By Dannys Marerro
Pittsburgh Current Contributing Writer
With many online threats calling for armed marches on Capitol Hill and state capitals, it raises one very important question: Is Pittsburgh ready in case something happens?
These threats began circulating after last week’s attack on the Capitol. Aggressive and often hateful posts dotted niche conservative sites such as TheDonald.win and Parler, as well as mainstream social media sites like Twitter and Facebook. Many of these “call-to-arms” are slated to commence on Sunday, January 17, the last Sunday of the Trump presidency, and lead up to Joe Biden’s inauguration three days later.
Alethea Group analyzed social media and found that Pittsburgh was a city where armed, organized groups planned to gather on Inauguration Day, the Washington Post reports.
So, what are the city and other government entities doing to prevent another attack like the one on the Capitol?
If there are safety plans for such an event, the public, so far, is completely in the dark. Statements made by law enforcement have not only been vague, but begs the question of how serious the threats are being taken.
In fact, a January 12 statement released by the FBI in Pittsburgh, downplays the threats completely.
“At this time, we are not aware of any related threats in our region which includes Western Pennsylvania and the State of West Virginia. The FBI takes all threats seriously and fully investigates each threat that comes into either our National Threat Operations Center or an FBI Field Office,” the statement read. “We continue to work closely with our state, local and federal law enforcement partners with maintaining public safety and focusing our efforts on identifying, investigating, and disrupting individuals who are inciting violence and engaging in criminal activity.”
The Pittsburgh Current reached out to the FBI Public Affairs Office for additional information, but they declined to comment further.
As far as the city goes, the information being released is also vague.
“We continue to monitor, prepare, and work with our [Law Enforcement] partners at all levels to ensure Public Safety,” said Chris Togneri, a Public Information Officer with city police. Tognieri also directed the Current to another statement from Wendell Hissrich, the city’s director of public safety.
“As is always the case, Public Safety is preparing with our law enforcement partners at the local, state, and federal levels for any and all events in the city,” said Hissrich in the statement “While we cannot discuss specific preparations, I have personally been in regular contact with law enforcement in order to continuously monitor the situation and prepare. We will ensure Public Safety.”
While it may seem reasonable that law enforcement wouldn’t publicly broadcast their plans, recent history of dealing with large gatherings raises questions.
Looking at the Capitol raid, it has been widely recognized that the crowd of mostly white people gained entrance to the building with relative ease. Not only did some Capitol Police officers open the gates for them, but the number of officers on the scene in advance of a well-advertised, large-scale march was also laughably understaffed. Especially compared to the preparations that were made for peaceful Black Lives Matter protests last summer. The difference in preparations for a mostly white crowd and a mostly Black crowd were stark.
Pittsburgh has had its own disparities when dealing with both Black and white protesters. There were countless stories written during the BLM protests of city police showing little patience when dealing with Black protesters. Officers aggressively confronted protesters and used tear gas as well as rubber bullets and other projectiles to push back the crowd.
However, back on April 20, 2020, armed protesters gathered in front of the Pittsburgh CIty-County building to protest the COVID-19 lockdown. That day, there wasn’t a swarm of officers in riot gear, nor did anyone seem to bat an eye over the fact that masked protesters with automatic weapons were lined up in front of a government building to protest wearing a mask to fight a deadly virus.