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When President-elect Joe Biden is inaugurated on Wednesday, he’ll take the oath of office while standing on the very steps that were overrun by a violent mob of Trump supporters just two weeks earlier. Right-wing extremists online are plotting ways to repeat their assault on the U.S. Capitol, potentially on a much larger — and far more deadly — scale.
Concerns over another insurrectionist attack have led to a substantial increase in security precautions ahead of the inauguration — an event that already has a massive security footprint in a typical year. A 7-foot-tall fence topped with razor wire has been erected around the Capitol. The area around the National Mall will be locked down in the days leading up to the event. More than 20,000 National Guard troops have been brought to Washington D.C., giving the nation’s capital the appearance of a “war zone.”
Despite credible threats of another attack, Biden and the inaugural committee have no intention of canceling the outdoor ceremony. “I am not concerned about my safety, security, or the inauguration.” he said. Plans for Biden to lay a memorial wreath at Arlington National Cemetery after he’s sworn in are still on, as well. Security concerns did, however, prompt the president-elect to abandon plans to ride an Amtrak train to his inauguration.
Why there’s debate
Even with the extraordinary level of security that will be in place for the inauguration, some still fear it may not be enough. Government forces will certainly have the firepower to hold off an extremist militia, but the failure of Capitol Police to prevent a violent pro-Trump mob from overrunning the building last week has raised questions over whether communication and logistical blunders might once again leave lawmakers at risk. Others worry that some members of the security teams may secretly support the insurrectionists' agenda.
While the risks of extremists actually disrupting the ceremony are incredibly small, it’s unwise to create even a tiny chance that it may happen, some argue. There are also concerns that a failed attack, even one that is stamped out easily, would become the lasting memory of Biden’s inauguration.
Many security experts argue that fears of a repeat of the violent assault on Congress are exaggerated. The security measures that will be in place for the inauguration — planned across a variety of government agencies — dwarf the comparatively small Capitol Police force that was overrun last week.
On top of stepped-up security, Biden’s decision to significantly strip down inaugural events makes this year’s ceremony even easier to secure than a typical inauguration, experts say. Others argue that it’s important to send the message that extremists won’t be allowed to interfere with the rituals of American democracy. "I think we cannot yield to those who would try and make us afraid of who we are," Vice President-elect Kamala Harris said.
Security at the inauguration will simply be massive
“To compare the security footprint of even a ‘normal’ inauguration to what was in place ahead of the violence in the Capitol on Jan. 6 … would be to underestimate the sheer scale of an event like the inauguration and the confidence of Washington in at least some of its own systems.” — Ruby Cramer, Buzzfeed News
There’s no reason to provide insurgents with a target
“The Secret Service and the military take the lead for security during the inauguration, and they won’t let rebels storm the Capitol a second time. But a public ceremony still gives the mob a target for its ire, and that imperils local residents, everyday visitors and Biden supporters who might also be in town.” — Michele L. Norris, Washington Post
Coronavirus mitigation measures double as security measures
“Biden’s team was already planning a scaled-back inauguration because of the coronavirus and has encouraged his supporters not to attend the ceremony in-person. … That might make for an easier security situation—officers won’t have to worry about bad actors in a crowd of hundreds of thousands or more people, as in the past.” — Cameron Joseph, Vice
Security forces have shown they can’t be trusted
“Law enforcement is spoiled. It is compromised. I do not question its capability to defend the government from armed attack by a rabble of white people—I question its commitment to do so.” — Elie Mystal, The Nation
Social media crackdowns have made it hard for extremists to plan an assault
“Calls for armed marches in the week leading up to the inauguration have been circulating, but the digital chaos of the past few days has made organization less clear. ... While committed followers have found refuge in many alternative platforms, including Gab, Clouthub, Telegram, and others, a coordinated movement for action has not yet emerged.” — Jen Golbeck, Wired
Even an attack that was easily thwarted would be a victory for extremists
“We’re capable of securing the inauguration from any threat of any magnitude. … What I’m concerned about, it seems to me if the inauguration is outside we end up with the likelihood of a provocation … that will be humiliating and embarrassing globally.” — Retired Army Gen. Barry McCaffrey, MSNBC
Canceling the inauguration would mean letting the extremists win
“The images of thousands of armed soldiers patrolling the streets of our capital are jarring, even heartbreaking. But the show of force is necessary in the wake of the insurrection in the halls of Congress. There are legitimate concerns that the threat is far from over. The nation and the world need to see the free and fair election of Biden accepted and recognized without further disruption or violence.” — Editorial, Houston Chronicle
Pageantry shouldn't take priority over safety
“If it’s safest to inaugurate Biden and Harris in an underground cavern, let’s do that. Safety has to come first.” — NBC News presidential historian Michael Beschloss
Other targets, like state capitols, are much more vulnerable to attack
“We will not see a major incident. They will lock down the Capitol. If there’s anybody in the pipeline right now preparing an attack at a state capitol ... you’ve got an FBI that’s absolutely loaded with case leads right now.” — Security expert Clint Watts to The Hill
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Photo illustration: Yahoo News; photos: Getty Images