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UPDATED: Trump supporters do not show up at state Capitol

Hartford — An expected rally at the state Capitol by supporters of President Donald Trump and those who dispute the results of the presidential election never materialized Sunday afternoon.

There has been discussion online that Trump supporters would gather at all 50 state capitols and in Washington, D.C., from Sunday through Wednesday, when Joe Biden is inaugurated as president. Connecticut law enforcement officials had expected about 2,000 protesters to show up on the Capitol grounds Sunday.

Across the country, police and National Guard troops have been deployed to protect the buildings and prevent any unrest in the wake of the attack by Trump supporters on the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6. On Sunday afternoon, a small group of armed protesters affiliated with militia groups assembled at the Michigan state capitol in Lansing and the Ohio capitol in Columbus.

But at noon Sunday, when the Hartford rally was expected to begin, there were just five people on the lawn of the state Capitol in Hartford. Among them were a woman from Hartford who described herself as an anti-fascist and was holding a sign that read "No Trump. No KKK. No Fascist USA," and a grandfather and his grandson from Norwich who said they were there "to make a stand for freedom."

They were outnumbered by dozens of police officers and 15 members of the media.

"Where is everybody?" asked one of the five people who had made the trip to the Capitol.

The Capitol building had been surrounded by a metal fence, and all roads leading to the building had been blocked.  

Police and police dogs were stationed around the Capitol building with some inside as well. Armored trucks were in both the front and the back of the building. National Guard members were also stationed nearby in full uniform and alongside several armored trucks.

Among the five were Duncan Lemp, 17, of Norwich, who came to the demonstration with his grandfather. Lemp toted a large white flag bearing a pine tree and the phrase “An Appeal to Heaven.” He was the first one to arrive at the Capitol building on Sunday.

But he said he is not a Trump supporter.  

“I’m definitely not a Trump person,” Lemp said. “I can’t stand Trump, I think he’s just like Biden. Don’t like him. I generally don’t like the cathedral, top to bottom.”  

So why did he attend what was billed as a pro-Trump demonstration?  

“Just to make a stand for freedom. There was some chitter-chatter that people would pull a prank and not show today, but I still came here to stand for freedom,” Lemp said. 

It didn’t bother him that a crowd never materialized. 

“This was organized by mysterious people, no one knows the names of the organizers,” Lemp said. 

Joanna Iovino of Hartford, a counter-demonstrator who characterized herself as an anti-fascist, said she had come to try and establish a left-wing presence. 

“We just want to make it known,” Iovino said. “We need to make sure the forces that are against fascism get a seat at the table too.” 

Iovino noted the outsized response from law enforcement for what turned out to be a whimper of a rally. 

“Unfortunately, the fact that they were saying 2,000 people are going to be out here today lends credence to the idea that we need to give the police more money instead of defunding them,” she said. “Any of the pro-Trump rallies (in Hartford) have had at most 500 people.”

Brian Foley, the spokesman for the state Department of Emergency Services and Management, said Connecticut proved itself to be “a calm and non-violent” state on Sunday. He said the state chose caution when developing its plans to keep the peace on Sunday.

“I’d much rather next Friday to call you and say, ‘Yeah, it looks like we did over-prepare,’ as opposed to calling you next Friday and saying, ‘Gee whiz, I guess we under-prepared,’” Foley said. “Our communication and our transparency was tailored to make it clear that we did not want any large, violent protesters or bad actors to come to the city, the state Capitol and the other locations we were looking at. To this point, that’s what has occurred. And we’re not looking for a fight. We’re not looking to arrest anybody. In fact, we’re ecstatic to get through the day without arresting anybody. But at the same time, we have to be prepared.”

Foley said Connecticut was in contact with other states about preparations for possible demonstrations at capitols. 

"We had conversations with other states throughout the last week, including all 50 states in a conference on Friday, and we found that our response and preparedness was parallel to what other states were doing," Foley said. 

Social media platform Parler, popular among right-wing groups, essentially was ousted from the internet by companies such as Google, Amazon and Apple following the attack on the U.S. Capitol. Parler and other social media sites were seen to have been powerful tools in coordinating the protest and subsequent attack. Foley pointed to the loss of Parler, among other factors, as the reason for the disconnect in the number of people who would come to the state Capitol on Sunday. 

“We lost some intelligence when Parler went down, and when social media started to put a cap on what could be said about today and the coming days,” Foley said. “It’s just a piece of our intelligence, but a significant piece. Because of that, we had to go and exercise on the side of caution. Based on the communications that we were able to see that specifically called and spoke about bringing guns to the Capitol, we felt that what we did was an insurance policy to protect the integrity of state government.”

Foley confirmed that state and Capitol police were on the Capitol grounds, Hartford police were outside the grounds and the National Guard was “in the neighborhood.”

On Sunday, state Rep. Kathleen McCarty, R-Waterford, condemned the "horrific assault" on the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 and noted that the threat of subsequent demonstrations caused the Connecticut legislature to change its schedule.

"Americans need to work together to promote healing and recovery for our great nation and to preserve its democracy," McCarty said Sunday. "The Connecticut legislature was called into session on Tuesday, January 14th, almost a week earlier than planned, in order to take every precaution for guarding the safety of legislators. Fortunately, all of the protests in Connecticut have always been very civil, respectful and peaceful."

Also on Sunday, state Rep. Christine Palm, D-Chester, called nationwide demonstrations against election results "outrageous" and said they are disrupting "the seamless working of government," federally and locally.

"We had to move our votes on judicial reappointments up a few days to avoid being at the Capitol next week," Palm said Sunday. "While this was the right decision, it's not a long-term solution."

Palm complimented the state's plan to protect the Capitol.

"I was visited the other morning by our local state trooper checking in on my welfare, which I very much appreciated. And I'm grateful to the State Capitol Police chief for coordinating a security plan with the state police, municipal forces, the FBI and the National Guard to keep us elected officials safe," Palm said.

s.spinella@theday.com

Editor's Note: This version corrects the names of Joanna Iovino and Donald Trump in the photo captions.

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