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Washington DC and capitols across the US are bracing for violence this weekend after law enforcement officials warned that armed pro-Trump insurrectionists are planning to swarm the cities in the days before President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration
Security measures have been dramatically strengthened following the 6 January attack on the Capitol by supporters of Donald Trump and members of far-right groups that left five people dead, including a police officer.
The planned demonstrations and threat of violence, which come as the country still battles the coronavirus pandemic, have had a chilling effect on plans for Biden and Kamala Harris’s inauguration on 20 January. Trump is expected to leave the White House for the final time that morning.
An inauguration rehearsal ceremony that was set for Sunday was postponed until Monday over security concerns, Politico reported. The National Mall is expected to be closed to the public on inauguration day.
Following a briefing from Secret Service and FBI authorities, Biden also canceled his plans to ride the Amtrak train from his home town of Wilmington, Delaware, to Washington for the inauguration.
The House oversight committee sent letters to 27 prominent travel companies on Friday, urging them to use “screening measures” to prevent their services from being used to facilitate plots ahead of Biden’s inauguration. The companies included car rental giants Avis and Hertz and hotel chains Marriott and Hyatt.
In an internal FBI memo first reported by ABC earlier this week, officials warned: “Armed protests are being planned at all 50 state capitols.”
“The FBI received information about an identified armed group intending to travel to Washington, DC on [Saturday] 16 January … They have warned that if Congress attempts to remove Potus via the 25th amendment, a huge uprising will occur,” the document noted.
The memo also said the group planned “to ‘storm’ government offices including in the District of Columbia and in every state” on 20 January.
Efforts to remove the president from office faltered, but on Wednesday, Trump became the first US president to be impeached twice, after the House of Representatives condemned him for inciting a violent insurrection and encouraging a mob of his supporters to storm the US Capitol.
Organizers of the planned unrest are believe to have moved their activities from mainstream social media websites to more secretive online forums to avoid detection, but some details about plans have emerged. In an online advert for a “Million Militia March” scheduled for inauguration day in Washington, a caption read: “The Trumpists will be keeping DC and the military busy on the 20th as you can see.”
The FBI is also reported to be monitoring “various threats to harm President-Elect Biden ahead of the presidential inauguration” and “additional reports indicate threats against VP-Elect Harris and Speaker Pelosi”.
Security measures to stave off violence in Washington and across the country have been extensive. Federal and local authorities have already set up a security zone downtown and 20,000 national guard members will deploy to Washington. Federal security authorities have also asked officials in Virginia to close all crossings into downtown Washington between 6am Saturday and 6am on 21 January, the Washington Post reported.
State capitols, some of which have already seen the resumption of legislative sessions, started ramping up security this week. The New York police department is sending 200 officers to the state Capitol to assist with security, a top NYPD official said on Thursday. And national guard members were sent to Olympia, Washington, to support security efforts this week — arresting two protesters who tried to enter the capitol building without authorization, NPR reported.
Safety concerns have spurred Michigan officials to erect a 6ft fence around the state’s capitol building. The last time authorities used fencing at the capital was in 1994 – when the Klu Klux Klan held a demonstration there, Mlive.com reported.
Michigan capitol authorities have also banned the open carry of guns inside the building following an armed anti-lockdown protest this spring. Several participants in that demonstration were later accused of plotting to kidnap Michigan’s Democratic governor, Gretchen Whitmer.
In Austin, Texas, national guard members and state troopers secured the capitol building when the legislature met on Tuesday. One man, a member of a group named Patriots for America, was removed from Capitol grounds for toting an AR-15 rifle.
New details about the Capitol riot emerged on Friday, demonstrating just how close the violent mob got to the vice-president, who was overseeing the electoral vote certification of Biden’s victory when the building was breached.
Pence was not evacuated from the Senate chamber for about 14 minutes after rioters entered the Capitol. Many shouted that Pence was a “traitor” as they made their way towards his location, according to the Washington Post. Pence was moved to a room off the chamber just moments before rioters entered the chamber.
Federal prosecutors in Arizona this week described how the rioters involved in the 6 January attack on the Capitol had intended “to capture and assassinate elected officials”.
The disclosure in a court filing came as prosecutors pushed for the detention of Jacob Chansley, the QAnon conspiracy theorist who was photographed wearing horns in the US Senate chamber and standing at Pence’s desk.
“Strong evidence, including Chansley’s own words and actions at the Capitol, supports that the intent of the Capitol rioters was to capture and assassinate elected officials in the United States government,” prosecutors alleged.
The charges against Chansley “involve active participation in an insurrection attempting to violently overthrow the United States government”; prosecutors also warned in their detention memo that “the insurrection is still in progress”.