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State Capitols Nationwide Prepare For Possible Inauguration Violence

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

And I'm Mary Louise Kelly in Washington, where the horror of the attack on the Capitol is still fresh and the fear of more attacks to come is palpable. But law enforcement is not just concerned about attacks on the U.S. Capitol. State Capitols throughout the country are preparing for the possibility of violence that might coincide with the inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden. Among the states bracing for who knows what over this next week is Arkansas, where Asa Hutchinson is governor. He's a Republican. He is vice chair of the National Governors Association. And he joins me now. Governor, good to speak with you again.

ASA HUTCHINSON: Good to be with you, Mary Louise. Thank you.

KELLY: I'll dive right in with the basic question. How concerned are you about possible unrest there in Little Rock?

HUTCHINSON: Well, you have to be concerned after what everyone saw in our nation's capital last week. I think about our schoolchildren. I think about those that have been in our nation's capital. And it's a horrific sight that will sear in our memory for years to come. And so the first concentration is let's have a successful inauguration in Washington. And we are actually sending 500 of our National Guardsmen to Washington, D.C., to help with the total effort of securing our Capitol. And I think that's important for a governor to participate in. In terms of our state Capitol, I have been in Homeland Security. I understand threat and threat analysis. Sometimes the intelligence is difficult to ascertain. But in this climate, we're taking every precaution. We're aware of certain rallies that will be conducted at our state Capitol in Little Rock. And we have security in place or - and in reserve. We've also - we have strengthened our physical security of the Capitol.

KELLY: Well, tell me a little bit more about some of that. You said you've sent 500 National Guard troops to D.C. How many of you are you keeping there at the Capitol in Little Rock?

HUTCHINSON: We're keeping more than an adequate supply here. Now, this is a civilian law enforcement effort here at our state Capitol. The National Guard is in reserve, and if need be, they would be called up. But we do not see a need at this point to call up the National Guard. But I've made sure that when we send 500 to Washington, we keep sufficient in reserve here for our purposes.

KELLY: How tense are things there? I mean, the FBI has issued a warning that there are plans for armed protests at all 50 state Capitols. You know, I'm sitting here in Washington where, as I said when I introduced you, that the fear of what may be to come is palpable. It sounds as though you feel you have adequate preparations in place to deal with whatever may be coming next week.

HUTCHINSON: The primary attention appears to me to be Washington, D.C. I expect rallies in different parts of the country and their state Capitols. And things are tense, not just because of the inauguration, but because of everything that happened last week, because of the coronavirus, actually, and the restrictions that have been in place in many areas of the country. All of that has brought conflict. And it's been - the greatest element of that conflict was, of course, last week. And it brought everybody back to a realization that we can't have our democracy look like this. So I'd like to think that things have calmed down. But you have to be extra cautious because you don't want a repeat of that, whether it's in our Capitols, state Capitols or in our nation's capital.

KELLY: Let me, Governor, ask you this. I know some other governors - I'm thinking of Tim Walz of Minnesota - They have said they did not get any briefings from the Trump administration before last Wednesday on what unfolded at the U.S. Capitol, even though there had been threats against state Capitols. Are you getting the information that you need from the FBI and other federal agencies?

HUTCHINSON: Yes, I am. This week, I've had my law enforcement team through the state police be briefed by the FBI. I have them available to me as needed in terms of their intelligence information. We have a fusion center in which the information is regularly shared. The challenge, though, is that the intelligence is uncertain. It is difficult to interpret. And just because you're having a rally somewhere does not mean that that rally is designed for violence. But it also could mean that you have outside agitators come in to capitalize on the political rally. And so you have to watch both the legitimacy of the protest or rally versus how other people can take advantage of it with armed conflict or with intentional harm being brought to people.

KELLY: So what is your message today, if I invited you just to speak directly to people listening there in Arkansas and across the whole country about how things in these coming days need to unfold?

HUTCHINSON: That we all need to take a deep breath. We need to realize how important this transition is to a new president because the world watches. And whether it's in our state Capitols, our national Capitols, let's have peace. And we understand disappointment. I'm a member of the opposition party. I supported President Donald Trump. But I also understand we need to transition into a new administration, and I'm supportive of that. And that's the example that I hope everybody in America understands the importance of that.

KELLY: That is Asa Hutchinson, governor of Arkansas, vice chair of the National Governors Association. Thank you for talking to us, and good luck this next week.

HUTCHINSON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.