ST. PAUL — A large security force — including the Minnesota National Guard — were prepared Saturday, Jan. 16, to meet protesters who planned a "Freedom Fest" at the St. Paul Capitol building.
Instead, the event drew about 20 people who were vastly outnumbered by police and members of the media.
The rally was the first of two events at the Capitol complex this weekend tied to false claims that the presidential election results were invalid. The event is a continuation of “Stop the Steal” protests at the Capitol held by organizers from “Hold the Line,” a group of people who are adherents to the false conspiracy that President-elect Joe Biden was not rightfully elected.
Biden beat President Donald Trump by more than 7 million votes in the Nov. 3 election and dozens of court cases, along with multiple vote audits have confirmed that.
The potential for violence overshadowed the Saturday event following the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol building that resulted in multiple injuries and deaths.
On Friday, Jan. 15, Minnesota Department of Public Safety Commissioner John Harrington said at a news conference that there were no credible threats this weekend, though Minnesota would take the proper precautions to secure the state Capitol building and other areas throughout the state. Earlier reports from the FBI cited threats of violence at state capitol protests around the country this weekend, including in Minnesota and Michigan.
The St. Paul protest was peaceful, with people milling about and talking or simply sitting on the ground in a circle. The event concluded as scheduled at 2 p.m.
Steve Brandt, who volunteered as an election judge at a Hennepin County polling site, arrived with a sign that read, “I am an election judge, tell me how I stole the election.”
“I want to put them to their proof,” Brandt said of the protesters.
One protester asked where he could find the ballots cast in the election. Brandt explained where the results could be accessed publicly.
“I don’t care about the results,” said the man, who declined to give his name.
“No, you don’t,” Brandt said.
The Minnesota State Patrol did remove a man in a Spider-Man mask who was playing clown music from a speaker after event organizer Becky Strohmeier confronted him. He was not charged, state patrol officials on site confirmed.
One protester, who was wearing multiple knives and a vest loaded with shotgun shells, characterized the police presence as an attempt to provoke a reaction from the protesters. The man also wore a flag over his shoulders with a vulgar message regarding Biden and people who voted for him.
Strohmeier said the events on Jan. 6 were not a factor in putting on the event Saturday, though multiple conservative activists along with groups like the ultranationalist Proud Boys warned people not to go to any events this weekend.
“(What happened on Jan. 6) didn’t have anything to do with us,” Strohmeier said, adding that her events have always been peaceful.
Gov. Tim Walz activated the Minnesota National Guard for potential violence at protests in St. Paul, including Sunday, Jan. 17. The Guard has also been deployed to Washington, D.C., in anticipation of potential threats related to Inauguration Day, Wednesday, Jan. 20.