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Security On High Alert In DC, State Capitols Amid Warnings Of Unrest

Security forces in Washington, DC, and state capitols across the country are on high alert Sunday as the country nears President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration.

The FBI has warned of indications that armed protests are being planned at all 50 state capitols and the US Capitol in the days leading up to January 20. A joint bulletin from the Department of Homeland Security, the FBI and eight other agencies says domestic extremists pose the most likely threat to the inauguration, particularly those who believe the incoming administration is illegitimate.

In response, the Pentagon has authorized up to 25,000 National Guard members for Inauguration Day in Washington, DC, and much of the area surrounding the country’s iconic political buildings has been fenced off or made inaccessible.

Similarly, state leaders across the US ramped up security around their capitol grounds — pulling in National Guard members for help, erecting barriers, boarding up windows, asking residents to avoid the area and some even closing down capitol grounds altogether.

The extent of any potential unrest remains unclear. After being banned from Twitter and Facebook, President Donald Trump has not promoted these gatherings. That’s a contrast from his actions before the January 6 rally in DC, as he had repeatedly called for his supporters to converge on the city.

Still, online calls for violence have intensified recently. And experts warn the perceived success of the deadly insurrection earlier this month, when a pro-Trump mob overwhelmed police and took over the US Capitol, may be motivation for another attack.

“As somebody who worked on al Qaeda-related terrorism throughout the 2000s at the Justice Department and worked extensively on counterterrorism investigations and cases, there were several times where we were anticipating a follow-on attack to a world event,” Carrie Cordero, a CNN legal and national security analyst, said Saturday. “I have that same feeling now.”

“It feels like there is a substantial threat that exists,” Cordero added.

The heightened security, combined with the Covid-19 pandemic, is making for an Inauguration Day unlike any other.

DC mayor urges Americans to watch inauguration from home

In a fortified Washington, DC, fences blocked off areas once open to the public, National Guard members patrolled near the Capitol and much of the city was closed to vehicles and street traffic.

The rehearsal for the inauguration ceremony will now be delayed until Monday amid heightened security concerns, acting Homeland Security Deputy Secretary Ken Cuccinelli said. Cuccinelli cited “online chatter” about the previously scheduled rehearsal day of Sunday but said there are “no specific credible threats.”

Mayor Muriel Bowser urged Americans to enjoy the inauguration virtually from home and has asked anyone who does not need to be out to avoid restricted areas.

“Our goals right now are to encourage Americans to participate virtually and to protect the District of Columbia from a repeat of the violent insurrection experienced at the Capitol and its grounds on January 6,” Bowser said during a news conference Monday.

On Friday, US Capitol Police arrested a Virginia man as he attempted to pass through a police checkpoint with unauthorized inaugural credentials, an unregistered handgun and more than 500 rounds of ammunition, according to court documents.

In an interview with the Washington Post, the man said he spent the past week working as hired security in Washington, DC, and had been given credentials to guard media equipment. He told the Post he had forgotten that he had his firearm in his car when he left his home in Virginia, where he said he had a license to carry.

Because of concern over potential protests at state capitols, security measures are in place around the country. The US Postal Service temporarily removed some mailboxes in several major cities, while the Transportation Security Administration said Friday it has “significantly increased its security posture.”

The House Oversight Committee also sent letters Thursday to more than two dozen operators of bus lines, rental car companies and hotels asking for assistance in “identifying and preventing the ongoing and extreme threat of further violent attacks in Washington, DC, and elsewhere over the coming days.”

The enforcement division of the Federal Communications Commission even warned the public against using radios as an alternative to social media to coordinate illegal activity. The warning says both explicit messages that facilitate a criminal act and “messages encoded for the purpose of obscuring their meaning” are prohibited.

States closing, arming their capitols

Meanwhile, local and state leaders from coast to coast have boosted security for the coming days following officials’ warnings of potentially more violence.

In Kentucky, Gov. Andy Beshear announced state capitol grounds will be closed entirely Sunday to “further ensure the safety of everyone — both on or around the grounds and in the neighborhoods surrounding” the Capitol.

“Domestic terror is never OK,” he said in a statement. “We must stop it every time we see it, and we cannot let what we saw at the U.S. Capitol become a new normal for this country.”

Texas officials also said the state Capitol and its grounds will remain closed from Saturday to Wednesday, adding they were aware of “armed protests planned” and “violent extremists who may seek to exploit constitutionally protected events to conduct criminal acts.”

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan declared a state of emergency related to the inauguration, to allow the state to “more efficiently coordinate support and provide assistance” to its local jurisdictions and neighboring states, the governor’s office said Friday.

Minnesota’s leaders said Friday they’re ready ahead of anticipated protests, noting there were no credible threats against the state Capitol.

“I want you all to be comfortable and assured that there has been nothing left undone to keep the capitol safe,” Department of Public Safety Commissioner John Harrington said.

“We are not panicking,” Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan added. “We are concerned, we are alert, and we are prepared.”

In South Carolina, officials in the city of Columbia advised anyone who does not need to be in the city center, near the state’s Capitol, to stay home.

“Unless there’s a need, this weekend, and certainly on inauguration day, to be downtown,” Mayor Stephen Benjamin said, “I encourage you to stay home.”

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