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Inauguration Day anxieties dissipate, but divisions remain

The country remains tense after Jan. 6, but President Joe Biden’s inauguration was calm

Inauguration Day anxieties dissipate, but divisions remain

Guests and spectators attend the 59th Presidential Inauguration for President Joe Biden at the U.S. Capitol in Washington. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh, Pool)

Washington, D.C., was restless and anxious Wednesday morning over rumors of potential attacks leading up to the inauguration of President Joe Biden. Sidewalks surrounding the Capitol were empty except for a few National Guardsmen buying coffee at a local coffee shop and a stray jogger passing. The city restricted its airspace, the Coast Guard patrolled the waters, and airlines restricted guns in checked baggage coming into the city. 

When I asked local church and nonprofit leaders whether they had planned anything to try to keep Inauguration Day peaceful, they demurred. Because of the serious threat of violence, they left everything to law enforcement.

Extra police help for the ceremonious transfer of power came from Maryland, New York, New Jersey, Illinois, Louisiana, Texas, and Colorado. The previous week, the Joint Chiefs of Staff had felt it necessary to issue an unusual statement asserting that Biden would indeed be inaugurated on Jan. 20, and that “to disrupt the Constitutional process is not only against our traditions, values, and oath: It is against the law.” 

But if there were any threat to replicate the Jan. 6 violence at the Capitol, the overwhelming military and police force worked as a deterrent. Outside the barricades surrounding the Capitol and the National Mall, the inauguration—in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic—had barely an in-person audience, let alone protesters. 

Instead former President Donald Trump departed quietly in the early morning to West Palm Beach, Fla., and the ceremony to transfer leadership of the United States government went calmly. Reporters outnumbered protesters. Snow flurries swirled over businesses that had boarded up around the Capitol. Lone street preachers with megaphones wandered the empty roads telling anyone who would listen that they were going to hell. 

Street vendors who normally sell loads of merchandise at every inauguration, which amounts to Washington’s Olympic Games, were discouraged. But they blamed the pandemic as much as the security situation. 

“There’s more reporters than people out here,” said Doug Ford, a more-than-30-year resident of Washington who was trying to sell inauguration commemorative books emblazoned with the new president and vice president. Ford said the media overplayed the security threat, but he figured it would be a slow year anyway due to the pandemic. Many reporters came wearing riot helmets and tactical vests emblazoned with the words “PRESS,” like they were in a war zone. 

Will this security theater become a permanent change in Washington, as arrests from the Jan. 6 violence give a picture of the domestic militia members and other extremists who played a part? 

“I think we are going to go back to a new normal … we all have to think about a new posture,” said D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser before the inauguration, referring to the Capitol riot. But she assured the city she did not think the National Guard would maintain a long-term presence.

AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster

President Joe Biden (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

After Biden’s swearing-in at noon, a few hundred people gathered near a fence on the north side of the Capitol—both Biden and Trump supporters. Some held signs calling for Biden’s impeachment, and another held a sign calling for an investigation into fraudulent ballots. Police in riot gear tensed and moved closer as they saw some large groups yelling at each other, but the spats quickly calmed as a man pulled a wagon full of inauguration merchandise into the middle of the conflict: “Caps! Programs!” he shouted. Roller skating through and around the tense crowds was a man filming everything on his phone.  

One man who didn’t want to be identified came wearing a pith helmet and a can of pepper spray strapped to his chest. The Jan. 6 riot worried him, so he wanted to be prepared. He said a truck with the far-right militia insignia of the Three Percenters pulled up at his hotel this week. 

Secret Service Agent Matt Miller, who leads the Washington field office, said ahead of the inauguration the FBI was investigating a “great deal of very concerning chatter” among “a number of extremist groups.” 

“It’s not as if someone is raising their hand and saying, ‘We will be there,’ but we are preparing as if they are,” Miller said in the week leading up to the inauguration. Trump’s former acting secretary of Homeland Security Chad Wolf, members of Congress, and some think tanks are concerned with rising domestic terror threats. A recent report found two-thirds of domestic terror attacks came from far-right extremists in 2020. But violence is also rising on the far left, leading to more escalation.

