How Joe Biden’s inauguration will look as Capitol riot sparks security scramble
Covid restrictions and fears of further violence have forced changes to ceremony
Former FBI boss James Comey has warned that the threat of violence from “armed, disturbed people” at Joe Biden’s inauguration must be taken “very, very seriously” in the wake of the Capitol Hill siege.
The law enforcement expert told Sky’s Sophy Ridge on Sunday that some Donald Trump supporters are in a “state of mind where they believe their country is being taken from them” - and might attempt to prevent the new president from being sworn in on Wednesday.
With Covid-19 restrictions also in force, Biden’s big day is set to be unlike any other inauguration in US history. So just what can we expect?
Comey’s successor as FBI director, Chris Wray, warned last week that the bureau’s “posture was aggressive” in terms of security for inauguration day. Investigators “have already arrested more than 100 individuals for their criminal activities” in the attack on the US Congress on 6 January, Wray told a press briefing.
But the FBI has identified “an extensive amount of concerning online chatter” surrounding the swearing in ceremony, he continued, and “one of the real challenges in this space is trying to distinguish what is aspirational and what is potential”.
According to an internal FBI bulletin seen by CNN, the bureau has received information indicating "armed protests" are being planned in Washington D.C. and every state capital in the run-up to the inauguration.
In a bid to begin healing the deep divisions, Biden will “deliver a message of national unity when he assumes the presidency”, The Guardian reports. All the same, he will do so in a city that resembles “a fortress, with up to 25,000 national guard troops deployed”, the paper adds.
Defending the Capitol
The preparations in Washington D.C. have seen “much of the capital boarded up by the weekend, while the National Mall that spans from Congress to the Lincoln Memorial was closed”, the Financial Times reports.
“A metal fence has been erected around the Capitol” as part of an effort to avoid a second breach, “while airports were increasing security precautions ahead of the inauguration”, the paper continues.
According to The New York Times, the downtown area of the city has been designated as a militarised “green zone” that federal officials say “is necessary to prevent an attack from domestic extremists”.
The security scramble comes after a joint assessment from the FBI and Department of Homeland Security concluded that extremists “remain a concern due to their ability to act with little to no warning, willingness to attack civilians and soft targets, and ability to inflict significant casualties with weapons that do not require specialised knowledge”.
A major concern is that members of the Proud Boys, a far-right group involved during the siege on the Capitol, are “plotting to disguise themselves as Biden fans to wreak havoc during the presidential inauguration”, The Sun reports. The group has echoed Trump’s claim that Biden secured the presidency in a “stolen election”.
Rumblings of unrest are already being unheard. “Throughout the day on Sunday, small groups of right-wing protesters gathered outside state houses across the country”, says The Guardian, but the groups were “outnumbered by national guard troops and police.small-scale protests”.
Comey insists that the protesters will continue to be quelled over the coming days.
The former FBI boss told Sky News that “we have the capability, investigative and the tactical capability on scene to protect these locations and so I am optimistic that the threat will be neutralised”.
The Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies (JCCIC) set out its guidelines last month for Biden’s swearing in.
Around 200,000 tickets would normally be available, but owing to the Covid pandemic, numbers have been limited. Only members of Congress - totalling 100 Senators and 435 Representatives - and a plus-one for each will be allowed to attend.
Republican chair Roy Blunt said that after “consultation with diversified public health and medical experts”, the committee had decided “that the rise in Covid-19 cases warranted a difficult decision to limit attendance at the 59th Inaugural Ceremonies to a live audience that resembles a State of the Union”.
He added that the JCCIC was “working on enhanced opportunities to watch the ceremonies online, in addition to the traditional televised national broadcast”.
The closure of roads around the Capitol means “it’s gonna be a relatively small crowd” out on the streets too, and “you’re not likely to see any normies out there trying to watch the festivities”, says celebrity gossip site TMZ.
In fact, “law enforcement running a tight ship, gatherings of any sort probably won't fly”, adds the site. However, a host of famous faces from the world of entertainment are guaranteed to be there in person.
Lady Gaga is due to join Biden on stage to sing the national anthem, while Jennifer Lopez is among a host of other stars who are set to perform.