Security fears hang over convention

Security fears hang over convention
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Thousands of demonstrators for and against Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpFeinstein, Iranian foreign minister had dinner amid tensions: report The Hill's Morning Report - Trump says no legislation until Dems end probes Harris readies a Phase 2 as she seeks to rejuvenate campaign MORE are descending on the Republican National Convention, creating a volatile mix that is keeping law enforcement officials on edge.

Several groups are planning to protest, including the New Black Panther Party and the Oath Keepers, an anti-government group that has raised the prospect of carrying weapons.

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Indeed, Ohio’s open-carry laws, which permit people to carry guns in the broader event zone but in the immediate vicinity of the convention, have become an added worry for organizers.

“Our intent is to follow the law,” Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson said at a press conference. “And if the law says you can have open carry, that’s what it says. Whether I agree with it or not is another issue.”

Many groups say they are planning peaceful anti-Trump protests. Tom Burke, an organizer of a protest called the Coalition to Stop Trump, said he was expecting “thousands” of protesters and had been contacted by people in 20 cities, as far away as Florida, who plan to come.

He said the group’s protest would focus on the presumptive GOP presidential nominee’s “racist, anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim” comments.

Bryan Hambley, a local physician, is organizing another protest, called Stand Together Against Trump, which will feature doctors and nurses. Hambley said he met with Cleveland’s police chief last week to talk logistics and that the group is offering “peace and nonviolence training” to its members.

There will likely be a large law enforcement presence at the convention, which is expected to draw around 50,000 visitors, including 15,000 members of the media.

Cleveland has called in law enforcement officers from outside the city to bolster the roughly 500 local officers it will have dedicated to the convention. The federal government, meanwhile, is deploying about 3,000 security officials, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said Thursday.

A Secret Service spokesperson told The Hill that the agency is partnering with approximately 80 agencies in the planning and implementation of the Republican National Committee security plan in the city.

FBI and Secret Service officials said they didn’t know of any specific threats to the convention. The FBI said it would continue to rely on members of the public to alert law enforcement to suspicious activity.

“While it is difficult to rank threats, the most challenging type of threat is the threat that we do not know,” the Cleveland division of the FBI said in a statement to The Hill.

FBI officials indicated that they remain concerned about “lone wolf”-style attacks, such as last week’s sniper attack in Dallas and last month’s terrorist attack in Orlando, Fla.

“The threat of a lone offender, who is inspired by terrorist ideology who has access to a weapon and wakes up one morning and decides ‘today is going to be the day,’ is always a concern. We are putting a lot of effort and resources to prevent an attack by a lone offender, but also heavily depend on help from the public to report suspicious activity,” the FBI said.

“I would say the candidate threat picture is slightly elevated,” Secret Service Director Joseph Clancy told CBS News. “People are bolder. ... We have to be prepared for that.”

Local and federal officials said this week that 73 law enforcement agencies would communicate on convention security. Officials will be tracking a number of protests and rallies that could draw several thousand people, including some armed with bullhorns and others potentially with guns.

The Secret Service announced in March that people would not be allowed to carry guns inside Quicken Loans Arena or in the immediate zone around the host venue, but the state’s open-carry laws allow anyone legally owning a gun to have it inside the 1.7-square-mile event area.

Prohibited items in the events zone include swords, axes, slingshots, BB guns, metal knuckles, nunchucks, mace, air pistols and knives with blades 2.5 inches or longer, among dozens of other objects.

One of the first big demonstrations will be a rally Monday in Settler’s Landing Park, less than a mile from the arena, where more than a thousand people could show up, according to organizers.

“Our message is not to stand up to anyone protesting or confront anyone,” said Tim Selaty, the Houston-based founder of Citizens for Trump. “Our message is to support Trump.”

Selaty said his grassroots group has secured private security for the event, which Trump ally Roger Stone is co-hosting. “Between our special forces security, volunteer security working in tandem with the Cleveland Police Department, I think we’ll be fine,” Selaty said.

The organizer noted his group’s rally is a private, permitted event, and organizers could eject those who get inside and attempt to cause trouble. “We’ve got plenty of people on the ground to sort that out,” he said.

Selaty noted the group would be prohibiting guns from a theater area where they plan to hold the rally. He said generally the “mood is great” and organizers are “very optimistic.”

Others are less excited about the menagerie of outside groups heading into the city.

“This is a three-ring circus coming from out of town, and it’s bringing animals and other acts and other clowns,” said Alfred Porter Jr., president of the decades-old civil rights group Black on Black Crime Inc., based in Cleveland.

“Everyone is jockeying for key positions,” said Porter, who is organizing protests against police brutality and violent crime while drawing attention to millions of dollars the city has spent on a “makeover” of its downtown area. He said some groups were using Trump’s name for attention.

Porter indicated he wasn’t worried about the added law enforcement presence, noting it was focused on those with guns and not peaceful protesters like the roughly two dozen estimated to be part of his events.

Days of road closures will block access to various parts of the city near the convention. The event’s tight security is already affecting local businesses.

One area employee told The Hill that Secret Service had plans for bomb-sniffing dogs to inspect cars entering his building’s parking lot down the street from the convention arena, and a police helicopter was spotted whirling overhead and checking buildings.

John Dearborn, an executive with StreamLink Software, a company headquartered three buildings from the arena and within the security perimeter, said his company made the decision to allow its 43 employees to telework during the convention as a precaution.

“What swayed us was more a concern for overall safety,” he told The Hill, noting that the building entrance is on the same street as Quicken Loans Arena and near “protest central.”