BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KERO) — We are five days away from the inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden, which means the FBI and other law enforcement agencies are gearing up for potential protests. 23ABC’s Austin Westfall has details on how the FBI will be working with the Bakersfield Police Department and Kern County Sheriff's Office to protect the public in the coming days.
While the US Capitol is fortified with miles of fencing augmented by thousands of National Guard troops, state capitols, and government facilities throughout the US are preparing for a potentially violent weekend.
At state capitol buildings throughout the US, windows are being boarded and fences are being erected in hopes of preventing scenes similar to those that played out at the US Capitol on Jan. 6. One official in Vermont said this is the highest alert his state has been on since 9/11. Other states, like Kentucky, have already activated their National Guard.
States on highest alert since 9/11 this weekend
Although there’s been no local cause for alarm the FBI is on heightened alert across the country ahead of the inauguration of President-elect Biden, especially after last week’s riot on Capitol Hill.
“We don’t have any credible threats of violence in Kern County that I know of at this time,” said Sean Ragan, FBI special agent in charge. “There are, kind of, general threats, there’s chatter out there, there’s reporting from various people that we’ve talked to. Not only here in the Central Valley area of California, but across the country.”
Ragan said there’s been talk of demonstrations and possibly even the storming of various state capitols, including Sacramento where a large metal fence now surrounds the building. He said the agency is preparing for demonstrations to begin as early as Saturday, and lasting through the inauguration on Wednesday.
With all that, the FBI says it promotes people’s rights to demonstrate.
“Those are rights enshrined in our constitution and we are sworn to protect those rights, but what we’re really concerned about is if there’s any violence,” said Ragan.
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
The Bakersfield Police Department shared that sentiment, telling 23ABC in part Friday that they: “...do everything we can to facilitate and protect that activity; however if criminal actions occur we will take appropriate enforcement action.”
KCSO told 23ABC that if protests were to happen: “the sheriff’s office has plans in place and, as always, is prepared to respond as needed.”
If demonstrations do occur in Kern County, the FBI said there is a fine line between actions protected under the First Amendment and violence.
“That becomes a violation of, it could be federal law or state/local law."
Things to know about what free speech protects, what it does not
Ragan said it’s also essential for the community to know if you see something, say something.
“If you feel like there’s a criminal activity planned, violence planned, feel threatened, we want you to call law enforcement.”
Ragan said if something requires an immediate response, call 9-1-1. If it’s not quite as immediate, you can call the FBI as well at 916-746-7000.
WATCH THE FULL INTERVIEW WITH FBI AGENT SEAN RAGAN: