"Armed March" On Ohio Statehouse Features Conspiracy Theories And Guns, But Stays Peaceful
The "armed march" that was expected in all 50 state capitals and brought out heavy security resulted in just a few dozen protestors in Columbus Sunday.
"Right now there’s too much division going on in our country with how the election has gone and with the Biden and Trump administration,” said an anonymous speaker with the anti-government right wing extremist group the Ohio Boogaloo. “And even [what] happened at the Capitol on [January] 6. That will not be happening here.”
That speaker helped kick off the event, which featured many people with weapons and ammunition, a few flags and signs, and supporters of both President-Elect Biden and President Trump.
A Biden flag waver who refused to give his name said he wasn’t concerned about bringing his flag: “Absolutely not. This is an armed protest.”
A pro-Trump protestor who identified himself only as “Kevin” held a sign that read “Impeach Gonzalez”, referring to Rep. Anthony Gonzalez (R-Rocky River), one of 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach Trump.
“Trump had no due process in the second impeachment. They had no hearings, no nothing,” he said.
The event also featured people who said they didn’t support either Trump or Biden. A man carrying a long gun wearing a white curled wig and a t-shirt with a Revolutionary War uniform printed on it spoke through a mask with an image of a skull.
“I have trouble personally finding tangible differences between the Democrat and Republican Party,” said the man, who identified himself as “Killdeer”, which was embroidered on his tri-corner hat.
There were people arguing over a wide range of issues, some of them conspiracy theories, over dueling bullhorns.
Also among the snow flurries was John Drury of the Cincinnati area, a guy with loud socks, shorts and a t shirt declaring he’s “The Dancing Trucker”, who performed his moves as he “danced for peace” along High Street in front of the Statehouse, earning honks and waves from drivers passing by.
And there were a few counterprotestors pushing back, specifically over a sign with a derogatory term.
All of this happened under the watchful eyes of dozens of state troopers and Ohio National Guard personnel, who moved around the extensive bike-rack style fencing that encircled the Statehouse and its mostly Civil War-era monuments. Humvees blocked sidewalks and ramps down to the underground garage, and all entrances to the building were closed off. A handful of troopers were stationed at the Holocaust and Liberators Memorial.
But while the event was loud at times, it didn’t turn violent, as had a protest in front of the Statehouse on January 6 as Congress was preparing to certify Biden’s Electoral College win.
Mark Pitcavage studies hate groups for the Anti-Defamation League. He said this event had been planned by the Boogaloos months ago, and while they can be violent, Pitcavage said that group isn’t big enough on its own to cause too many significant problems nationwide.
“There were no telling who else might come out of the woodwork or show up as well or attempt to piggyback or exploit those. So you couldn't know for sure,” Pitcavage said. “But I felt that for the events planned today, there probably wouldn't be too much of an issue. And it looks like that was the case, certainly was the case for Ohio.”
And while Pitcavage said Sunday came and went without any attempts to storm state capitals or other major events, he’s worried about Inauguration Day and beyond.
“The risk doesn't go away after the inauguration,” Pitcavage said. “There will still be a large number of very angry people who have been convinced that the election was somehow stolen, who have been incited by people. And, you know, there will be a risk of violence, you know, um, uh, from violent protests up to isolated acts of possible terrorist plots or incidents for months to come.”
The Statehouse and state office buildings were closed Sunday and will remain closed through Wednesday. 580 Ohio National Guard personnel have been activated to help with security needs in Ohio.
Another 1,000 soldiers and airmen with the Guard are in Washington D.C., joining a force of 25,000 for the inauguration.
Ohio was among the states where law enforcement was tracking threats against capitols. Karen Kasler joined some journalists in other states for a report on PBS NewsHour Weekend.