Protesters square off with law enforcement officers on the front porch of the Governor’s Mansion in Olympia after a group of people got through a perimeter fence Wednesday. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

Protesters square off with law enforcement officers on the front porch of the Governor’s Mansion in Olympia after a group of people got through a perimeter fence Wednesday. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

Amid riot fears, state lawmakers plan in-person session

Leaders from both sides said the state constitution requires it and that they wouldn’t be intimidated.

By Gene Johnson / Associated Press

State lawmakers are defending their plan to open the legislative session in person next Monday in Olympia following the siege of the nation’s Capitol building in Washington, D.C., as well as the storming of the governor’s property in Olympia by President Donald Trump’s loyalists — including some who were armed and attacked or threatened journalists.

Leaders from both parties spoke during an online preview of the legislative session hosted by The Associated Press on Thursday, saying that the state constitution requires lawmakers to meet in person, that gathering in the Capitol would be safer than elsewhere and that it is crucial to demonstrate that lawmakers will not be intimidated from doing the people’s business.

“While our democratic republic is fragile in a lot of ways, it is also as tough as nails,” said Democratic House Speaker Laurie Jinkins of Tacoma. “The elected representatives want to exercise their constitutional duties and responsibilities, and we intend to do that.”

The Capitol building will remain closed to the public and lobbyists during the 105-day session due to the pandemic, and lawmakers will do their work through a mix of virtual meetings and on-site votes. Lawmakers’ agenda includes dealing with pressing issues related to the pandemic, such as support for struggling businesses and renters, and police reform.

A right-wing militia had encouraged its members to occupy the Capitol when the Legislature meets, and that intention was echoed by several of those who broke down a gate outside the governor’s mansion Wednesday and stormed the porch and front yard. An armed participant used pepper spray on one journalist and threatened others, including an AP photographer, with death if they didn’t leave within five minutes.

“I cannot imagine being in your situation and that terror, and I’m glad you’re safe,” Republican Sen. Shelly Short, of Addy, told one of the threatened journalists during the preview Thursday. “But if we start to bend to this, it just gets worse. … We have to show we’re ready to take on the business of the state.”

An organizer of the planned occupation of the Capitol, Tyler Miller of the group Hazardous Liberty, canceled the event in a Facebook post Wednesday night. In an interview Thursday, he said the event was intended to be peaceful and that it was designed to protest the closure of the Capitol with the Legislature in session, when the state Constitution mandates: “The doors of each house shall be kept open, except when the public welfare shall require secrecy.”

Lawmakers have said that streaming legislative proceedings live online and on the state’s public affairs television network meets that obligation. They are meeting in person Monday largely to adopt rules that will allow them to meet virtually during the rest of the session.

“Due to our political leaders being non-responsive and the 100% likelihood that our event will be hijacked by people with ulterior motives, we have decided to cancel the Legislative Lockout event,” Miller wrote. “Please support the other rallies that are happening in and around Olympia this weekend and coming week.”

Miller said he did expect some individuals to try to enter the Capitol and observe the proceedings, despite the cancelation.

Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee acknowledged Thursday that the Washington State Patrol did not have adequate resources outside the mansion. He said he was disappointed and could not explain why the police response was so meager compared to the robust law enforcement presence Black Lives Matter demonstrators faced earlier this year on the Capitol campus.

“We’re going to have to get answers,” he said.

The outnumbered troopers did not make arrests, apparently for fear of further inciting the crowd, but the patrol has said it will investigate.

Inslee thanked journalists for working professionally in the face of threats and called on Republicans who have long tolerated or fanned the president’s lies to help break the spell of his “hallucinatory, cult-like activities.” He also called Trump a “cancer” and said he must be removed from office by any legal means necessary.

The governor said he planned to meet late Thursday with Washington State Patrol Chief John Baptiste and Maj. Gen. Bret Daugherty of the Washington National Guard to discuss whether to call out the National Guard to help ensure peace next week.

“Whether the guard is or is not involved, we’re committed to security,” Inslee said.

AP Correspondent Rachel La Corte contributed from Olympia.

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