Following Washington Riot, Nebraska Lawmakers Discuss Security at State Capitol

Jan. 14, 2021, 11:02 a.m. ·

Nebraska State Capitol (Photo by Fred Knapp)

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In the aftermath of the ransacking of the Capitol Building in Washington D.C. last week by extremist supporters of President Trump, a prevailing narrative has been how easy it seemed to be for the invaders to breach what many assumed was one of the most secure locations in the country.

Nebraska State Senator Dan Hughes says, following the Washington riot, the FBI sent a warning to authorities across the country to beware of the potential for armed protests at Capitol buildings in all 50 states leading up to the January 20th inauguration of President-Elect, Joe Biden.

“When you have the FBI come out and tell all 50 state capitals to, you know, be alert, that does raise your antenna,” Hughes said. He added he has had several discussions with the Nebraska State Patrol in anticipation of the protests.

The Lincoln Police Department also confirmed it’s working closely with the Nebraska State Patrol, Lancaster County Sheriff’s Office, and national agencies as part of an effort to track credible threats leading up to the 20th.

This is far from the first-time security at the capitol has been an issue in recent months.

Hughes says security issues were raised as recently as last summer when protesters taking part in anti-police brutality demonstrations smashed Capitol building windows.

Nebraska State Patrol Spokesman Cody Thomas says the agency does not openly discuss security protocols at the Capitol but confirms “the entire complex is closely monitored at all times, with on-site security. NSP Capitol Security successfully and safely manages many large events each year,” including the events of last summer.

Hughes, who also chairs the legislature’s Executive Board, says he has not heard of any lawmakers planning to push a bill that would increase funding for added security.

Security also became a topic of debate among lawmakers in February, when hundreds of gun rights activists, at least two carrying semi-automatic weapons, entered the capitol to oppose proposed legislation. Senator Machaela Cavanaugh, who did not respond for a comment on this story, said that she was “traumatized” by the event.

Under current law, it is legal to openly carry firearms inside the state capitol, though concealed carry is illegal due to the capitol building containing courtrooms.

At the time, State Senator Tom Brewer, a gun rights advocate, argued for the right of demonstrators to bring guns into the capitol. He still feels it is a protected right, but given what happened in Washington, admits he has serious concerns about the building's safety, with his primary issue being the lack of resources for Capitol Police, a division of the Nebraska State Patrol charged with protecting the building alongside armed troopers.

“If something happened, I would be just as well off using whatever means at my disposal to protect myself and my staff than to rely on them because they have no resources,” Brewer said, adding that Capitol Police are not even given tasers. He calls the current state of things “unacceptable.”

“If someone comes in the building and say that have ill-intent- they have a knife, they have a gun- and you simply are someone that has a uniform and a badge... what really obstacle are you to keep them from going to whatever room they want and doing whatever they want?”

Brewer notes that while the building is also patrolled by armed state troopers in addition to Capitol police, their presence is not consistent. He believes the Capitol building needs more armed guards.

“I think everybody here would be fine if it cost us a little bit more money to send them through more training and to give them the ability to respond and do that in a way so that they could actually do something to resolve the situation.”

Brewer also notes the lack of metal detectors and rehearsed emergency scenarios as other potential security issues.

Brewer says if someone with ill-intent wound up hurting someone at the capital, there would be a lot of “head-scratching” and regret as to whether there was more that could have been done to protect the building’s inhabitants.

“I will tell you that I personally have a plan for my office and my staff and I’m not sure... the Capitol security would be entirely O.K with that, but I'm not going to put them in a place where they can't be protected.” He did not give details.

If stricter security protocols were implemented, Senator Hughes says he hopes he never has to see them during his time in the legislature.

“This is the people’s house, and it is open to the public,” he said. “Unfortunately, when someone takes it a step too far, which we have seen...then things will have to change.”

Governor Pete Ricketts said he has no plans to limit weapons at the Capitol during protests planned for Sunday. The building will also be open to the public.