With one week before the opening day, only one thing seems certain: Joe Biden will be sworn in, his hand on an 1890s family Bible, and will become the next President of the United States.
However, almost every other detail of that day is evolving, thanks to the coronavirus pandemic, the almost inevitable impeachment of his predecessor and the attempted insurgency in the very spot where Biden will likely be sworn in.
After last week’s failed uprising on the United States Capitol by supporters of President Donald Trump’s attempts to cling to power, security professionals, law enforcement and transition officials fear increasingly that the presidential inauguration slated for next week and the events surrounding it provoke hundreds of potential plotters in the nation’s capital.
“You haven’t really experienced this level of potentially violent domestic terrorism in the United States, certainly in my lifetime,” said Roderick Jones, security expert and executive chairman of Concentric Advisors, a private security firm. “It’s not about Al Qaeda leading attackers – individuals or small groups of individuals taking that motivation and then using those tactics themselves. It really makes it very difficult for the security and intelligence authorities to gain the upper hand, because there is no organization to infiltrate.
Presidential inaugurations are always a balance between security and spectacle – part constitutionally mandated transfer of power, part Super Bowl halftime show – and the transition Biden has long recognized that between the coronavirus pandemic and the threat of “weird shit” from Trump supporters, next Swearing-in of the Week was always going to be a break from the traditional pump.
But last Wednesday’s potential coup, which left five dead and came far closer to threatening the lives of senior government officials than initially thought, revealed deep security concerns – and promises further waves of protests in the coming week have frightened security experts and members of Congress.
“We are very concerned about the violent and persistent threats to our democracy,” six leading lawmakers said in a statement following a briefing by Justice Department officials on Tuesday, describing the current investigation into the attack. from the Capitol. Members of Congress, who head the US House of Representatives’ Armed Services, Homeland Security, Intelligence, Justice, and Oversight Committees, wrote that “it is clear that we must do more to prevent, penetrate and prevent deadly and seditious assaults by violent extremists in the days to come, ”especially with Biden’s inauguration just a week away.
Some supporters of Biden even called for all but the simplest elements of opening day to be canceled: no parade on Pennsylvania Avenue, no pre-recorded national anthem sung by a pop icon, and no potential exposure to supporters a president who made it clear they would. not go quietly.
“You don’t need a grand inauguration to be a great president,” said one of Biden’s top donors, who cut the presidential inauguration committee with a six-figure check in December to help fund the festivities which they say will be canceled, says The Daily Beast. “Look at Lyndon Johnson, he’s never had a parade.
But Biden’s Inaugural Committee and the Congressional Joint Committee on Six-Person Inaugural Ceremonies, which oversees inaugural events at the U.S. Capitol, have vowed to push for some semblance of normalcy, albeit with a dramatically increased security footprint. . The National Guard is preparing to send up to 15,000 troops to the nation’s capital ahead of the inauguration, and the U.S. Secret Service has started making security arrangements in downtown Washington a week ahead of schedule .
“The safety and security of all those taking part in the 59th presidential inauguration are of the utmost importance,” the secret services said in a statement. “For more than a year, the American secret services, as well as our [National Special Security Event] partners, has worked tirelessly to anticipate and prepare for all possible eventualities at all levels to ensure a safe and secure inauguration day.
Part of the decision to continue with the inauguration program as already planned – which will include a review of military troops, a presidential escort from Northwest 15th Street to the White House and a “virtual parade across America” Similar to the widely acclaimed state roll call of the Democratic National Convention last summer – is consistent with the sentiment that “you can’t let terrorists win,” those close to the plans told the Daily Beast.
“We have confidence in our security partners who spent months planning and preparing for the inauguration, and we continue to work with them to ensure the utmost safety and security of the President-elect, Vice-President-elect, attendees and the public. during this historic event, ”a senior official on the inaugural presidential committee told The Daily Beast. “We look forward to the inaugural ceremonies, during which the American people and the world will witness a peaceful transition of power. It will mark a new day for the American people focused on healing our nation, bringing our country together, and building back better.
Greg Jenkins, who served as executive director of President George W. Bush’s inaugural committee in 2005, told the Daily Beast that the coronavirus pandemic, which required a reinvention of many in-person aspects of a grand opening, has probably made the job of securing next week’s event easier.
“This grand opening, by all indications, will be very different from any other grand opening,” said Jenkins, who helped coordinate the first grand opening to take place after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, which created an entire class of events. – Special national security events – requiring intense surveillance by the Department of Homeland Security. “There will be a lot of virtual components, so that alone, I imagine, would alleviate some of the security concerns.”
The 2005 inauguration, Jenkins noted, was also the target of protesters, and that even in the post-9/11 environment where he was running things, the Secret Service and other security services were good at balancing the issues of freedom of expression.
“We didn’t try to stop the protests from happening,” Jenkins said. “We just tried to allow them to perform in a safe way without anyone getting hurt.”
But the intensity of the violence last week – and Trump’s continued insistence that the speech he gave that prompted a crowd of thousands of supporters to attack the Capitol was “entirely appropriate” – may have changed the calculation to plan the so-called “freedom of speech”. areas’ near the inaugural festivities.
“One worrying trend that I think we’ve seen over the past four years is the continued normalization of political violence. The things that worried me a lot at the start of the Trump administration kind of came to fruition, ”Cassie Miller, senior research analyst at the Southern Poverty Law Center, told The Daily Beast. “What we’ve seen is this attempt to fundamentally normalize the idea that you can use bullying, threats, and violence to deal with people you see as your political enemies. These groups were really looking for Trump’s recognition and approval of their tactics, and they really got it towards the end of his administration.
Jones, who served in the Special Branch of the London Metropolitan Police and was once a protection officer for a senior cabinet minister, said he had great faith in the Secret Service protecting actual groundbreaking events, like the traditional walk along parts of the parade route. Instead, the many protest events planned across Washington – and in state capitals across the country – present the kind of very broad list of targets that are much more difficult to defend.
“I think if I’m a national extremist, while this march is going on for example, there are a lot of other softer targets in the capital where I could make my point and be more successful,” Jones said. . Of particular concern is the obvious lack of coordination between agencies ahead of the riot on Capitol Hill, Jones added.
“The thing that still strikes me as strange is the lack of coordination of security efforts between the DC Police, DHS, which remains unclear to me,” Jones said. “You can see from the events of the last week that the lack of coordination makes it all very difficult. Attackers can get through the gaps when coordination isn’t clear, and the fact that the interim DHS chief resigns right before it all helps.
These lingering concerns – to say nothing of the pandemic that is set to claim the lives of nearly 400,000 Americans on inauguration day – have evidently put a damper on what is supposed to be the brightest day. of the political life of a new president. But relatives of the president-elect told the Daily Beast that if there was any recognition of the bitter sweetness of finally taking the oath of office – his hand likely resting on a five-inch-thick Bible that has been in his family for ever. the 19th century and on which he was sworn in as US Senator and Vice President – under such trying circumstances, Biden did not express it.
On Monday, Biden reassured reporters that he “was not afraid to take the oath outside” when he was sworn in next Wednesday.
Hours later, members of Congress were reminded during a security briefing by US Capitol Police that, if they wished, they could be reimbursed for the purchase of a bulletproof vest.
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