As hundreds of people stood in line inside the Capitol on Friday to take a COVID-19 test required to enter the building for the 2021 legislative session, officials began marshaling another kind of preventive measure for a far different problem.
Across the street from the Roundhouse, already encircled with chain-link fencing, a trio of massive state Transportation Department trucks carrying Jersey barriers — long, 2,000-pound concrete blocks used for highway construction projects — waited for directions on where to unload.
A fourth truck carrying sandbags and barricade boards was parked nearby.
The imposing materials are among the shields state officials are amassing to prepare against possible violence, after the FBI warned of plans for armed protests at all of the nation’s state capitols leading up to Wednesday’s inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden.
And those two contrasting pictures — one inside the Capitol, one outside — are snapshots of the challenges Roundhouse officials will face as the legislative session nears its Tuesday opening.
Raúl Burciaga, director of the Legislative Council Service, said the Capitol complex will be closed Sunday.
“Nobody will be allowed in, and that’s because of planned protests at all state capitols on Sunday,” he said.
The possibility the complex will be completely closed off again on Inauguration Day is still under consideration, Burciaga said.
“No decision has been made yet,” he said.
On Thursday, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham issued an executive order declaring an emergency “due to the ongoing and pervasive threat of riots and insurrection” — a move designed to ensure soldiers from the New Mexico National Guard are ready to jump into action. Members of the state guard also will be in Washington, D.C., joining a force to protect the area during the inauguration.
On Friday, the city of Santa Fe announced that Mayor Alan Webber signed an emergency proclamation that calls for city leaders to coordinate with the state’s emergency response efforts, including road closures and police and fire response.
Other federal agencies also are preparing for possible outbreaks of violence as President Donald Trump’s supporters, among other activists, threaten to stage violent protests into the coming week.
The U.S. Postal Service temporarily removed three collection boxes in the surrounding area and also announced it is closing the post office on South Federal Place early Saturday as a result of what it called “potential upcoming civil events.”
In New Mexico, the Albuquerque FBI Division and the U.S. Attorney’s Office are working with federal, state and local law enforcement agencies to prepare for any potential violence.
“Our focus is not on peaceful protesters, but on those individuals who may want to incite violence and engage in criminal activity,” FBI Special Agent in Charge James Langenberg, said in the news release.
As the activity played out around the Capitol building Friday, Ernest Castro of San Angelo, Texas, sadly shook his head.
“Instead of looking out for terrorists from other countries,” he said, “we’re looking for terrorists from our own country.”
Castro said the divisiveness that has plagued the country since the election also is evident in Texas.
“Even though the election is over, you still see ‘Trump 2020’ flags up everywhere,” he said. “I understand they wanted Trump to win. Others wanted Biden. But it’s already over.”
His friend, David Casarez, a U.S. Army veteran, said Americans used to protest peacefully with signs. But those days are gone, he said.
“It wasn’t the … vandalizing and destruction of private property,” he said. “Now we’re having to barricade things.”
Casarez called it a “failure of society.”
“We lost our identity,” he said. “This is not America.”