Forces lock down D.C. for Inauguration Day
Politics | Threats of unrest on top of COVID-19 precautions cancel most celebrations
by Joshua Raimundo
Posted 1/20/21, 08:51 am
In northern Virginia, the signs along the highway warn, “Stay Safe! Avoid D.C. January 19-21.” The lighted signs usually remind drivers to buckle up or not to text and drive. This week, they told residents not to attend Joe Biden’s inauguration as 46th president of the United States.
Police blockades and checkpoints surrounded the nation’s capital, where the National Guard has deployed about 25,000 armed troops—five times the official number of U.S. forces stationed in Afghanistan and Iraq combined.
“It’s very eerie,” said Chris O’Neil, a resident who works for a local nonprofit organization. “People are trying to live like it’s normal, but it’s not. I went out for dinner on Monday with blue lights flashing everywhere. I see big, military trucks all over the streets. It feels like a military occupation.”
Protests are normal on Inauguration Day: In 2005, anti-war demonstrators carried mock coffins through the streets of downtown Washington the day President George W. Bush was sworn in for his second term. Westboro Baptist Church, known for protesting at military funerals, picketed along the parade route for both of President Barack Obama’s inaugurations, and the day Trump was sworn in, more than 1,000 people rioted downtown, attacking police and damaging buildings and businesses.
But none of those incidents reached the severity of the Jan. 6 riots, when mobs of pro-Trump protesters, spurred on by anti-government and right-wing agitators, surrounded and breached the U.S. Capitol as Congress worked to certify the election results. The inauguration’s planners had already prepared muted celebrations because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but the threat of further unrest canceled any unscripted activity inside a wide security perimeter around downtown Washington.
The FBI is still looking for those responsible for placing pipe bombs near Republican and Democratic headquarters on Jan. 6. Over the past week, at least 12 National Guard troops failed to pass FBI vetting and were barred from attending the inauguration. Two failed for “inappropriate texts or comments related to the inauguration.”
As Wednesday began, President Donald Trump departed the White House by helicopter for Joint Base Andrews, for a military sendoff ceremony before leaving for Florida on Air Force One. In a break in tradition, he would not attend Biden’s inauguration. Vice President Mike Pence would represent the outgoing administration instead.
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Joshua Raimundo is a graduate of the World Journalism Institute. He lives in Great Falls, Va.