Homeland Security locks down Washington, DC, ahead of inauguration after Capitol riots

The Department of Homeland Security implemented a security lockdown in downtown Washington, D.C., nearly a week ahead of schedule following the deadly siege at the Capitol and threats of more violence leading up to Inauguration Day on Jan. 20 and the swearing-in of President-elect Joe Biden.

Acting on requests from Congress and city officials, DHS acting Secretary Pete Gaynor expedited the rollout of a massive inaugural security plan Wednesday.

“In light of these requests, recent events at the U.S. Capitol … and planned events in Washington, D.C., prior to the inauguration, I have determined that extending the (enhanced security period) to begin on Jan. 13 is necessary to provide a unified command and control and ensure the safety and security of this special event,” Gaynor wrote in a memo to department officials.

Washington, D.C., is already draped in fencing and barricades ahead of the inauguration Jan. 20.

The early designation kicked off a sprawling operation that has already draped the city in fencing and barricades.

Unsuspecting commuters encountered multiple vehicle checkpoints at major entrances to the city early Wednesday, clogging traffic, while some streets were completely closed as officials pushed to implement a plan that will involve tens of thousands of law enforcement officers and National Guard troops.

More:FBI officials on investigations into Capitol riots: ‘We’ve already charged over 70 cases’

More:Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez thought she ‘was going to die’ in Capitol riots

Gaynor’s action was his first as the acting secretary since assuming command of the department after Monday’s abrupt resignation of acting Secretary Chad Wolf.  Concern for the security mission was raised by Wolf’s resignation as the inauguration looms.

In this Sept. 23, 2020, file photo, Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Chad Wolf is sworn in before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs committee during his confirmation hearing, on Capitol Hill in Washington.

DHS oversees the Secret Service, which is leading preparations for the designated National Special Security Event. Earlier this week, the Secret Service expressed confidence in the plan, describing it as a “zero fail mission.”

More:‘A zero fail mission’: Secret Service vows ‘robust’ inauguration security after deadly Capitol siege

Michael Plati, the agent leading the effort, vowed a “robust … presence” of law enforcement and National Guard, along with a layered network of fencing and vehicle checkpoints to repel potential threats.

Plati described last week’s security collapse as a “poignant reminder” of the consequences for any breakdown.

“We have a zero-fail mission,” he said. “We feel we are prepared to address the challenges presented by that day.”

Though Plati did not address specific threats posed to the inauguration, the FBI warned authorities of the possibility of armed demonstrations on Inauguration Day in Washington and in state capitals in the run-up to the swearing-in of the new president.

A suburban Chicago man, Louis Capriotti, was arrested Tuesday on a federal criminal charge on suspicion of threatening violence at the inauguration.

Washington D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser, who has urged people not to travel to Washington for the inauguration, said Wednesday that security measures could affect transportation including the Metro rail service operated by the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority.

That’s in addition to road closures already in effect and future blockades that could be announced closer to Inauguration Day.

“To use the overused word, that is not unprecedented,” Bowser said, pointing to similar security measures during the 2009 inauguration of President Barack Obama.

Earlier this week, Bowser requested that President Donald Trump declare an emergency declaration ahead of the inauguration, which his administration executed Monday. She also asked the U.S. Interior Department, which oversees federal parks, to cancel all public gathering permits and deny all applications through Jan. 24.

“Those discussions we continue with the Department of Interior,” she said.

Washington D.C. Police Chief Robert Contee, a veteran of the department, said he’s never seen the level of law enforcement expected for the inauguration. He said he expects more than 20,000 National Guard members in the District of Columbia.

“I remain concerned. I’ve been concerned before today and will be through this weekend and beyond,” Contee said. “We take this seriously. We’re just intently focused on the job that’s on hand.”

Bowser was the subject of threats last week, according to a court filing made public Wednesday in the Justice Department’s case against Cleveland Meredith, one of the rioters charged in the Jan. 6 Capitol attack.

The day after the riot, according to prosecutors, Meredith texted to an unidentified individual, “I may wander over to the Mayor’s office and put a 5.56 in her skull …” He’s accused of making similar comments about House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

Bowser did not respond directly to the threat when asked by reporters. “I will say, I get threats a lot,” she said, adding that D.C. police will implement any security measures that are necessary.

The heavy security preparations were being carried out across the city as the House weighed the second impeachment of Trump, who lawmakers have accused of inciting last week’s violent attack. 

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