(CNN) – Law enforcement officials and businesses in the nation’s capital are bracing for an influx of anti-vaccine activists and also fear that potentially large-scale protests could draw extremist groups to the area this weekend.
Prior to the weekend, there was extensive planning and briefing between the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Department of Homeland Security, Metropolitan Police Department, U.S. Park Police and others, an official said. federal law enforcement at CNN.
The Metropolitan Police held a conference call with business leaders and assured them there will be a visible law enforcement presence ready to make arrests for illegal entry if customers refuse to leave a private business , according to a source familiar with security plans in Washington.
The protests coincide with new vaccine proof requirements for DC’s restaurants, bars, gyms and other private businesses.
The United States Capitol Police, with assistance from the Montgomery County Police Department (Md.), is moving to staffing the bridge this weekend, according to sources familiar with the planning. The agency declined to provide specific details about its security plan.
“I am confident in our preparation for this weekend,” U.S. Capitol Police Chief Tom Manger told CNN in a statement. He said the agency is watching “closely” especially the “Defeat the Mandates: An American Homecoming” event scheduled for Sunday on the National Mall.
The protest aims to bring together those who oppose vaccine mandates and passports, Covid-19 vaccines for children and other coronavirus requirements.
The permit filed with the National Park Service says the event could attract up to 20,000 people. It begins Sunday morning at the Washington Monument and ends at the Lincoln Memorial this afternoon. Speakers include Robert Kennedy Jr. and former “60 Minutes” correspondent Lara Logan, according to the event’s website.
Also on Saturday, “Refuse Fascism” protesters plan to rally outside the Supreme Court to demand abortion rights. Separately, the National Pro-Life Summit in Washington on Saturday will feature former Vice President Mike Pence, who has repeatedly called for Roe v. Wade.
The weekend protests follow Friday’s March for Life, in which around 30 men who appeared to be linked to the Patriot Front, an American white supremacist nationalist group, showed up, drawing a large police presence.
Base Capitol Police officers have been warned of potential violence this weekend and that the White House is a potential target for protesters, according to a source familiar with the communications.
DHS has no information “pointing to specific and credible threats related to events that occurred tomorrow and this weekend in the National Capital Region,” a department spokesperson told CNN.
However, “the United States is going through a period of heightened threat,” the spokesperson added, noting that domestic violent extremists and those inspired or motivated by foreign terrorists or other malign foreign influences continue to pose a threat.
And officials are concerned because the events center on issues that are the subject of disinformation campaigns by foreign and domestic threat actors, according to the federal law enforcement official.
While there were no credible, specific calls for violence related to the protests, there was a mixture of online chatter related to the weekend, ranging from comments about the perceived ineffectiveness of the events not violent to speculation that the protests are a trap for law enforcement to stop. the people who attend. There is also the possibility of clashes with counter-protesters, the official said.
“The goal is to ensure that those who come to the district to participate in constitutionally protected events can do so safely,” the official said.
In response to CNN’s investigation into whether the “Defeat the Mandates” march might bring in extremists or hate groups, Rita Shreffler, director of media relations for Children’s Health Defense, which is planning the event, said in an email that they are committed to nonviolent resistance and that vaccination mandates are a form of “government sponsored violence”.
Organizers of “Defeat the Mandates” told CNN they were adding security to ensure a peaceful event. They have “contracted full private security who will work with local and federal law enforcement to maintain the peace of this march,” Louisa Clary, the march’s director, told CNN.
Extremism researchers point out that the “Defeat the Mandates” event and a similar two-day event this weekend called the “World Wide Rally for Freedom” are attracting attention due to cross-promotion.
“The most notable development is that the two major anti-vaccine events scheduled for this weekend are now officially linked,” Rita Katz, executive director of SITE Intelligence Group, said in a statement.
“It increased the visibility of both campaigns. It is also certain that MAGA/Stop the Steal supporters will also attend the DC event, given that it was endorsed and promoted by Steve Bannon,” Katz said.
“While we have yet to see the events discussed by organized violent extremist groups such as the Proud Boys, the scale of the promotion suggests significant turnout, and it cannot be ruled out that provocateurs and accelerationists are joining. their.”
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