As federal authorities warn of possible violence at state capitols nationwide, some Florida lawmakers are expressing concerns over their physical safety as they prepare to return on and off ahead of the 2021 Legislative Session.
“Every Senator here is concerned about what may or may not happen,” said Sen. Linda Stewart, an Orlando Democrat who has served in the Legislature since 2012. “Based on what we’ve seen in Washington, D.C., and the FBI reports, they tell you that we’re going to have more of it.”
The shared concerns come after a mob backing President Donald Trump stormed the U.S. Capitol in Washington last week. The midday security breach forced congressional operations to a hard stop, effectively delaying the constitutional process to affirm Joe Biden’s victory in the November election.
Media reports and images suggest law enforcement officers were overwhelmed by the assault. Lawmakers were given gas masks and forced to evacuate the House floor. Five people died during the pro-President Donald Trump demonstration.
Equally as troubling, an FBI memo obtained by ABC News on Monday warns that protesters are planning to show up at capitol buildings in all 50 states at some point, regardless of which candidate the state elected and certified.
The Florida Department of Law Enforcement acknowledged the FBI warning in a statement Monday.
“We regularly collaborate with our federal, state and local partners to discuss and implement security measures that enhance public safety at Florida’s Capitol,” the state police agency said in a statement.
Stewart recognized that political tensions are nothing new. She fears, however, that things may be reaching a boiling point. Some senators, she said, have had their homes spray-painted and vandalized.
“I think that President Wilton Simpson has been very focused on that,” Stewart commended. “He has brought in extra people to help make sure that everybody’s secure. I think that we will be able to not see in the state capitol of Florida, what we saw in DC.”
Sen. Perry Thurston, meanwhile, deemed physical security a priority second only to the highly contagious COVID-19 virus.
“I think COVID is definitely the number one issue that we need to deal with,” the Broward County Democrat said before pivoting to the topic of political violence: “the leaders of Florida who are responsible for the protection of citizens and protection of the Legislature should be aware of that and they should be on their game so that we don’t have to repeat.”
The Florida Capitol Building throughout 2020 was sparred mostly from violent political demonstrations seen in other cities across the nation.
The surrounding area, however, hosted numerous political gatherings, some of which became perilous.
A pickup truck in May struck several protesters yards away from Capitol. The incident empowered Black Lives Matter protesters, who later occupied a major intersection in front of the Historic Capitol Building.
In August, a man outside of the Historic Capitol Building drew a firearm after being attacked during a Black Lives Matter protest.
Days later, protesters clashed with law enforcement during a demonstration outside of the Florida Historic Capitol. The confrontation led to several protesters being brought to the ground by police and placed in handcuffs. Law enforcement from at least three other agencies responded in riot gear.
Numerous pro-Trump demonstrations have also been held in wake of the election. Trump supporters rallied outside of the Florida Capitol Building on Nov. 7, vocalizing their concerns with alleged voter fraud and election irregularities.
Most recently, Trump supporters and the Proud Boys took part in a nationwide “Stop the Steal” protest. The nationwide demonstration took place at state Capitols nationwide including Tallahassee.