The first to arrive was a masked young man who used the name of a dead anarchist to identify himself. He carried a first-aid kit and tree-of-liberty flag as he trudged up the hill to the state Capitol on Sunday, the advance guard of a protest that never materialized — at least not in Hartford.
On a day when police stood on alert in every state capital, ready for protests promised in the wake of the stunning assault on the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, Hartford was quiet. No one came to cry that the election was stolen from Donald J. Trump.
Reporters and photographers outnumbered protesters, counter-protesters and onlookers. Police outnumbered them all.
In and around the Capitol complex waited 200 police officers, one dog, a National Guard contingent armed with assault rifles, and armored police and military vehicles, some painted in desert tan. One was an MRAP, a mine-resistant assault vehicle.
“We believe what we were doing was appropriate based on the intel we had,” said Brian Foley, a spokesman for the state Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection. “That being said, I’d much rather next Thursday be talking to you about over-preparation than under-preparation. And the fact that no one showed up is just fine with us.”
Next Thursday will be President-elect Joe Biden’s first full day as the 46th president of the United States. Police expect to remain watchful over government buildings and other potential targets of protest or violence.
But if there are insurrectionists in Connecticut interested in keeping Donald J. Trump in power past Biden’s inauguration at noon on Wednesday, they did not show themselves on Sunday.
The self-described anarchist with the tree-of-liberty flag identified himself as Duncan Lemp, 17, of Norwich. The name is an alias adopted by some right-wing groups as a nod to a 21-year-old anti-government “boogaloo boi” killed in a police raid in Maryland last year.
The young man with the flag was accompanied by an older man of uncertain years who was identified by gold stitching on his cap as a Marine: “Once a Marine, Always a Marine.” He walked with a cane and pleasantly announced his mission: Keeping an eye on his grandson, the family anarchist.
“He’s a good boy,” said the grandfather.
The pair arrived before noon, the young man assuring the waiting press that more people were coming. The older man seemed skeptical. He laughed and said, “This is it?”
While the grandson used an alias, the grandfather declined to use any name. Keeping his name out of the news was a practice developed decades ago on Teamster picket lines, he said. He smiled and said, “I was a trouble-maker then.”
The younger of the pair said he learned of the protest on a bulletin board maintained online by The Tree of Liberty, which he described as generally freedom-loving and anti-government.
“What I know is from official statements from the organizers via the website, Tree of Liberty,” he said. “Its goal is anything that stands for freedom. Anybody who has any single issue with the government, whether it be taxes or legalizing marijuana, anything.”
As he chatted, Joanna Iovino of Hartford arrived with a pink bullhorn that needed batteries and a hand-written sign disapproving of Trump, the KKK and fascists. She described herself as a counter-protester and said there were others on the way, even if there was nothing to counter.
A young anarchist using a dead man’s name did not concern her.
“Maybe there’s not enough fascists in Connecticut, you know?” Iovino said. “But yeah, we’re out here to counter-protest against fascism.”
Others drifted by. A trio of serious-looking men approached from Bushnell Park and watched. One dropped his mask and lit a cigar. He said they were just curious. He was polite but disinterested in further discussion about politics or current events with a reporter.
A man with a shaggy beard strolled along the blaze-orange bicycle-rack fencing around the Capitol. As he passed the old man with the Marines cap, he said, “Thank you for your service.”
He was asked if he was press, protester or tourist.
The bearded man replied, “Just interested.”
A tall man who would only give his name as Will walked by with a bullhorn, amplifying a profane rap from his iPhone. It was “FDT” by Nipsey Hussle. “DT” stands for Donald Trump.
The Marine grandfather of the boy using a dead boogaloo’s name said he was mildly offended by the language.
When the song concluded, Will joined Iovino by the perimeter fence.
“I’m from Hartford. I have to be here. It’s basically I’m here against fascism, plain and simple, always will be,” he said. “So this is what I do. And we came up here with one or two people, even if we were surrounded, we’ve been surrounded by Trump supporters before.”
There was no chance of being surrounded.
A tall, thin male jogger in shorts and knee-high black socks glided by, showing no sign of noticing anything amiss on a Sunday afternoon at the Connecticut Capitol.
Capitol police stood inside the perimeter. Near the north steps, a State Police truck was parked, watched by a K-9 officer. His dog lay flat, disinterested.
Overhead, a State Police helicopter circled in ever-widening orbits over the Capitol, the Legislative Office Building, the State Office Building, State Armory, Supreme Court and the neighborhoods beyond.
There was nothing to see. No marchers staging, ready to move on the Capitol.
“In the wake of what we saw in the nation’s capital last week, it was important we be prepared for anything that might present this weekend,” said Luke Bronin, the mayor of Hartford, who lives a block from the Capitol.
Gov. Ned Lamont, who had hip-replacement surgery on Wednesday, was at his home in Greenwich. His spokesman, Max Reiss, echoed Bronin and Foley in saying that it was better to be over-prepared.
Authorities had no immediate estimate of the cost of having so many troopers massed around the Capitol.
“What was spent today will be tracked, coded through our fiscal people at the state separately, and we should hopefully, once it’s settled down in the coming days, have an idea of what the cost was,” Foley said. “Certainly I would say the cost is much less than having some sort of violent outbreak occur.”
He said state officials learned on a 50-state conference call Friday that every state capital was using the same template. One challenge for law enforcement was the decision by technology firms to crack down on the uses of social-media platforms by those deemed to be extremists.
It made a source of intelligence go dark, complicating efforts to judge how big a protest to expect.
“When social media started shutting down Parler and a lot of the talk and many of the advertisements about any sort of organized protests, we lost an arm of our intelligence,” Foley said. “Not all of our intelligence, but an arm of it. And the ability to estimate what was going to happen became cloudy.”
At precisely 1 p.m., the protest that never transpired was deemed a non-event. Police opened Capitol Avenue to traffic, too late for a small group of women seeking food at Emanuel Lutheran Church, across from the Armory and Legislative Office Building.
A sign at the church door said the church food bank was closed at the request of Capitol police. The women, who didn’t want to give their full names, said they come to the food bank every weekend.
“I wasn’t expecting anything like this,” a woman named Grace said. “Two cops stopped us just walking to the church. We’re just trying to get some food.”