Planning for Calamity at the Republican Convention

Top national-security officials told Congress Thursday, they are concerned about violence. But authorities have been strategizing for months in preparation.

Rick Wilking / Reuters

NEWS BRIEF The FBI and the Department of Homeland Security are bracing for Cleveland.

In a House hearing Thursday, two of the nation’s top national-security officials, FBI Director James Comey and DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson, voiced their concerns that protests at the upcoming Republican National Convention in Ohio could turn ugly.

In preparation for that possibility, thousands of security personnel will be on the ground, including local law enforcement; the National Guard; and roughly 3,000 people from agencies under DHS’s jurisdiction, like the Secret Service and the Transportation Security Administration. Johnson told lawmakers that officials have been strategizing for both the Republican and Democratic conventions for more than one year. From the Associated Press:

“I am concerned about the possibility of violence,” Johnson told the House Homeland Security Committee. He added that in Ohio it is legal to openly carry firearms. [Firearms will be prohibited “within the security perimeter that surrounds the convention venue,” the AP reported in a separate story.]

Johnson said he will be inspecting security in Cleveland during a visit on Friday. He also said he has similar concerns about the possibility for violence at the upcoming Democratic convention in Philadelphia. He said he plans to visit that site next week.

[Comey] said there will be “hundreds of people” from the bureau focused on assessing intelligence related to groups that aspire to commit acts of domestic terrorism.

“Anytime there’s a national spotlight on a political event in the United States, there’s a risk that groups that aspire to do just that, to engage in acts of domestic terrorism, will be attracted,” Comey said. “It’s a threat we’re watching very, very carefully.”

In a year when multiple clashes erupted at protests and rallies for presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump, worries over convention violence have been heightened. But the events have taken on an even more ominous tone with last week’s shootings in Louisiana, Minnesota, and Dallas, Texas.

Local officials in Cleveland have made preparations, too—including at city hospitals, as STAT recently reported. The Cleveland Clinic, for example, has been hoarding medications and equipment, and it has held six drills to get staff ready. McClatchy reported last week on the steps city officials have taken: recruiting additional police from other states and other cities in Ohio, freeing up jail space, and coordinating efforts with the feds. Still, Cleveland’s police chief, Calvin Williams, projected calm in a message posted to his department’s website last week describing what police have done. “This event will put Cleveland in the national spotlight, as did the Cleveland Cavaliers parade just a short time ago,” Williams wrote. “The time is upon us once again to showcase Cleveland and what we, as a community, are all about.”