue through Inauguration Day.
Murphy made a plea for counter protesters to stay away, saying, “Even if your heart is 1000% in the right place, stay home. Stay home. There is just no need to get in the mix.”
New Jersey law enforcement has recognized “domestic extremists” as a major threat for many years. Jared M. Maples, director of the New Jersey Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness, released a report earlier this year and updated it in September in which he outlined potential dangers.
“Domestic extremists — primarily anarchist, anti-government, and racially motivated — will continue to manipulate national incidents such as the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2020 Presidential election, and civil unrest to further their agendas and remain a threat,” the 2020-21 Supplemental Threat Assessment states. “These extremists will use the confluence of those factors to promote propaganda, recruit new members, encourage supporters to commit attacks.”
That assessment predicted domestic extremists would coordinate and attack the police and antigovernment and anarchist extremists would protest the election and attack government buildings.
NJ’s hate-group contingent
The Southern Poverty Law Center has tracked 21 organizations in New Jersey that it calls hate groups, but it does not list a number of militias believed to be operating in the state.
The “Refuse to Be Silenced” rallies promoted on the website Tree Of Liberty, which bills itself as the press platform of the far-right, antigovernment Boogaloo Movement, are just one of a number of actions expected over the next two weeks in state capitals and Washington, D.C., leading up to the inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden. Organizers of some of the other events have promised violence. Sunday’s event is billed as a way to show the large number of armed citizens in the nation, but New Jersey has among the strictest gun laws in the country and, with few exceptions, people are not allowed to carry guns.
Without giving any specifics, Murphy, state police and state homeland security leaders said they will be prepared for whatever happens Sunday at the State House and hoping that it is peaceful.
“We’re very much aware of the discussed protests on Jan. 17 and, I think, on Jan. 20 as well, but more likely on the 20 in the nation’s capital. Pat (State Police Col. Callahan) and Jared (Maples) will … agree that we’re not going to get into much detail on this but, needless to say, we’re taking nothing for granted,” Murphy said.
“We’re putting all the resources available to make sure that violence doesn’t happening in New Jersey,” Maples added. Maples said the public can help the state’s efforts by reporting any suspicious activity or any planned violence they know about to the state’s hotline at 1-866-4-SAFE-NJ or email@example.com.
Peaceful armed protest?
Tree of Liberty states that Sunday’s event “will be a peaceful demonstration to send a message to those in favor of gun control that Americans exist that will defend our nation, defend ourselves, defend our families and defend our rights from all threats foreign and domestic.” Others posted that the rally is not solely dedicated to gun rights, but also “about the fraudulent and corrupt elections that have been taking place for only God knows how long” and “about unity against tyrannical government.”
Other commentors on the site supported violent action, with one urging people to “drag” people out of the State House and “hang them.” A follow-up post said “Most every problem can be solved by dragging out about 100 people and shooting them in the head.”
Callahan said law enforcement will “be prepared” but added that “we trust that those, if they do show up, that they do it in a peaceful manner.”
Murphy said the state’s heightened security concerns spread beyond the planned Sunday rally. The State House frequently draws protests of hundreds or thousands when a contentious issue is being considered. The last major one was in December 2019 when lawmakers were considering a requirement that all schoolchildren must be vaccinated, regardless of a religious objection. Crowds clogged the hallways and hundreds who could not get inside the building stood outside the Senate chambers screaming and banging on the windows.
“We obviously are taking the security risks deadly seriously and we’ll continue to do so, and we will take all the precautions that we think are necessary,” he said.
State Senate condemns Trump, extremists
On Monday shortly after Murphy discussed the rally during a briefing on the COVID-19 pandemic, the state Senate passed a resolution condemning President Donald Trump for inciting the riot and “the extremist protesters” who stormed the Capitol, resulting in the deaths of five — including New Jersey native Brian Sicknick, a Capitol police officer — smashed windows and other vandalism, including urine found in representatives’ offices. While this might have been expected to be a quick and uncontroversial vote, it sparked about an hour of debate and was passed mostly along party lines, with four Republicans voting against condemning the event and two — Declan O’Scanlon of Monmouth and Chris Brown of Atlantic — supporting the resolution.
That resolution (SR-106), which was introduced by Sen. Ronald Rice (D-Essex) and passed 24-4, states, “This House strongly condemns President Trump and his extremist supporters who were incited by the president to lawlessly attack and occupy the United States Capitol on January 6, 2021 and urges that President Donald J. Trump resign from office, be removed from office for being unfit to serve as President pursuant to the 25th Amendment of the United States Constitution, or be impeached for high crimes and misdemeanors.”
Several Republicans said they condemn the actions by the mob but that the language of the resolution goes too far.
Sen. Michael Doherty (R-Warren) went farthest in his opposition, saying “there were legitimate reasons for people to show up on January 6” and going on to repeat many of the complaints that Trump and other Republicans have made about the election despite the results being affirmed by election officials in every state, recounts and dozens of judges. He also repeated baseless theories that some of the rioters may have been Antifa members who oppose Trump.
“This is almost on a vindictive level seeking retribution,” Doherty said.
A number of Democrats stood up to say they couldn’t believe anyone would oppose it.
“I don’t see how anyone could say we went too far with this resolution,” said Sen. Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg (D-Bergen), who also expressed disbelief at her colleague’s repeating debunked election-integrity claims on the floor of the Senate. “To be standing in the halls of the New Jersey State Senate, to have to debate the insurrection that we saw … to find people standing up and talking about, ‘Well what about this and the president didn’t really do this.’ Stand up, condemn the action!”
Later, the Assembly considered an identical resolution, which passed 47-8. All votes in favor were cast by Democrats and all votes against by Republicans.