Santa Feans driving by the state Capitol on Wednesday likely saw a new architectural feature.
Workers had erected a 6-foot-high chain-link fence around three sides of the Capitol earlier in the day. Trucks bearing more fencing later pulled up to the fourth side in the back of the building.
The move — which Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth hinted at Tuesday night — is another sign state officials are determined to protect the Roundhouse after rioters breached the U.S. Capitol last week.
State officials and those overseeing the Capitol building said earlier this week they would add security measures in light of a recent FBI report that indicated armed protests were planned at all 50 of the country’s state capitols in the lead-up to Inauguration Day on Wednesday. But tangible evidence of their concern came yesterday, when the fencing went up.
In addition, the Legislature is slated to convene its 60-day session Tuesday, adding to the potential for tension and violence.
Sen. Jacob Candelaria, D-Albuquerque, said he still doesn’t feel safe as the session approaches.
“I’m feeling very concerned,” he said Wednesday after learning about the new fencing surrounding the building. “We all should feel very concerned.”
Candelaria said he does not think Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s administration has done enough to address the security issue or keep people safe around the Capitol.
Candelaria said a statement from the Governor’s Office about its hopes for a peaceful legislative session was “more a political statement than a true analysis of our situation. We should be taking this seriously.”
Candelaria, an attorney, is representing a man who said he was struck by a vehicle during a summer protest outside the Capitol. He said some demonstrations have led to fights.
He also took issue with comments made by Sen. Greg Baca, who said he feels safe coming to the Capitol and that no outbursts of violence have yet occurred.
Baca, R-Belen, acknowledged it may be “a little bit uncomfortable” for lawmakers to go into this year’s session with added security measures, but “I’m looking at what the public is giving up: access to the Capitol, access to their legislators. We’re paying a small price compared to what the public pays.”
Candelaria, noting how outnumbered U.S. Capitol Police officers were when they were overrun by protesters, said he would feel “more secure if the National Guard was called out on the first day of the session or even the first week.”
Nora Meyers Sackett, a spokeswoman for the governor, declined to comment on Candelaria’s statement.
But she wrote in an email: “The governor’s office is not a law enforcement agency and does not assess threats, but the governor and senior staff are briefed by those agencies whenever threats may arise. Naturally, we are all on high alert after the right-wing domestic terrorism seen last week and with even elected Republicans continuing to stoke conspiracy theories and traffic in violent rhetoric.”
She said the state takes “any threat of violence very seriously.”
She said the New Mexico National Guard will be ready to move if called upon.
Late Wednesday, the National Guard announced it is sending soldiers and airmen to Washington, D.C., for President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration ceremony. The New Mexico contingent, which will provide security, communications and medical evacuation, is part of a buildup that includes 15,000 troops and airmen from 43 states, territories and the District of Columbia.
U.S. Rep. Teresa Leger Fernandez, a Democrat who represents the state’s 3rd Congressional District, told The New Mexican on Wednesday the U.S. Capitol building is full of National Guard members on alert.
“Our nation’s Capitol should not look like this,” she said in a phone interview.
She said those charged with protecting the state Capitol building “should be alert, absolutely, from reports the FBI has provided and circulated in the press. There are terrorists, insurrectionists and white supremacists who are intent on causing harm at the national and local level.”
Yet other state lawmakers said they have no fear. Newly elected Rep. Linda Serrato, D-Santa Fe, said she is “aware” of the potential for problems. But given the need for lawmakers to act on legislation that will help those hit hardest by the coronavirus pandemic, she said she won’t let fear cast a shadow over the legislative proceedings.
“I’m still very eager to get into the Capitol and get that work done because we have folks who are waiting to get back to work and get kids back to school,” she said. “That responsibility in front of me outweighs anything else on my mind.”
Incoming Rep. Stefani Lord, a Republican from Sandia Park who has taken part in pro-gun demonstrations at the Roundhouse in the past, said she “is not afraid at all.”
She was an organizer of the January 2020 pro-gun rally at the Capitol in which hundreds of supporters, many armed, showed up to voice opposition to gun control legislation.
“There were lots of people packing, and no violence,” she said.
She said the newly erected fence around the Capitol makes it look like a demilitarized zone.
“It seems like fear mongering to put that fence around there,” she said. “It’s embarrassing.”
Meanwhile, Mayor Alan Webber said the city is working with Lujan Grisham’s administration to “ensure that we are taking the right steps here in Santa Fe to protect people and property in the event of any violence.”
He said city police are coordinating law enforcement efforts with New Mexico State Police.
Deputy Chief Paul Joye of the Santa Fe Police Department said Wednesday his agency is working with state police to collect information on any potential protests this weekend and through inauguration week.
“We are meeting with law enforcement agency partners to make sure we are in a position to safely assist them as well as protect the public, to make sure any event this weekend is conducted as safely as possible,” he said.