Less than a week before the inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden, officials are tightening security in Washington for what is expected to be a solemn ceremony shorn of the usual crowds of celebrants following last week’s deadly attack on the U.S. Capitol by supporters of President Donald Trump.
Law enforcement authorities say they are confident of maintaining safety during the event, despite warnings about further violence in Washington and around the country.
The National Guard Bureau said Thursday that nearly 7,000 guardsmen are already in Washington and more are en route toward a planned deployment of up to 21,000 troops.
The guardsmen will be backed by hundreds of federal agents and local and state police officers. Four years ago, the Guard deployed about 8,000 soldiers for Trump’s inauguration.
“We are highly confident in our security planning, but we are always wide-eyed and sober and looking to capitalize on lessons learned,” James Murray, director of the Secret service said a briefing for Vice President Mike Pence.
Pence said the Trump administration is “committed to an orderly transition and to a safe inauguration.”
“And the American people deserve nothing less,” he said.
Pence was presiding over a joint session of Congress on January 6 to certify Biden’s victory when a worked-up mob of Trump supporters stormed the Capitol complex, ransacking offices and clashing with police officers. The violence left five people, including a Capitol Police officer, dead.
Pence plans to attend Biden’s inauguration, but Trump will be a no-show, joining a handful of American presidents who have skipped their successors’ inaugurations.
In the eight days since the rampage at the Capitol, the FBI has arrested dozens of rioters and says it expects to make more arrests in the coming days. The bureau has so far identified about 200 people for possible criminal charges and has received about 140,000 digital tips from the public, according to Acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen.
The Biden inauguration has been designated as a “national special security event,” meaning an event of national significance that requires security coordination among multiple agencies. The Secret Service is leading the gargantuan security effort.
Murray said the agency has run 67 such events since the 1990s and has been planning for the inauguration for over three years.
Biden’s swearing-in ceremony takes place on the West Front of the Capitol from which he will deliver his inaugural address. Instead of the usual inauguration festivities that follow the ceremony, the Biden team has planned a TV special.
Biden has said he’s not worried about his safety.
“I'm not afraid of taking the oath outside,” he told reporters on Monday.
In response to heightened security threats following the riots, police locked downtown Washington on Wednesday, six days earlier than originally planned. The Capitol complex remained closed to the public, and normally busy streets leading to the Capitol emptied of cars and tourists as construction crews erected security barriers and fencing.
Murray said the security perimeter erected around the Capitol is “expansive” and includes “many, many miles” of hard fencing.
In a statement, the U.S. Capitol Police warned that anyone attempting to breach the grounds “will be subject to an appropriate use of force and arrest.”
The security measures are unprecedented. They come as the FBI warns of armed protests in Washington and all 50 state capitals, starting this weekend.
Dan Linskey, a former Boston police chief and now a managing director at the global risk consulting firm Kroll, said locking down central Washington was an “absolutely appropriate” step.
“We're living in different times, and we need to have different responses,” Linskey said. “We need to evaluate the potential threats and make sure that we're having mitigation programs that can meet, prevent and overwhelm those threats.”
States across the country have also increased security in response to the FBI warning.
In Michigan, a two-meter fence will be installed around the Capitol, which was stormed by protesters last week.
“The state police have secured the Capitol, and I’ve got confidence that we will continue to be able to,” Governor Gretchen Whitmer said Wednesday.
In New York, state police said, “out of an abundance of caution,” they have taken steps to harden security around the Capitol in Albany.