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More security at state Capitol, although no 'specific threat'

Lucas Willard / WAMC
Acting U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of New York Antoinette Bacon.

While law enforcement officials say there are no specific threats at this time, they are preparing for demonstrations around the New York State Capitol in Albany in the run-up to Inauguration Day. The days ahead could see protests at state capitols across the country ahead of President-Elect Joe Biden’s inauguration next Wednesday.

Acting U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of New York Antoinette Bacon stood outside Albany FBI headquarters Thursday afternoon to describe how the federal government is coordinating with state and local police to monitor for politically-motivated violence.

Speaking of the mob of supporters of President Donald Trump who stormed the U.S. Capitol last week, Bacon condemned the violence as an attack on the rule of law, the Constitution, and American democracy.

“Our focus is not on peaceful protesters. Our focus is on those who are threatening the safety of peaceful protesters or the safety of other citizens,” said Bacon.

The FBI Albany Field office is setting up a command post to coordinate and share information.

“At this point in time, the FBI has not received any specific threat to the New York or Vermont state capitol or other government building in our area," said Special Agent In Charge Thomas Relford. "That said, between now and Jan. 20 – Inauguration Day – we will be maintaining a heightened posture to monitor any threat to come into our region.”

Following the violence in Washington, State Street by the state capitol in Albany has been blocked off. City of Albany officials are preparing for demonstrations around the capitol on Sunday and next week.

At a separate briefing Thursday, Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan said she supports free speech, but asked residents to stay away, if possible.

“If you come here to protest, we ask you to do so peacefully. We ask you to listen to directions provided by law enforcement. They are trying to keep you and everyone else safe," Sheehan said. "And if you disagree with the views of the people who we anticipate are coming to protest the lawful results of the 2020 election, we ask you to stay home.”

Police Chief Eric Hawkins said Albany Police are coordinating with New York State Police, who have maintained a heightened presence at the capitol since Jan. 6.

“We’re preparing for the worst and expecting the best.”

Hawkins added there are no plans right now to close other streets or restrict parking.

The lawn outside the state capitol has seen violence as recently as last week, when two people were stabbed in a confrontation between pro-Trump demonstrators and counter-protesters.

Meanwhile, federal agents were working to identify and arrest people who participated in last week's riot's in Washington.

Charged was a Cheektowaga man who was recorded trying to set fire to news media equipment and walking through the U.S. Capitol.

Peter J. Harding, 47, appeared for a remote hearing Thursday in federal court, where his lawyer said his actions were "peaceful in nature."

Peter J. Harding, 47, appeared for a remote hearing Thursday in federal court, where his lawyer said his actions were "peaceful in nature." He also faces misdemeanor charges of knowingly entering or remaining in a restricted building and violent entry and disorderly conduct on Capitol grounds.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Charles Kruly said Harding knowingly tried to disrupt the certification of the Electoral College vote that finalized Biden's victory. In follow-up social media posts, Harding "expressed a desire to engage in similar conduct in the future," Kruly said.

"If we can take the Capitol building there is nothing we can't accomplish," the prosecutor quoted Harding as saying in a video.

Harding's lawyer, Jason DiPasquale, said he believes the evidence "will bear out that his intention of being there was to protest peacefully and that his actions were peaceful in nature and not violent while in there."

Harding also was recorded outside the Capitol holding a lighter flame to gear belonging to The Associated Press and other outlets.

Also charged was Syracuse resident Albert Ciarpelli, who acknowledged entering the U.S. Capitol with the mob and taking pictures as part of what he told federal agents was a "little adventure," was arrested Wednesday. Ciarpelli, 65, was released after pleading not guilty to charges of knowingly entering or remaining in a restricted building and engaging in disorderly or disruptive conduct on Capitol grounds.

According to a court filing, Ciarpelli told agents he entered the Capitol through a partially opened door and spent about 15 minutes walking through the building. Thinking back to that day, Ciarpelli told agents "that he was out of his mind and had never done anything like that before," according to court documents.

John Miller, the New York City police department's deputy commissioner of intelligence and counterterrorism, said that the Joint-Terrorism Task Force is working to identify and arrest people who participated in the riots and live in the New York City area.

"This is a process that's going to go on for some time, and I think there's a great deal of determination here that however long it takes, however many leads, there are that they're all going to be followed up," Miller said.

Miller wouldn't specify how many people in the region are being sought, saying the number "literally shifts everyday. So far it's been shifting upwards."

The Associated Press is one of the largest and most trusted sources of independent newsgathering, supplying a steady stream of news to its members, international subscribers and commercial customers. AP is neither privately owned nor government-funded; instead, it's a not-for-profit news cooperative owned by its American newspaper and broadcast members.
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