Philly prepares for feared inauguration violence

Members of the National Guard gather at the U.S. Capitol in Washington
Members of the National Guard are given weapons before Democrats begin debating one article of impeachment against U.S. President Donald Trump at the U.S. Capitol, in Washington, on Jan. 13.
REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

Growing national concern over inauguration-related violence has prompted authorities in Philadelphia to increase police patrols.

Officers will be stationed near historic landmarks and government buildings and be on-hand to respond to protests and looting, beginning Saturday through President-Elect Joe Biden’s inauguration Wednesday, Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw said.

The FBI has warned of planned armed protests in Washington D.C. and in all 50 state capitals in the coming days, following last week’s siege at the Capitol Building, which left five dead.

“We are all aware of the chatter on social media — some of it, at this point, secret and encrypted — that is calling for violent revolution,” District Attorney Larry Krasner told reporters Thursday.

Outlaw said there have been no “credible or specific” threats targeting Philadelphia, and that she was only aware of a small protest scheduled for Sunday.

The Philadelphia Police Department has cancelled days off to bolster its deployment, particularly for Sunday and Wednesday.

Mayor Jim Kenney said his administration has not asked for help from neighboring departments or the National Guard.

The city is not recommending businesses close or board up their properties, and there are no planned street closures in Center City, as there were at times during the Black Lives Matter protests in the summer.

Members of the National Guard patrol in Philadelphia during the Black Lives Matter protests last summer. Mayor Jim Kenney said his administration has not asked for help from neighboring departments or the National Guard in preparation for President-Elect Joe Biden’s inauguration next week. Jack Tomczuk

City officials, during a press briefing Thursday, struck a balance, stressing the importance of constitutionally-protected free speech while promising serious repercussions for anyone who engages in illegal activity.

They urged people to come forward with tips, either about the attack on the Capitol or on suspicious activity locally.

“Please, if you’ve got information to share, we want to hear it,” said Michael Driscoll, the special agent in charge of the FBI’s Philadelphia field office.

Federal agents based in the city have arrested two men in the recent days related to the Jan. 6 violence in Washington.

Robert Sanford, 55, of Upper Chichester, surrendered to authorities early Thursday and will be charged with several crimes, including assaulting a federal officer, Driscoll said.

A retired firefighter who prosecutors believe is connected to the far-right “Proud Boys,” Sanford is accused of hurling what appears to be a fire extinguisher at law enforcement, hitting three officers, according to Reuters.

The other man, 66-year-old Terry Brown, of Lebanon County, is charged with breaking into the Capitol Building.

District Attorney Larry Krasner speaks Monday, Nov. 2, during a new conference to discuss security measures for Election Day. PHOTO: Jack Tomczuk

City leaders compared their inauguration security coalition to a task force that was mobilized on Election Day to monitor incidents of voter intimidation and coercion at the polls.

Krasner characterized that effort as successful, with the most serious offenses coming after the ballots were cast when two armed Virginia men were arrested outside the vote-counting operation at the Pennsylvania Convention Center.

A judge on Thursday declined to hold the men, Joshua Macias and Antonio LaMotta, without bail after they attended the pro-Trump march on the Capitol while out on bond.

Prosecutors filed an additional charge against the pair — attempted election interference, a felony — and Krasner maintained that Macias and LaMotta will be held accountable.

Earlier this week, 10 City Council members called for investigations into any municipal employees who went to the Capitol last week.

“There’s no room for hate speech anywhere… even if it’s done online or on social media,” Council Majority Leader Cherelle Parker said at Thursday’s press briefing.

Internal probes are ongoing into a PPD detective and seven members of the SEPTA Transit Police Department over their attendance at the event.

The detective has been reassigned, according to a PPD statement.

SEPTA spokesman Andrew Busch said the transit officers are still on regular duty since there “isn’t any indication of illegal activity on their part” so far in the investigation, which will also examine whether they violated the authority’s social media policy.