Scant turnout at State Capitol right-wing protests before Inauguration Day

State Patrol and media outnumbered right-wing protesters during a weekend of demonstrations outside the Capitol building.

A small group of protesters gather in front of the Minnesota Capitol during the Hold the Line protest on Saturday, Jan. 16. The event was held to protest the presidential election results.

Just over a week past the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection in Washington, D.C., two planned right-wing rallies at the Minnesota State Capitol saw slim turnout.

Hold the Line MN (HTL), a right-wing organization, hosted a Saturday “Freedom Fest” against the results of the election and a “Sunday Church Service” at the Capitol building, with both drawing more media and law enforcement than protesters. For months, the group and other adjacent organizations have held protests at the Capitol and governor’s mansion with significantly higher turnout.

Becky Strohmeier, the HTL organizer, said she thought the lack of participation over the weekend was due to safety concerns following the insurrection at the Washington, D.C. Capitol.

The Minneapolis Division of the FBI published a report from December showing credible evidence that right-wing extremist groups were targeting the Minnesota State Capitol leading up to the inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden, according to Yahoo News.

While law enforcement around the country warned of threats to state capitol buildings, many right-wing organizations also urged supporters to stay home over the weekend. The Minnesota Proud Boys shared in their Telegram channel that they would not be attending Capitol demonstrations this month, “and you shouldn’t either.”

In response to the possible threat, Minnesota law enforcement — led by Minnesota State Patrol — stood guard on the Capitol steps and around the perimeter armed and wearing neon yellow vests. Wire fences and roadblocks were erected around the perimeter of the Capitol, along with various police vehicles and military-style humvees.

Saturday’s event was scheduled to take place from 12 p.m. to 2 p.m. Less than about 20 protesters attended and were surrounded by dozens of reporters and roughly 100 law enforcement personnel.

“Today, we’re mostly just defending our reputation,” Strohmeier said. “[After] a group of people … did storm the Capitol [in Washington, D.C.], we’ve had a lot of bad press.”

Strohmeier, who has been organizing protests in response to the presidential election since November, said she identifies herself and the HTL supporters as “patriots.”

Many of the right-wing protesters also shared baseless conspiracies about election fraud and challenging COVID-19 restrictions. Protesters held flags that read “Don’t tread on me” or “Give me liberty or give me death.” Several also wore various pro-Trump memorabilia; one spectator handed out free Bibles.

The event also attracted several counter-protestors and spectators.

Steve Brandt, an election judge for the city of Minneapolis, stood on the outside of the crowd of protestors holding a sign that read, “I AM AN ELECTION JUDGE, TELL ME HOW I STOLE OUR ELECTION ???”

Brandt said the allegations of election fraud made him angry. He said he worked at a polling location from 5:30 a.m. until 6 p.m. the day after Election Day while following meticulous instruction and procedures.

“I’ve worked for the last six elections in the city of Minneapolis. And this one was no different from any other,” Brandt said.

Sunday’s event consisted of roughly four individuals participating in prayer and service activities, as well as a handful of counter-protesters and members of Nonviolent Peaceforce, a civilian protection group that uses nonviolent tactics. Again, members of the media vastly outnumbered protesters.

Woodbury resident Steve Addyman, 56, attended Sunday’s event to promote his “anti-‘ist’” beliefs, which he said involves avoiding using negative “-ist” identifiers (such as racist, sexist, anti-feminist) when speaking about important issues. He said he believes that some of today’s division stems from this hostile language.

“Everything we’ve been doing for the last 50 years doesn’t work,” Addyman said. “It just draws a line in the sand: me against you. … If everyone would stop being so ‘-ist’, a lot of [division] would just go away.”

Strohmeier said Sunday’s event was “a good day to bring God to the Capitol.” She said neither of the protests held this weekend were considered “pro-Trump” rallies, they “just use a lot of the wording that Trump supporters would be drawn to.”

With Biden’s inauguration Wednesday, some HTL members said they planned to stay home throughout the week.

“We’ll see how it pans out,” Strohmeier said, “I just have faith that everything will turn out okay.”

J.D. Duggan contributed to this report.