DC locks down a week before inauguration

Associated Press

WASHINGTON (January 14, 2021) — All through downtown Washington, the primary sound for several blocks was the beeping of forklifts unloading more fencing.

There were no cars or scooters and seemingly no tourists Wednesday, just the occasional jogger and multiple construction crews at work. 

Two blocks from the White House, a group of uniformed National Guard troops emerged from a tour bus and headed into a hotel as a state of lockdown descended on Washington that will last through the Jan. 20 inauguration.

“Clearly we are in uncharted waters,” said Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser.

Between the pandemic and the security threat, Bowser is flat-out asking people not to come to the District of Columbia for the inauguration. And at Bowser’s request, a National Special Security Event declaration was moved up to Jan. 13, a distinction which she said "puts in place an entirely different command and control structure” for security.

The NSSE status is normal for a presidential inauguration and other major events like an international summit or the Super Bowl. But it's rare to start the lockdown so far in advance of the event.

Police vehicles sealed off a huge swath of downtown D.C. Wednesday, causing immediate traffic snarls. Starting Wednesday, Bowser said, anyone inside the inauguration perimeter might be stopped and questioned. Starting Friday, all parking garages in the downtown restricted zone will be sealed through the inauguration.

On Wednesday, Airbnb announced it was cancelling all reservations in the Washington metro area. Bowser said she had been in regular contact with Airbnb officials since last week, but did not specifically request this step.

On the ground, much of the most visible security will come in the form of more than 15,000 National Guardsmen from multiple states, some of them armed.

According to officials, the number of Guardsmen who will actually be carrying guns will be limited. Some Guard members nearer the Capitol will have long guns, and others will have their sidearms.

It is likely that those closer to the crowds or on fence lines won’t be armed, but those up closer to the building may be. National Guard members operate under strict rules of engagement on the use of force. But generally speaking, troops can use lethal force to protect the lives of others and themselves.

Officials also said that while 15,000 Guard members have been activated, more may be called. D.C. Police Chief Robert Contee estimated Wednesday that more than 20,000 National Guardsmen would be active in the District of Columbia on Inauguration Day.

 

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