Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham issued an executive order Thursday declaring an emergency “due to the ongoing and pervasive threat of riots and insurrection” ahead of President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration Wednesday.
“There is credible intelligence that threats of [a violent insurrection] exist and are likely to occur at the capitol buildings and other prominent government buildings in all 50 states either before or on January 20, 2021 to coincide with the inauguration,” the governor’s executive order states.
“It is reasonable to believe that similar riots will occur and will endanger the safety of legislators, legislative staff, and members of the public, as well as destroy public and historic infrastructure in the state,” the two-page document says.
The governor’s executive order, which comes on the heels of additional security measures at the Roundhouse, including the installation of chain-link fencing around the building, is intended to ensure the New Mexico National Guard “is ready and has the flexibility to assist state and local law enforcement … should the need arise,” Nora Meyers Sackett, a spokeswoman for the governor, said in an email.
“After the events of Jan. 6 in Washington, D.C., the state of New Mexico will be prepared for any potential escalation of domestic terrorism,” she wrote.
During a virtual news conference Thursday, Lujan Grisham said the best thing the state can do to ensure public safety and security is be prepared.
“We have been taking seriously all of the intel, much of which is not public, even to some governors,” she said. “There is some very secure information that the FBI and others have, but they are certainly alerting us that being prepared is prudent, that there are calls to action to domestic terrorism groups all across the country.”
Joe Vigil, a spokesman for the New Mexico National Guard, said the military reserve force is ready.
“We have been planning and coordinating with our law enforcement agency partners,” he said. “This is what the Guard does. We are always in an assist role, and if we need to assist, we will we will be there.”
Vigil declined to divulge more details, calling it an “operational security concern.”
“We have about 4,000 guardsmen in the state, so the Guard will be ready and the number of required personnel will depend upon circumstances,” he said.
Vigil also said National Guard soldiers are well trained, well prepared and have a great working relationship with their agency partners.
“Protecting the citizens of our great state and nation remains our most sacred duty,” he said.
The threat of violence could affect the 60-day legislative session, which begins at noon Tuesday.
Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth, a Santa Fe Democrat, and and Raúl Burciaga, director of the Legislative Council Service, said the possibility of completely closing the Capitol on Inauguration Day is under consideration.
“But no decision has been made,” Burciaga said.
Burciaga said he expects a decision to be made either Friday or “at the latest Monday at the Legislative Council meeting.”
The Legislative Council Service and the Governor’s Office have been working with the Department of Homeland Security and New Mexico State Police on securing the Roundhouse, he added.
House Speaker Brian Egolf also addressed Capitol security during a news conference Thursday. “We don’t need to remind anyone of the seriousness of the security situation around the Capitol and around the country,” he said.
“We have seen very real and credible threats of further violence in New Mexico and in other state capitals,” added Egolf, D-Santa Fe. “… We cannot allow an event like January 6 to happen here in New Mexico.”
The governor advised New Mexicans to “stay safe” and “stay home.”
“This is a week that if you are celebrating the inauguration, you do it from your living room,” she said in the news conference, broadcast live on Facebook. “If you are displeased, that you do that from your living room.”
Otero County Commissioner Couy Griffin, the outspoken and controversial founder of the political group Cowboys for Trump, won’t be heeding the governor’s advice. He plans to travel with firearms to Washington, D.C., for Biden’s inauguration, according to the Alamogordo Daily News.
“I’m gonna be there on Jan. 20 … and I’m gonna take a stand for our country and for our freedoms,” the newspaper quoted Griffin as saying during Thursday’s meeting of the Otero County Board of Commissioners.
“I’m gonna leave either tonight or tomorrow. I’ve got a .357 Henry Big Boy rifle lever action that I’ve got in the trunk of my car and I’ve got a .357 single action revolver, the Colt Ruger Vaquero that I’ll have underneath the front seat on my right side and I will embrace my Second Amendment,” he was quoted as saying.
Sackett, the governor’s spokeswoman, said New Mexico has made and will continue to make every effort to ensure the security of the Capitol area and the safety of lawmakers, staff, members of the news media and any others next week and beyond.
Sackett noted the emergency declaration is “effectively a pro forma constitutional requirement” to ready the National Guard.
“The order is intended to ensure the state has the flexibility to respond to any potential escalation or emergency next week or beyond,” she wrote. “In short, New Mexico will not make the mistake of under-preparing.”
The executive order states New Mexico is still in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, and “any mass gathering has the likelihood of exacerbating the spread of the virus and causing further strain on first responders and health care providers.”
“This emergency requires immediate action to preserve the peace, health, and safety and the public property of the people of the state of New Mexico,” the order states.
Staff writers Sean P. Thomas and Robert Nott contributed to this report.