The National Guard has started to move into Washington en masse in an attempt to prevent violence in the run up to the inauguration of Joe Biden next week.
As Congress acted to impeach Donald Trump on Wednesday and the president urged his supporters to shun violence, the National Guard started to deploy 20,000 troops in the US capital.
At Trump’s inauguration in 2016, the figure was about 8,000.
The National Guard are on a 24-hour watch in the US Capitol after last week’s violence, with off-duty members catching naps in hallways and below the bust of General George Washington.
Riot shields and gas masks were piled in the hallways, with large numbers of Guard members in fatigues and carrying rifles stationed around the exterior of the building.
Troops have been present at the seat of Congress since at least Friday but more were due to arrive before inauguration day, according to the city’s acting police chief Robert Contee.
The preparations continued as Trump said in in a White House statement: “In light of reports of more demonstrations, I urge that there must be no violence, no lawbreaking and no vandalism of any kind. That is not what I stand for, and it is not what America stands for.”
New fencing and other security measures have also gone up around the building, a global symbol of democracy. A seven-foot (two-metre) high fence has been erected around the Capitol, with metal barriers and National Guard troops protecting the congressional office buildings that surround it.
Roads near the Capitol have been closed, and the National Park Service has closed the Washington Monument to tours. Mayor Muriel Bowser has asked visitors to stay away.
“The attack on the Capitol was a violent insurrection that resulted in the spilling of American blood,” said US Representative Hakeem Jeffries, a Democrat from New York. “And that’s why extraordinary security measures have been taken.
“Officers were brutally beaten. The attackers wanted to assassinate Nancy Pelosi, hang Mike Pence, and hunt down sitting members of Congress. That’s insurrection. That’s sedition. That’s lawlessness. That’s terror,” he said.
Washington’s subway system said it would close 13 stations from Friday through to 21 January – including Union Station, a major transit hub. It is also closing the three busiest downtown stations.
Steve Dickson, the head of the Federal Aviation Administration, on Wednesday signed an order vowing a “zero-tolerance approach” to any disruptive air passengers after some Trump supporters caused problems on flights after the Capitol rampage. The order will last until 30 March.
Home-sharing giant Airbnb and subsidiary HotelTonight were cancelling all reservations in Greater Washington during the inauguration week.
National Guard troops have been frequently used by states to help law enforcement quell protests over the past year. However, the decision to arm them at the Capitol highlights fears about the threat of further violence in the days leading up to the inauguration.
Officials have said it is important for the troops to be armed for their self defence and that they are still playing a supporting role to law enforcement officers. However, two officials said some National Guard troops were deputised as Capitol Police officers to carry out law enforcement functions if needed.
“The Capitol has responded in an appropriate way to meet the nature of the severe security threat that is being posed by domestic terrorists and white supremacists,” said Jeffries.
He said the National Guard already had been considered as part of the security bubble for the inauguration but, based on the events of last week, the security had been ratcheted up.
Acting US attorney general Jeffrey Rosen warned against further attacks and urged the public to come forward with tips about potential attacks and threats before the inauguration, including “attempts to forcefully occupy government buildings”.
Source: US Politics - theguardian.com