‘Fortress Washington’: Armed troops and beefed-up security measures in place for Inauguration Day

Officials enhance citywide safety protocols ahead of President-elect Joe Biden’s swearing in ceremony

Chris Riotta
New York
@chrisriotta
Friday 15 January 2021 21:08
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Tearful Pelosi says Congress members may be prosecuted as she announces Capitol security review

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President-elect Joe Biden will be sworn-in during an inauguration ceremony unlike any other in modern American history, as armed troops fortify the US Capitol building and security measures are ramped up in response to the deadly global pandemic and increasing fears of homegrown terrorism ahead of Inauguration Day.

Discussing the beefed-up security protocols and expansive presence of National Guard troops throughout the city, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) said on Thursday that the new measures had been put in place to prevent the spread of infections during the inauguration next week – as well as to ensure the safety of all participants, including President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris.

“If it in fact it is found that members of Congress were accomplices to this insurrection, if they aided and abetted the crime, there may have to be actions taken beyond the Congress in terms of prosecution,” the Speaker said while announcing a major security review had been launched in response to the pro-Trump riots last week.

The entire city of Washington has faced enhanced security following the deadly mob attacks earlier this month, when President Donald Trump’s extremist supporters clashed with police and stormed the Capitol building in a deadly riot that left at least five people dead, including one United States Capitol Police officer. 

The mob was spurred following the president’s nearby speech, in which he encouraged his supporters to march to the Capitol as Congress convened to certify his defeat in the 2020 elections.

Mr Biden has sought to reassure the public the inauguration ceremonies would go as planned, saying in a press conference this week he had “confidence” in the Secret Service, which oversees security for the event. 

The ceremony has been deemed a special national security event, allowing city officials to coordinate with federal agencies like the FBI and Secret Service to secure the Capitol.

Former FBI Direct James Comey described the calls for further demonstrations in support of Mr Trump on Inauguration Day as “a threat that has to be taken very seriously” in an interview with ABC’s The View on Friday, adding: “That said … we know how to make inaugurations safe, it’s depressing that we have to lockdown the entire mall but it will be locked down, and I’m confident that Joe Biden will become president in a safe ceremony.”

Lawmakers on both sides of the political aisle have admonished security officials following the mob attacks on the Capitol, with  US Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund submitting his resignation shortly after Ms Pelosi called for his dismissal the day after the riots.

Capitol police officers were clearly understaffed and unprepared for the mob, and questions were raised as to why it took an extended period of time for the National Guard to arrive on the scene. 

Since then, a constant presence of troop members has been seen at the Capitol, with photos posted to social media showing dozens of troops sleeping on the floors of the building in the early morning hours.

Security was further enhanced in the days ahead of the inauguration, arming a non-scalable fence that wrapped around the Capitol with barbed wire and concrete barriers blocking off the National Mall.

Heads of government were seen throughout the week greeting National Guard members and thanking them for their service, including both Ms Pelosi and Vice President Mike Pence.

Speaking to the National Guard members during a surprise visit on Thursday night, the vice president said: “It's been my great honor to serve as your vice president, and I want to thank you for your service.”

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