Eerie quiet in nation's capital as inauguration week begins

Riley Beggin
The Detroit News
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Washington — The downtown of the nation's capital proved quiet Sunday — the first of four days leading up to the inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden when officials expected potential armed protests to the transfer of power from President Donald Trump.

The "red zone" designated by the Secret Service covered most of the downtown area, cordoned off to most vehicles and any member of the public who wouldn't undergo a bag search and walk through a metal detector. 

Inside the zone, the wide streets were bare and the doors and windows of businesses were boarded up. Police cars and military vehicles blocked intersections, while law enforcement officers overlooked curious pedestrians who were biking, running and strolling along avenues that are usually bustling thoroughfares in one of the larger cities in America.

As of around 3:30 p.m. Sunday, none of the predicted far-right protests had materialized.

Thirteen Metro stations closest to the National Mall, the White House and the Capitol building were shuttered as the weekend began. Downtown Washington, from the Lincoln Memorial and the White House to Capitol Hill, was under the stringent security protocols. 

Around 7,000 troops were in the nation’s capital as of Thursday, according to the National Guard. That number will grow up to nearly 25,000 by Inauguration Day, they said — five times more than are currently serving in Iraq and Afghanistan combined.

Troops monitor the streets in downtown Washington, D.C., on Sunday, Jan. 17, 2021. Protesters were mostly absent around noon.

The FBI has warned of plans for armed protests in state capitals and in Washington in the days leading up to the inauguration on Jan. 20, according to an internal bulletin first reported by ABC News. Some armed protesters showed up in Lansing Sunday on the lawn of the Michigan Capitol.

But in the days since the attempted insurrection at the U.S. Capitol building, far right provocateurs have been stripped of their social media channels, making it more difficult to organize a cohesive protest, and those remaining have warned to stay away from Washington as the security apparatus bears down on the city.

Experts have warned that that may turn focus to “soft targets” such as newsrooms, officials’ homes and state capitals. Military-style vehicles and police troopers patrolled Lansing’s Capitol complex and surrounding areas Sunday, though the small group of armed protesters who did show up were vastly outnumbered by media and police.

District of Columbia police set up security points in Washington, D.C., on Sunday, Jan. 17, 2021

Just over 10 days ago, Washington's now locked-down downtown was the site of thousands protesting in support of Trump’s false claims of election fraud as members of Congress met to certify the Electoral College results of the 2020 presidential election.

The protest on Jan. 6 became violent when hundreds of Trump supporters rushed the Capitol building, knocking down barriers, fighting with police officers, scaling the walls and breaking windows, and then prowling through the halls, some calling out threats against leaders like Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and Vice President Mike Pence.

Lawmakers, media and staff were forced to hide in the chambers of Congress and then were evacuated from the building. Five people died, including one police officer, one rioter, and three people who died from medical emergencies.

At the protest shortly before the attempted insurrection, Trump told the crowd “we’re going to have to fight much harder” and urged them to walk down to the Capitol. “If you don’t fight like hell, you’re not going to have a country anymore,” he said.

The U.S. House impeached Trump last week, arguing he incited the siege on the building, making him the first president in American history to be impeached twice. House Democrats were joined by 10 Republicans in voting to remove him from office, including Michigan Reps. Peter Meijer of Grand Rapids Township and Rep. Fred Upton of St. Joseph.

Pedestrians were not allowed past a security barriers around the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., on Sunday, Jan. 17, 2021

rbeggin@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @rbeggin

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