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Scars of Capitol attack permeate high-security inauguration

Scars of Capitol attack permeate high-security inauguration
© Greg Nash / Pool

President Biden was inaugurated Wednesday under the cover of unprecedented levels of security, just two weeks after a deadly siege on the Capitol.

Thousands of National Guardsmen from around the country flooded into D.C. to prevent a repeat of Jan. 6, when violent Trump supporters stormed the Capitol intent on overturning the election results.

The insurrection marred America’s tradition of a peaceful transfer of power between presidential administrations. But in the end, Inauguration Day passed without any of the feared threats materializing and with Biden becoming commander in chief at 12:01 p.m., as prescribed in the Constitution, without further incident.

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Still, echoes of the earlier attack permeated the day, with guardsmen seen in nearly every corner of the Capitol complex and Biden and other dignitaries speaking from the same platform the rioters occupied exactly two weeks prior.

“We’ve learned again that democracy is precious. Democracy is fragile. And at this hour, my friends, democracy has prevailed,” Biden said in his inaugural speech, in which he called for an end to “this uncivil war” pitting Americans against each other.

Those deep political divisions drew blood two weeks ago when five people, including a Capitol Police officer, died in the pro-Trump riots that disrupted Congress’s certification of Biden’s victory in the election.

In the immediate aftermath of the Capitol attack, U.S. security agencies warned of plots for similar violence in D.C. and at all state capitals leading up to Inauguration Day.

About 25,000 guardsmen from 50 states, three territories and the nation’s capital poured into the Beltway to secure the inauguration, patrolling Capitol Hill armed with M4 semi-automatic rifles, setting up razor-wire-topped fencing and parking military vehicles to block off the National Mall and large swaths of downtown D.C.

Fears of the potential for an insider attack were also piqued after several people arrested in connection with the Capitol riots were identified as veterans, and at least one was identified as a current member of the National Guard in Virginia.

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In a sign of how sensitive security concerns were, two guardsmen who came to D.C. were sent home after military officials and an anonymous report found “inappropriate comments or texts.” Ten others were pulled off the mission after FBI vetting flagged unspecified issues, the National Guard’s top general announced Tuesday.

On the morning of the inauguration, guardsmen donning their military fatigues filled the Capitol, connected House and Senate office buildings, and the fenced-off security zone outside. In the Dirksen Senate Office Building, dozens of troops were resting in the hallways and common areas, while scores of others stood in line waiting to grab a cup of coffee and a hot breakfast at the cafeteria.

Acting Defense Secretary David Norquist, who was sworn in after the inauguration to bridge the gap until Biden’s nominee, retired Gen. Lloyd AustinLloyd AustinCan a common bond of service unite our nation? Politics, not racism or sexism, explain opposition to Biden Cabinet nominees Pentagon releases training materials to address extremism MORE, is confirmed, on Wednesday afternoon thanked guardsmen and other troops for “assisting local law enforcement in maintaining our nation’s legacy and preserving our future.”

Rep. Jared HuffmanJared William HuffmanDemocrats don't trust GOP on 1/6 commission: 'These people are dangerous' OVERNIGHT ENERGY: White House rescinds Trump proposal to restrict greenhouse gas consideration | Texas governor limits shipping natural gas out-of-state amid power shortages | Lawmakers clash over gun prohibition in Natural Resources committee room Lawmakers clash over gun prohibition in Natural Resources Committee room MORE (D-Calif.) told reporters before the ceremony that he wasn’t “terribly worried” about any issues because of the heightened security. But, he added, he has adjusted his practices because of security concerns.

“My family has not been in our home for a while because of threats. We’ve added security. I’m tired of hitting refresh on my security camera every time there’s motion. So, I look forward to the temperature coming down and the threat receding. I hope we can get back to something closer to normal,” Huffman said.

“We’re all in the hands of the security, but this seems pretty tight here today, so I’m not too terribly worried. I’m a little more worried about softer targets around the country,” he added.

The Supreme Court received a bomb threat Wednesday morning, but no evacuations were ordered after a search.

After that, the day was quiet, with no militia presence or mass demonstrations reported, just scattered reports of lone Trump supporters protesting in D.C. and at state capitals. 

While Wednesday proceeded without incident, experts who track domestic extremism have warned of the long-term threat the country faces from white nationalists like those who stormed the Capitol.

The heavy security presence gave Biden’s inauguration an atmosphere unlike any other.

“The military feel is the one that’s obviously much different,” Rep. David ValadaoDavid Goncalves ValadaoSix ways to visualize a divided America DCCC releases Spanish-language ads hitting GOP on QAnon Here are the GOP lawmakers censured by Republicans for impeaching Trump MORE (R-Calif.) said about how the inauguration felt different than previous ones. “It’s normal to have a pretty high level of security, but what we’ve got today is just not normal. And the lack of crowd is sad.”

Yards away from those attending the ceremony, a line of guardsmen stretched out across railings and watched over the proceedings. On the Mall, filled in years past with thousands of spectators celebrating a new presidency, were instead yet more troops, as well as tens of thousands of U.S. flags representing Americans who could not attend the ceremony.

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In a visual reminder of the carnage two weeks ago, windows were still shattered on a set of doors that ceremonial Marines opened for Biden and other dignitaries to enter the Capitol.

Arriving at the inauguration, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom WolfTom WolfFracking banned in Delaware River Basin Philly GOP commissioner cites election threats, urges McConnell to vote his 'conscience' Pennsylvania secretary of state resigns over ballot initiative error MORE (D) told reporters he felt “sad” the Capitol had been turned into “a military camp.” New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy (D) similarly called the heightened security “sobering.”

“It’s unfortunate,” Rep. Ami BeraAmerish (Ami) Babulal BeraScars of Capitol attack permeate high-security inauguration Hillicon Valley: Judge's ruling creates fresh hurdle for TikTok | House passes bills to secure energy sector against cyberattacks | Biden campaign urges Facebook to remove Trump posts spreading 'falsehoods' House passes bills to secure energy sector against cyberattacks MORE (D-Calif.) said of the heightened security. “This should be a celebration. To not see the crowd and all the people out there on the Mall — but obviously given what happened Jan. 6 — let’s get through this and hopefully four years from now we will be back to normal.”

 

Scott Wong contributed.