Three days ahead of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris’s inauguration, Washington’s downtown streets are empty, and many of them are already blocked for vehicles and foot traffic.
Only law enforcement, residents who live in the downtown area, members of the press, and people who are staying in the hotels there were allowed to cross the barricade that is leading to the corner of 14 and F, usually a busy junction between the White House and Congress that attracts locals and tourists alike.Dozens of businesses, from coffee shops to financial institutions were boarded up. At the inner part of the perimeter, crews installed razor wires on top of the existing, 2.5 meter fence. All public access to the National Mall was blocked.
“Caution – K9 at work,” reads the sign at the checkpoint at 14 and I. But even locals can’t cross all the way down to Pennsylvania Avenue, as it is blocked for all traffic. Several crews were working on Sunday to keep expanding the perimeter, pushing it further away from Capitol Hill. Some of the streets, like K Street, are open for pedestrians, but heavy trucks are blocking any cars from approaching.
Along the Black Lives Matter Plaza outside the White House, a few residents were riding bikes or taking a Sunday walk. Michelle Topel, a mental health therapist who lives nearby, said that she has never witnessed such a massive presence of law enforcement in the streets. “I’ve lived in Washington my whole life. It feels like a raw wound. Like my heart has just been ripped out. I love this city. I grew up in the city. I’ve lived in, worked in, and raised a family in this city, and it’s just sad and horrifying,” she added.
“I’m old enough to remember the riots [of 1968]. I was a child, but I remember tanks in the streets, but never anything like this,” Topel continued. “I was talking to a friend the other day about places where there’s always this constant sense of being under threat,” she said.
“And here in the United States, up until this moment of time, I think that we have felt like there has been a privilege that we have just taken for granted; that this can’t happen here, that we were safe. And in a way I think that there was a sense of privilege associated with that, which has now been sort of stripped away.”
Cynthia Brumfield, a cybersecurity analyst who lives in the Dupont Circle neighborhood, said that the situation at the Nation’s capital is “apocalyptic.”
“It’s surreal. We biked down to the Capitol last week and saw the soldiers around; hundreds and hundreds of soldiers around the perimeter,” she said. “And it was scary. I have not been scared like that.”
“I think this is a show of force that will dissuade any real attack,” she continued. “I think it’s intentional overkill to make people think twice about doing anything, but who knows?”
She went on to say that residents are still planning to celebrate at the time of the inauguration – outside their buildings. “Everyone’s going to get out with pots and pans and sing and shout. There’s a neighborhood [forum] and we were all messaging each other this morning that we all want to cheer at the moment that Biden is inaugurated,” Brumfield said.
Heavy security could be seen in more than a dozen states, as the FBI has warned of additional armed protests. Security officials have eyed Sunday as the first major flashpoint, as that is when the anti-government “boogaloo” movement made plans weeks ago to hold rallies in all 50 states.
“Following the siege at our nation’s Capitol and reports on threats to state capitals, I’m bringing all resources to bear to protect our residents and democratic process,” Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker tweeted on Sunday, adding that he was activating the state police and National Guard to protect the state’s capital, Springfield.
Capitals in battleground states, where Trump has directed his accusations of voter fraud, were on especially high alert.
Several hundred law enforcement officers and National Guard troops milled around Georgia’s state house in Atlanta early Sunday. Chain-link fences and cement barriers protected the Capitol grounds and multiple armored vehicles were stationed nearby.
In Lansing, Michigan, crews were setting up barricades and blocking off streets around the capitol building as snow flurries fell on Sunday morning. Office buildings around the capitol had boarded up their windows.
In addition to increasing police presence, some states, including Pennsylvania, Texas and Kentucky, have taken the further step of closing their capitol grounds to the public.
It was not clear whether the FBI warning and the ramped up security presence around the country might lead some protesters to stay at home.
Following the January 6 violence in Washington, some militia members said they would not attend a long-planned pro-gun demonstration in Virginia on Monday, where authorities were worried about the risk of violence as multiple groups converged on the state capital, Richmond.