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The Latest: Sunday protests quiet; officials brace for more

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Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved

Local political activist Gene Stilp, right, pulls down a cut-out of President Donald Trump while staging an anti-Trump demonstration in front of the Pennsylvania State Capitol, Sunday Jan. 17, 2021, in Harrisburg, Pa. (AP Photo/Jacqueline Larma)

The Latest on demonstrating Sunday at statehouses across the country.

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After a small, peaceful protest at the Ohio Statehouse on Sunday, Gov. Mike DeWine says security levels will remain high in Columbus for Wednesday’s presidential inauguration.

DeWine praised demonstrators for exercising their free speech rights in a way “that respected our Constitution and our more than 150-year-old state capitol building.”

But he said there remain concerns over potential violence in the coming days.

Low-key protests were common across the U.S. on Sunday as law enforcement braced for big rallies and possible violence from supporters of President Donald Trump who believe his false claims that he won the presidential election.

Many rallies had more law enforcement than demonstrators. In states from Maine to Mississippi to Nevada, there were no far-right demonstrators at all. Protesters in Kentucky, New Hampshire and Utah were armed but peaceful.

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Washington State Patrol spokesman Chris Loftis said there might have been a cooling off across the country after a violent mob of Trump supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 to stop the Electoral College certification, leaving a Capitol Police officer and four others dead.

He said law enforcement will not let its guard down yet.

“The only thing that we have in abundance today is uncertainty,” he said. “For us, in law enforcement, we simply have to be ready for anything. We can’t allow ourselves to be dismissive, we can’t allow ourselves to be alarmist. We just have to be ready for whatever might be.”

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Some of the protests at statehouses have begun breaking up after drawing only modest crowds — in most places, no more than a couple dozen demonstrators.

Officials had fortified statehouses with extra police, National Guard troops and fencing after the FBI had warned about the possibility of armed demonstrations at all 50 state capitols.

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Yet some had no demonstrators at all Sunday. The Nevada Capitol in Carson City was empty except for one person carrying a sign reading “Trump Lost. Be Adults. Go Home."

In Richmond, Virginia, police vehicles, dump trucks and orange barrels blocked streets around the Capitol, but there was no sign of demonstrations.

It was a similar story in Springfield, Illinois. Windows of the Capitol had been boarded up as a precaution amid fears of a gathering similar to the Trump rally that preceded the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, when a violent mob tried to stop the Electoral College certification for President-elect Joe Biden.

By mid-afternoon Sunday, only guards and state troopers remained around the Ohio Statehouse in Columbus, with the crowds dissipating before kickoff of the Cleveland Browns’ NFL playoff game.

Protesters also cleared out in the afternoon in Lansing, Michigan, where state police estimated they numbered only about 20. There were vastly outnumbered by law enforcement and media.

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Some counter-protesters have begun showing up outside statehouses to send a message against the far-right groups that have threatened to disrupt the inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden.

In Columbia, South Carolina, a group of about half a dozen people stood on the opposite side of the Statehouse lawn from pro-Trump protesters, with one holding a sign that read: “What are you so PROUD of, BOYS?” It was a reference to the far-right group Proud Boys. The groups did not appear to be interacting.

In Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, Stephen Rzonca, who lives a few minutes from the state Capitol, said he came to greet any possible demonstrators, although there were none as of mid-day.

“I’m fundamentally against the potential protesters coming here to de-legitimize the election, and I don’t want to be passive in expressing my disapproval of them coming into this city,” Rzonca said.

And before demonstrators arrived in Lansing, Michigan, a truck showed up with a sign supporting Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, who was the target of a foiled kidnapping plot last year.

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At the U.S. Capitol, as federal officers, District of Columbia police and National Guard troops patrolled the area, a lone protester walked the sidewalk wearing a sign that said “Renounce Trump!”

“Look at this world that has been created by Trump,” said the woman, a retiree who lives in the area. She said she was afraid to reveal her name, gesturing at the barricades and largely empty streets.

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Small groups of pro-Trump demonstrators, some armed, have begun gathering outside statehouses, including in Michigan, Ohio and South Carolina.

In Lansing, Michigan, state police troopers walked around the Capitol grounds as a small group of demonstrators stood near a chain-link fence surrounding the 142-year-old building. Several National Guard vehicles were on a nearby street. One armed man falsely gave his name as Duncan Lemp, a Maryland man who was killed in a no-knock police raid and became a martyr for a loose network of gun-toting, anti-government extremists.

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A supporter of President Donald Trump wore a red “Make American Great Again” hat while standing on the lawn with a “Don’t Tread On Me” flag. The back of his shirt read: “PATRIOT NOT RACIST NOT TERRORIST.”

In Columbus, Ohio, about two dozen people, several carrying long guns, gathered outside the Capitol as dozens of state troopers and National Guard members guarded multiple points around the Statehouse, including every entrance. Nearly every business around the downtown capital square was boarded up.

Several dozen people were gathering at the South Carolina Statehouse, some carrying American flags. It was not immediately clear if some in the group were also counter-protesters supportive of the incoming Biden administration.

A heavy law enforcement presence surrounded the government complex in downtown Columbia. The Capitol itself has been surrounded with metal barricades for several days, and state lawmakers have announced they will not hold their scheduled in-person session this week because of the possible unrest.