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Missoula law enforcement heeds FBI warning, plans for possible extremist uprising

Protesters storm the U.S. Capitol and move toward the Senate chamber at the Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021, near the Ohio Clock. The FBI has warned that other insurrections are being planned across the country. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta via CN)

A warning from the FBI that armed groups were planning another uprising after last week’s insurrection and occupation of the U.S. Capitol building has placed law enforcement agencies across the county on high alert, including Missoula.

Mayor John Engen said the city and county have discussed the FBI’s bulletin and are coordinating a response if it becomes necessary.

“Police Chief (Jaeson) White and Sheriff (TJ) McDermott are working with both state and federal authorities, along with our peer cities around the state,” Engen said. “We are seeing nothing credible to suggest that anything horrible will happen in Missoula, but we’ll be prepared for that.”

The FBI’s warning stems from intelligence that extreme right-wing groups, including the Boogaloo Boys, the Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers, planned to hit cities around the country ahead of president-elect Joe Biden’s swearing-in ceremony.

Last year, rumors of Antifa infiltrating the Black Lives Matter demonstrations also placed local law enforcement on alert. However, no major acts of violence were reported in Missoula and the demonstrations remained largely peaceful.

With tensions rising among some Trump supporters, a group of unknown individuals over the weekend changed the iconic peace symbol overlooking Missoula in the North Hills to a Nazi swastika. Volunteers quickly responded to remove it.

“Whoever engaged in that activity, there aren’t many of you, and you’re never going to win,” Engen said. “You can hate all you want. We’ll be here with love, and Missoula won’t be a home to hatred, bigotry or bias.”

Sen. Steve Daines on Tuesday also issued a statement ahead of fears of more violence.

“Those who took part in the violence and destruction are criminals and must be brought to justice,” Daines said. “We are a nation that believes in the right to peacefully protest — we must rise above the violence. To all who plan to exercise First Amendment rights over the coming days, do know violence will not be tolerated.”

Members of the Missoula City Council on Monday also expressed sadness and dismay over the deadly insurrection that played out over national television last week and left two Capitol police officers dead.

“I think there’s a lot of things in our nation and our society that has led to this, and I hope we start taking a hard look at those issues,” said council member Gwen Jones.

“I think income inequality is a huge issue, and stress from the economic fallout of the pandemic, and the pandemic itself. I’m hoping this watershed event last week leads us to some clarity, and imprints upon all of us the value of truth, and that facts matter and words matter.”

Council member Julie Merritt offered a similar response and called out the dangerous tone set by some in Congress. Rep. Matt Rosendale, only two weeks into office, has emerged among them.

“It matters when elected officials tell lies and support concepts that have no basis in fact,” said Merritt. “There are consequences. That’s what we saw on Wednesday, the consequences of people in power irresponsibly using their words. We’ve seen that in our community where words have caused people real damage. I want to see an end to that.”