Baker: “No known threats” here after violence in DC

By Matt Murphy, State House News Service

With the inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden being planned just eight days from now, Gov. Charlie Baker said Tuesday that the state is not aware of any threats at this point that would warrant activating the National Guard after the FBI warned of possible unrest at all 50 state capitols.

Baker also said that state officials are working with federal law enforcement about the possibility of using facial recognition technology to identify any rioters from Massachusetts who participated in the violence at the U.S. Capitol last Wednesday.

“That process is ongoing between state and federal and, again, local law enforcement, but one of the reasons I was so aggressive about maintaining access to the facial recognition technology was because I believed it was important tool for dealing with issues like the one that took place in Washington last week and I am glad that we are still able to use that technology here in Massachusetts within a framework that we and the Legislature all agreed on,” Baker said.

The ability for state law enforcement to continue use facial recognition software and access Registry of Motor Vehicle databases was a point of contention in the recently signed policing reform law, with some arguing that the technology disproportionately misidentified people of color.

Baker fought to loosen some of the initial restrictions proposed by the Legislature, and the compromise allowed for police to perform facial recognition searches to assist with criminal cases or to mitigate “substantial risk of harm” after submitting a written request to the RMV, Massachusetts State Police, or the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

The Republican governor has condemned the attack on Congress last week, saying that it made him “sick to my stomach” to watch on television as pro-Trump insurgents stormed the Capitol building while Congress was attempting to certify the results of the 2020 election.

Baker has also said he supports removing President Donald Trump from office before Jan. 20 when Biden takes over.

At least one man from Massachusetts was arrested last Wednesday near the Capitol after the violence.

David Ross, 33, of Pittsfield was charged by D.C. Police with unlawful entry and violating the city’s 6 p.m. curfew. Additionally, buses full of people from New England, including from Massachusetts, traveled to Washington, D.C. to participate in the protests.

“The feds are very actively involved in following all kinds of leads and investigating all kinds of people who’ve been identified who were part of that travesty that took place in Washington last week, and obviously if any of those roads lead back to people in Massachusetts I fully expect that those folks will get arrested and prosecuted, as they should be,” Baker said.

While the FBI has warned of possible actions by pro-Trump groups targeting government buildings from now until Inauguration Day, Baker said he was unaware of any specific threats in Massachusetts.

“There are no known threats with respect to the State House or any other public building at this time in Massachusetts, and we will continue to monitor and track the information that’s out there and we will be appropriately prepared for anything that might happen,” Baker said.

During the Black Lives Matter protests in the wake of the killing of George Floyd, Baker on multiple occasions activated the National Guard in order to be prepared for possible violence and vandalism.

Baker did not rule out doing the same before the inauguration, but he said that step is not warranted at this time.

“We do not have in front of us anything that would justify activating the guard,” Baker said.

Baker said ongoing conversations between local, state and federal law enforcement would continue through inauguration day.

“The great thing about the guard is when you call they come,” he said.