Some Democratic state lawmakers are expressing concerns that the General Assembly could see similar violence as the attack on the U.S. Capitol, with one even calling for the next session to be delayed beyond its scheduled Jan. 11 start.
State Rep. Josh McLaurin (D-Sandy Springs) says lawmakers face “what I would call the clear and present danger of the risk of insurrection at any capitol building” and should seek to adjourn their session immediately after it begins. “My position personally is that we should delay the start of the session for several weeks,” he said, due to safety concerns about the pandemic and because the “risk of political violence is going to be elevated until Inauguration Day” on Jan. 20.
Some other lawmakers, while expressing security concerns about rioters and death threats, are not making similar calls for delays. Republican state Sen. Kay Kirkpatrick, who represents part of Sandy Springs, says she doesn’t have any worries. “I always go in early and there will be plenty of security down there,” she said in an email. “Our leaders say we are starting on Monday as scheduled. I have been called a lot of names over the last several weeks but have not felt threatened (so far).”
State Rep. Matthew Wilson, a Brookhaven Democrat, said he has not received any threats and does not have security concerns. He said the session should not be delayed.
“I would absolutely not support delaying the start of our legislative session,” said Wilson. “We cannot allow insurrectionists — domestic terrorists — [to] prevent us from our Constitutional work.”
The Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., disrupted the counting of the Electoral College vote that will award the presidency to Joe Biden. Trump has challenged his loss with a variety of conspiracy theories about supposed fraud in Georgia and elsewhere. Some state election officials and lawmakers have reported receiving death threats related to the controversy and accused Trump of stoking violence that culminated in the U.S. Capitol attack.
As the attack continued in Washington, a group of pro-Trump protesters gathered outside the Georgia State Capitol, reportedly causing Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger — a major target of Trump’s wrath — and his staff members to leave the building as a safety precaution. The Georgia Department of Public Safety, which is responsible for government security, says there were about 60 protesters at the Capitol, but no incidents were reported there or at the Governor’s Mansion in Buckhead.
State Rep. Scott Holcomb, a DeKalb County Democrat whose district includes part of Brookhaven, said he is concerned about the upcoming session but believes Georgia Capitol security will be “thoughtful.” He said the concern is about the bigger picture of threats.
“Trump supporters have been making threats of violence for weeks,” said Holcomb. “It is a volatile situation fueled by Trump’s manic dishonesty, and it is a security concern. … The challenge, as I see it, is this is not an isolated event but a massive threat that needs to be eliminated.”
State Rep. Betsy Holland, a Buckhead Democrat, agreed that the U.S. Capitol assault fits into a bigger picture of threats.
“I’m human — today’s events certainly raise concerns about safety at the Georgia Capitol, though I have to say that this has been a smoldering fire for some time that we saw erupt today in Washington,” Holland said. “I’d like to think we would not see such an incident in Georgia, but we must proceed with caution.”
Holland and McLaurin both said they have received threatening calls or emails that they have forwarded to authorities.
“I think everyone would be right to be concerned that the events at the [U.S.] Capitol and Trump’s outright encouragement or outright propagation of the lies that encouraged people to go to the Capitol could have a spillover effect in Georgia,” said McLaurin. “I’m concerned about my colleagues on both sides of the aisle.”
Holland said in an email that she would like some security improvements at the Georgia Capitol, and not just for lawmakers. “I’m calling on leadership to increase security measures at the Capitol, including moving as many proceedings to online meetings as possible, creating a centralized emergency communication system and implementing emergency response plans,” she said. “We have hundreds of hard-working staffers at the Capitol, from legal advisors to photographers to office assistants to policy analysts; they all deserve to continue their work without fear for their safety.”
Holland said that such security talks were underway. “Meanwhile, my family and I are praying for those in Washington, D.C. and for the future of our nation,” she said.
McLaurin echoed the concerns about threats to democracy itself, referring to a saying attributed to Benjamin Franklin about the type of government America has. “There is that expression: ‘A republic, if you can keep it,’” McLaurin said. “I think we’re seeing in real time what that really means. You can’t take the American experiment for granted.”
Update: This story has been updated with comment from state Rep. Matthew Wilson.