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Cox declares State of Emergency ahead of possible weekend protests

Utah State Capitol fall
Posted at 5:38 PM, Jan 14, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-15 10:05:42-05

SALT LAKE CITY — Governor Spencer Cox has declared a state of emergency due to possible violent protests over the weekend, closing the entire Utah State Capitol grounds to the public.

“We respect the right of Utah residents to peaceably assemble as guaranteed in the U.S. Constitution,” said Gov. Cox in a statement. “But we draw the line at threats to physical safety or to the Utah Capitol building. No violence of any kind will be tolerated.”

The governor signed an executive order that goes into effect Friday and continues through Jan. 21. All protests that had previously been permitted for Capitol grounds through next Friday will no longer be allowed. According to the Capitol Preservation Board, which oversees the grounds, only one event had sought a permit for the south steps of the building — a "We Are Not the Enemy rally" that claimed to have 100 demonstrators. However, the Utah Highway Patrol said it was anticipating as many as 500 to 1,500 people might show up.

Extra security was being brought in for the Utah State Capitol because of the start of the 2021 legislative session and the presidential inauguration in Washington.

READ: Utah activist John Sullivan arrested for involvement in Capitol riot

The action comes after the deadly violence involving pro-Trump demonstrators at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6. Armed protesters also gathered outside the Utah State Capitol on the same day.

Since then, political leaders and law enforcement have been bracing for far-right extremist demonstrations over President Trump's election loss. An FBI bulletin warned that armed protests are being planned for all 50 state capitols, including here in Salt Lake City. The bulletin said the protests would happen through Inauguration Day on Jan. 20.

WATCH: Utah State Capitol to beef up security ahead of planned armed protests

Earlier this week, House and Senate Republican leaders announced the Utah State Capitol would remain closed out of concerns for violent protests and the spread of COVID-19. The buildings themselves have been closed to the general public since March because of the pandemic. Former Utah Gov. Gary Herbert had ordered the Capitol grounds closed last summer when some protests in downtown Salt Lake City escalated to violence.

Gov. Cox is also keeping Utah National Guard troops in the state instead of deploying to Washington, D.C. ahead of the inauguration. An additional 40 UHP troopers headed to Washington for the inauguration would remain in Utah to help protect the Capitol.

Read Gov. Cox's executive order here: