A smattering of people collected on the steps of Colorado’s Capitol on Sunday, a far cry from the massive, potentially violent protests federal and state authorities had braced for.
A woman held her position steadily before cameras, displaying a small American flag and a sign accusing Congress of negligence. Nearby, a man with a white beard poking out from his ‘Trump 2020’ mask chatted with reporters. Around them, on the yellow grass and stone pathways, clumps of bundled-up people stood around under cloudy skies, waiting to see if anything would happen.
By far the largest group on hand were members of the media, brought out by an FBI bulletin warning of potential armed protests at all 50 state capitols leading up to the presidential inauguration on Wednesday. But in Denver, nothing like that has occurred so far.
“I’m really surprised. I figured there’d be more than this,” said Trump supporter Larry Woodall of Denver as he surveyed the steps of the state capitol. He said he’d heard about the possibility of a protest on the news and wanted to show his peaceful support for the president.
Woodall doesn’t believe Trump incited the violence at the U.S. Capitol and hopes he runs again in 2024. As for the riot itself, “I didn’t think that it was right, I really didn’t. It wasn’t right to do what they did… I just pray that nothing like that happens around here.”
“They’re most definitely ready here,” he said, gesturing to a chain-link fence surrounding the state Capitol. The building’s lower windows and doors were covered in plywood sheeting and a state trooper watched the gathering from a patrol car on the end of the plaza.
At one point, a law enforcement vehicle did drive by with officers clinging to its sides, and figures that appeared to be officers were visible in silhouette on the roof of a nearby building. But by late afternoon, Denver Police said nothing had occurred around the Capitol that would require their involvement. Police Chief Paul Pazen had warned potential protesters in recent days that open carry is not allowed in Denver.
In the previous week, many of the president’s supporters urged each other to avoid demonstrations. Joe Oltmann, a conservative Castle Pines podcaster who helped organize anti-lockdown protests last summer, got several hundred ‘likes’ on a Facebook post that described any weekend protests as a ‘false flag’ — something designed to get the president’s supporters in trouble.
“Those in Colorado who are thinking of attending the “armed protest” at the Denver Capitol. Don’t. There is nothing to be gained from doing this and I will certainly not support you before or after,” he wrote.
The calls for people to stay home encouraged at least one demonstrator to do the opposite.
“Most people are too afraid to come out. And that’s partly why I’m here,” said a young man in dark glasses, a hat, and face mask. He declined to give his name, saying he believes the police would target him for his speech. “Once I started seeing that people were that scared, I just decided, you know what, somebody’s got to go out there and represent us, so here I am.”
The man, who identified himself as a Libertarian, said he’d heard about the possibility of a protest discussed on social media and in Libertarian groups he belongs to. He was wearing a Hawaiian shirt — the colorful button-ups have become a hallmark of the extremist Boogaloo boys faction — but deflected when asked why.
As the morning continued with little organization and lots of waiting, groups of onlookers strolled by, or stopped to see if anything would materialize.
Chris Klafehn of Denver came by with a friend to observe the scene. After the riot in Washington, she started reading about right-wing groups, their symbols and history.
“It's been really interesting to see that this isn't something that's just happened,” she said of the violence. “This has been fomenting essentially (since) before Trump was in office.”
By early afternoon the most organized group on the Capitol grounds, besides the eddying clusters of reporters and photographers, was a small Christian group, which set up a microphone and sound system and began preaching about salvation to anyone who would listen. The FBI Warned Of Armed Protest At All State Capitols. In Colorado, Nothing Much Has Materialized