SPRINGFIELD, Ill. - As honored guests celebrated a new era in Washington, the Illinois Capitol remained silent. In fact, there were more reporters and drones in the sky than protesters in Springfield.
Shortly after President Joe Biden took his oath of office, the Capitol grounds were empty except for police and the Illinois National Guard. Only five protesters came by the statehouse throughout the day.
Officers had the main streets surrounding the Capitol closed off in case a large group actually came to protest. Gov. JB Pritzker planned for the worst after the FBI shared warnings of armed protests planned for all 50 state Capitols. 250 members of the Illinois National Guard have been spread out at state buildings in Springfield since Saturday.
"Us just being out here I'm sure was a factor in perhaps anybody's plan to do anything," said U.S. Army Maj. A.J. Ruggieri. "But, we were really hoping that it would just be us out here showing that we're ready for anything that could happen."
Ruggieri emphasized the National Guard supports First Amendment rights and members would have been fine with peaceful protesters. He stressed they were only on-site to help state and local police with anything they needed.
While no one showed up for violent demonstrations Wednesday, some residents worry incidents could pop up later this week or by the end of the month. However, Ruggieri says the National Guard hasn't heard of any threats. He explained law enforcement will tell them how long they should stay, as state police communicate the most with the Pritzker administration.
"They will certainly let us know if we need to be here longer or if we need to change the hours or the plan that we're currently operating off of," Ruggieri added.
Protesters that showed up only spent a few minutes on Capitol Avenue or took photos at the Abraham Lincoln statue before leaving. Some hoped there would be a peaceful march around the Capitol, but that never took place.
Ruggieri didn't know when the National Guard will finish their mission, but he explained they'll stay as long as needed.
State employees weren't allowed inside the Capitol complex Wednesday due to safety concerns. Still, Secretary of State Spokesman Henry Haupt expects the building to reopen for employees on Thursday. Senators plan to return to the statehouse for session next week.