Law enforcement and state leaders spent the past week preparing for at least one protest at the Utah State Capitol on Sunday.
The governor declared a state of emergency, highway patrol is ramping up security at the building, the Utah National Guard is on standby, and the FBI and local law enforcement are monitoring social media activity for any indication of threats or violent plots.
Here's what we know.
Who's organizing it?
A permit was approved for a gathering at the State Capitol grounds on Sunday at noon, Lt. Nick Street with Utah Highway Patrol told 2News. UHP is estimating attendance at the protest could be in the hundreds.
Street identified the organizer as "We are not the enemy." 2News contacted the Utahn who got the permit, Tyler Reese, a Boogalo boy. The Anti-Defamation League states the ideology of the boogaloo movement, formed in 2019, is still developing, but the group is largely anti-government, anti-police, and anti-authority.
Reese made it clear that he doesn't expect Boogaloo boys to be the only people at the rally; he's just the one who got the gathering permit. We do know who's not going to be there — or at least, who says they're not going to be there.
The right-wing group Utah Patriots group told 2News it's advising its followers not to attend on Sunday, stating they believe "bad actors" intend to incite violence at the gathering and blame others for it.
"We were informed that a separate group obtained permits prior to us, and as the goals of that group are in significant conflict with our own, we do not wish to associate with them or lend credibility to their event," 2News was told in an email.
Likewise, Utah Citizens Alarm, a right-wing group known for intimidating people protesting police violence and racial injustice, told 2News they're steering followers away from the event on Sunday.
A local Proud Boy told 2News he's not going, either. The man, who identifies himself only as Thad when speaking with media, said he wasn't speaking in his official capacity as a Proud Boys leader, so it's not clear whether other Proud Boys will be at the Capitol on Sunday. Thad told 2News he's concerned, like the Utah Patriots, that violence in some form will be incited at the rally.
Why is it happening?
The FBI warned this week that armed protests are planned in all 50 state capitols and in Washington, D.C. Flyers shared on social media advertise the rallies as an "armed march on Capitol Hill and all state capitols." They make references to government corruption, freedom, liberty, and democracy, and purport to be organized by "non-partisan common folk who are tired of being tread upon." In their email to 2News, the Utah Patriots referred to the event as a 2nd Amendment rally.
Reese told 2News via direct message that the rally has been planned since November.
"We knew that political tensions would likely be high, but we are dedicated to making it an excellent peaceful experience for everyone," he wrote. "We have a civic responsibility to stand up for what we believe in. Although times like this it may seem bewildering, it is historically incredibly important. What happened in DC should not have, and I am sad about the loss of life. That is the last thing desired."
Asked whether he was concerned about having an armed protest at the Capitol after the insurrection in Washington, D.C., Reese said "anyone who tries to incite any violence would be a fool to do so."
"I think there is a more important thing that underlies this, and that is the principles of rights we have right now. By exercising those rights you strengthen them," he said. "We just happen to be in a time where there are heightened feelings about politics. Like I said standing up for our rights in times like this is historically incredibly important."
He also explained more about the "we are not the enemy" slogan for the protest when asked what the rally is meant to make people aware of.
"That we are not the enemy," Reese said. "We are civilians. And some of us are pissed at the government some days and some of us are pissed at the government other days. But we have major issues with overreaching government these days, and people on both sides see that in their own ways. We are sharing the ideas for conversations that we need to have, like criminal justice reform, unhealthy regulations, foreign wars and endless more."
How are Utah leaders responding?
The message from leaders and law enforcement has been similar: We respect your 1st Amendment rights to assemble, but we won't tolerate any violence, vandalism, or property destruction.
Gov. Spencer Cox: "We would ask the citizens of the state of Utah and anyone who may be thinking of coming to the Capitol, we respect and honor your first amendment rights to gather, but we want to make it very clear that the constitution only protects rights to gather peaceably and there will be zero tolerance for any violence whatsoever, any property destruction."
Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall: “I know many in the city are concerned about the potential for disruption and even violence in the coming days. People should feel confident knowing that our police department has a plan and they are ready. Salt Lake City PD is working in coordination with partnering agencies throughout the state to ensure that things in our capitol city remain peaceful, and that is what I expect to happen.”
Rep. Chris Stewart (R-UT02): "For those planning to participate in any of these armed protests--don't. For those who choose violence, rest assured you will be found and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law."
How will law enforcement keep the Capitol secure?
Law enforcement have had more than a week to plan for whatever events may unfold on Sunday. The Capitol building is closed.
UHP hasn't publicly shared much more information about security plans. FBI agents will have a command post near the Capitol.
The FBI is not aware of "any specific and substantiated threats" in Utah, said Dave Fitzgibbons, the assistant special agent in charge of the FBI’s Salt Lake City field office.