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Homeland Security expedites Washington lockdown ahead of inauguration, after Capitol riots

Kevin Johnson and Joey Garrison, USA TODAY
·5 min read
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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.

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.

The early designation kicked off a sprawling operation that 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.

The request to arm the troops, whose numbers may swell to 20,000 by Inauguration Day, was made by federal authorities. Army Sec. Ryan McCarthy, who oversees the D.C. Guard, authorized arming the troops.

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.

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."

President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris were briefed Wednesday on security preparations and continuing threats by FBI and Secret Service officials, the transition team said in a statement.

"The team is engaging with the current administration to gain as much information as possible on the threat picture, and on the preparations being put in place to deter and defend against violent disruptions or attacks," the Biden-Harris group said. "The incoming team is also focused on laying the groundwork for a smooth hand-off in power that will ensure continuous command and control across the homeland security and law enforcement components of the U.S. government.

The Biden team described the upcoming transition as "a touchstone of American democracy."

"President-elect Biden’s team will be receiving daily briefings on the security and operational preparations to ensure the transition unfolds smoothly," the Biden team said.

'ZERO FAIL MISSION': Secret Service vows 'robust' inauguration security after deadly Capitol siege

Michael Plati, the agent leading the effort, has 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.

Contributing: Tom Vanden Brook

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Homeland Security expedites Washington lockdown ahead of inauguration