Rev. Bob Pardon, who remembered his days of extremism in the late 1960s before becoming a Christian, said “a lot of this is reminiscent to me, but on a larger scale.” He recalled doing some “building takeovers.” 

“There really is a mob mentality … a craziness that takes over,” he said. “My hatred of ‘the establishment’ was intense.” 

Pardon thinks talking about “objective truth” is an important antidote to society’s current ills. The nature of truth and the importance of truth-telling was a theme in Biden’s inaugural speech, as well as in recent speeches from Republicans such as Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah. 

“Recent weeks and months have taught us a painful lesson. There is truth and there are lies,” Biden said. “Each of us has a duty and responsibility, as citizens, as Americans, and especially as leaders—leaders who have pledged to honor our Constitution and protect our nation—to defend the truth and to defeat the lies.”

Two weeks ago, in condemning the violence at the Capitol, Romney said, “The best way we can show respect for the voters who are upset is by telling them the truth. That is the burden, and the duty, of leadership.”

Now comes the question of how warring views of truth among conservatives and liberals can be reconciled. But for people like Pardon, such a “societal discourse” has been decades in the making. And despite the tension on the streets of D.C. and between parties, the inaugural ceremony was a redeeming display on the same steps where rioters had threatened lawmakers two weeks earlier.

Emily Belz

Emily Belz

Emily is a senior reporter for WORLD Magazine. She is a World Journalism Institute graduate and previously reported for the The New York Daily News, The Indianapolis Star, and Philanthropy magazine. Emily resides in New York City. Follow her on Twitter @emlybelz.


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  • Cyborg3's picture
    Posted: Thu, 01/21/2021 03:35 am

    Emily Belz has no discernment to read the times for she parrots the liberal leftist message as the fascist left are telling us what to think and what to believe.  They will use this propaganda of "right wing terrorists", "hate groups" and "racists" to shut down conservatives and silence us. Listen as Tucker Carlson explains the threat which is happening today.

    Posted: Thu, 01/21/2021 02:21 pm

    Cyborg3, thank you for the link to Tucker Carlson's analysis. I hope that you also (1) access the link provided by EA, "How the Left Creates Fake Studies to Fabricate Right-Wing Terrorism," and read the entire article. Then (2) take a leaf from EA's book and tone down your rhetoric. EA says, "The report Emily mentions," and "reports like the one Emily quotes ..." EA wrestles with what is reported, without flaming against the messenger.

    Finally, (3) be encouraged by another article by an American thinker, "The True Legacy of Donald Trump."

  • EA
    Posted: Thu, 01/21/2021 09:27 am

    The report Emily mentions that shows that 2/3 of domestic terror attacks came from right-wing extremist groups is a CSIS study.  While this study gives the appearance of objectivity, I would strongly recommend reading this article from which points out some of the flaws in the assumptions and methodology of this study.  For example, threats of violence, even if these turned out to be a hoax, were regarded as terrorist acts.  Also the definition of views which would be considered as right-wing extremism included "opposition to certain policies such as abortion."  Wow.  So I am a right-wing extremist, and if I, in a moment of stupidity, threatened to do someone harm, I would have committed a right-wing terrorist act.

    Not that I am defending people who make threats on the Internet.  It's bad, and we shouldn't do it.  My point is that reports like the one Emily quotes seem like gaslighting to me to convince us that in spite of the actions we saw for months (people trying to blind law enforcement with lasers, trying to trap police in buildings and burn the buildings down--to say nothing of massive looting and property destruction) which were carried out by those on the far left, the REAL threat is from those horrible right-wingers.  I have my doubts.

  • R AND D
    Posted: Thu, 01/21/2021 01:25 pm

    Facts matter. FBI brings conspriracy charges re riot at Capitol - planning dates back to at least January 1.

    Video link: