Fences with spiraling barbed wires, barricades, security checkpoints, and heavily armed guards are what you would expect in a military encampment for a warzone, not in downtown Washington D.C. But these are only some of the measures that have been put in place in preparation for President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration next week.
The heightened security in the nation’s capital is a telltale sign that authorities and officials are extremely worried that the civil unrest and violence observed on Jan. 6 may repeat next week.
Federal authorities have said they are tracking an “extensive” amount of “concerning online chatter” about potential threats to the inauguration, including armed protests, potential threats linked to the Capitol breach, and other types of potential threats.
The fortification of the city, particularly around the White House and U.S. Capitol, began over the past few days and is expected to ramp up in the lead up to Jan. 20.
Videos by reporters, workers, and residents in the area show street closures, workers putting up miles of barricades and fencing, shops and offices being boarded up, and an increased military presence. Military vehicles are seen parked on downtown streets, and armed guards are checking identification for people leaving and entering the city.
The locked-down city has been separated into Green and Red zones as part of the 2021 Presidential Inaugural Subcommittees’ transportation plan. The U.S. Secret Service has posted a list of all the street closures on its website, many of which began at 6 a.m. Saturday, Jan. 16, and are scheduled to end at 6 a.m. Thursday, Jan. 21. A number of bridges and interstate highways into Washington are also scheduled to close at 6 a.m. on Tuesday, Jan. 19.
As many as 25,000 National Guard members from all 50 states, three territories, and Washington will be stationed in the city next week, the U.S. Army confirmed, which is an increase of 5,000 from numbers earlier this week. The number of guardsmen sent to Washington exceeds the number of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, which has been reduced to 2,500, the Pentagon said on Friday.
National Guardsmen were given the authorization to be armed on Jan. 12 in order to support law enforcement in the Capitol and the city, according to a statement by the D.C. National Guard. The authorization came after a request by federal authorities. Troops have been on 24-hour watch in the U.S. Capitol and off-duty troops have been photographed sleeping in building hallways.
The increased number of National Guard members will be there to supplement the already ramped up forces from the FBI, U.S. Secret Service, Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Capitol Police, and D.C.’s Metropolitan Police Department.
Before resigning from office, former acting Department of Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf said in a statement on Jan. 11 that he had instructed the U.S. Secret service to begin National Special Security Event operations for the inauguration from Jan. 13.
The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has also increased its security measures ahead of the inauguration. TSA Administrator David Pekoske said in a statement that the agency is currently processing hundreds of names with law enforcement agencies as part of a risk assessment. The agency will also add additional layers of security at all three D.C.-area airports.
“Those security layers include more law enforcement and explosives detection canine teams, random gate screening, increased number of Federal Air Marshals on certain flights, and additional Visible Intermodal Prevention and Response (VIPR) teams to provide greater security presence at certain rail transportation hubs,” Pekoske said.
Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser and security officials have also urged Americans to stay home to watch the inauguration virtually.
“We know this is the right request for our public safety and our public health,” she said on Friday.
D.C. officials estimate the inauguration will cost roughly $45 million due to the increased security measures. So far, Congress has approved $34.9 million, Christopher Rodriguez, director of D.C.’s Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency, said in a press conference on Jan. 15.
Rodriguez said the amount was keeping in mind deficits that the District had run “because of the heightened number of first amendment demonstrations” seen throughout 2020.
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky) has criticized the way the government and authorities have reacted to the events on Jan. 6, noting that civil liberties of the individual can be lost “very quickly” during times of crisis.
“You know government. They either underreact or overreact. So, I think there was too little security obviously last week, and now we’re going to become a militarized zone,” Paul said in an interview with Fox News’ “Ingraham Angle.”
“And they’re checking congressmen as they come in to see if they have a sharp pencil or a sharp pen. So, it’s gotten ridiculous. And so, we’ll see what happens, and whether it’s permanent. But most people who write about civil liberties say that in times of war, or in times of stress, or in times of crisis, you lose your civil liberties very quickly.”
He also noted that once American’s civil liberties are lost, “it’s very difficult to get them back.”
“Because government, once it grows large, never wants to give up on this. But yes, we have to resist this. And we have to have security, obviously. But I think living in a wartime state with … we have troops in the Capitol, they’re staying in the Capitol. They’re platooning and camping in the Capitol. So I understand that last week, we weren’t prepared and that was a real problem, and I regret everything that happened last week with that, but going forward, this week, I think we—there’s a danger of overreacting,” he added.
Others are worried that the D.C. lockdown could hurt businesses that are already struggling due to CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus pandemic lockdowns.
Vice President Mike Pence during a security briefing on Thursday said the Trump administration is committed to ensuring a safe transition of power to Biden.
“We all lived through that day—January 6. And as the president made clear yesterday, we are committed to an orderly transition and to a safe inauguration. The American people deserve nothing less,” Pence said.
The U.S. Capitol Police on Saturday announced that it had arrested a man at an inaugural security checkpoint on Friday, who had presented a non-government issued credential. The man, Wesley Allen Beeler, 31, of Virginia, was carrying a handgun in plain sight in his vehicle, and a search of his car revealed numerous rounds of ammunition, authorities said.
He has been charged with Carrying a Pistol without a License; Possession of Unregistered Firearm, and Possession of Unregistered Ammunition.
Beeler told media following his release on Saturday that he was working as hired security in downtown Washington, according to The Washington Post. He said he had forgotten that his firearm was in his truck when he left home in Virginia, where he has a license to carry.
“I pulled up to a checkpoint after getting lost in D.C. because I’m a country boy,” he told the newspaper. “I showed them the inauguration badge that was given to me.”