WASHINGTON (REUTERS, AFP) - The FBI has warned of armed protests being planned for Washington and all 50 US state capitals in the run-up to President-elect Joe Biden’s Jan 20 inauguration, a federal law enforcement source said on Monday (Jan 12).
Threatened with more violence from outgoing President Donald Trump’s supporters following last Wednesday’s storming of the US Capitol, the FBI issued warnings for next weekend that run at least until Inauguration Day, the source said.
In other steps to safeguard the US capital, the National Guard was authorised to send up to 15,000 troops to Washington, and tourists were barred from visiting the Washington Monument until Jan 24.
The chief of the National Guard Bureau, General Daniel Hokanson, told reporters he expected about 10,000 troops in Washington by Saturday to help provide security, logistics and communications. He said the number could rise to 15,000 if requested by local authorities.
At least one lawmaker asked the Pentagon to do more.
Senator Chris Murphy, who said he was sending a letter to the acting secretary of defence on Monday, said it was unclear if the National Guard would be sufficient to protect the nation’s capital and that active-duty troops may be needed also.
“I’m not afraid of taking the oath outside,” Mr Biden told reporters in Newark, Delaware, referring to the traditional setting for the swearing-in ceremony on the Capitol grounds. But he said it was critically important that people “who engaged in sedition and threatened people’s lives, defaced public property, caused great damage” be held accountable.
Mr Biden’s inaugural committee said on Monday the theme of the Jan 20 ceremony would be “America United”. Mr Trump, who has sought unsuccessfully to overturn the Nov 3 election results with false claims of widespread fraud, said last week he would not attend the ceremony, a decision the president-elect supported.
Washington monument closed to tours
The Park Service said it would suspend tours of the Washington Monument, an obelisk honoring the country’s first president, due to safety concerns from threats to disrupt the inauguration.
Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser called for the US Interior Department to cancel public-gathering permits through Jan 24.
“This inaugural planning period has to be very different than all the others,” she told reporters on Monday.
In a letter to acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf made public on Sunday, Ms Bowser called for a fresh approach to security after what she called last week’s “unprecedented terrorist attack”.
Ms Bowser asked Mr Wolf to extend the National Special Security Event period from Monday through Jan 24. The Secret Service heads security operations for events, including presidential inaugurations, considered to be nationally significant.
Mr Wolf said in a statement he had instructed the Secret Service to begin National Special Security Event operations for the inauguration effective Wednesday, instead of Jan 19 as previously scheduled. The acting secretary told his staff he was stepping down on Monday.
Mr Wolf's unexpected resignation as head of the body in charge of security for Mr Biden's inauguration added to worries over more violence during the event. The Homeland Security Department oversees several law enforcement bodies including the Secret Service, the point agency for security for the White House and the US president.
Mr Wolf, who said he was stepping down for procedural reasons, named Mr Pete Gaynor, the administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, to replace him. But the move did not end questions over whether the US capital city would be adequately secure over the coming week.
Last week's assault on the Capitol, challenging the certification of Mr Biden’s election victory, sent lawmakers into hiding and left five people dead, including a Capitol Police officer. Dozens of people have been charged in the violence and hundreds of more cases are expected.
The assault occurred shortly after Mr Trump urged supporters to march on the Capitol during a rally where he repeated false claims his resounding defeat in November’s election was illegitimate.
Democrats in Congress began a push on Monday to force Mr Trump from office, introducing an article of impeachment that accuses him of inciting insurrection.
The presidential inaugural committee and Ms Bowser have told Americans not to travel to the inauguration, and said Washington’s National Mall would be covered with 191,500 flags of different sizes, to represent the missing crowds.
A presidential inauguration traditionally draws hundreds of thousands of visitors to Washington, but the ceremonies have been scaled back dramatically because of the Covid-19 pandemic.
In state capitols, governors are on high alert ahead of the inauguration.
In Wisconsin, a swing state where Trump alleged election fraud, Governor Tony Evers authorised the Wisconsin National Guard to support the state’s Capitol Police.
In Michigan, another swing state where Mr Biden’s victory was contested by Mr Trump, the state’s Capitol Commission, which oversees the legislature, issued an order to ban the open carrying of weapons inside the Capitol building in Lansing.