Inauguration Day festivities for President-elect Joe Biden on Wednesday will take place today under sun-splashed skies and a backdrop of heavy security as the nation’s capital prepares for a smaller-than-ever crowd limited by law enforcement constraints and COVID-19.
About 25,000 National Guard members have descended on the city already blanketed in state and local law enforcement personnel and stinging from the deadly riot at the U.S. Capitol two weeks ago. Concrete barriers, chain-link fences and military trucks have blocked access to many downtown streets and buildings for days.
“Violence and senseless criminal conduct are not the right way to resolve differences or promote change in our country,” Acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen said in a statement. “Anyone who does that will be caught, and they will be prosecuted.”
Noticeably absent from the muted festivities will be President Donald Trump, still clinging to his discredited claims that the election was stolen. Trump exited the White House for the final time as president early Wednesday, bound for Marine One, Joint Base Andrews, and then his Florida home.
“It’s been a great honor, the honor of a lifetime,” he said. Trump and first lady Melania Trump left Joint Base Andrews at 9 a.m. on Air Force One, headed for Florida and their home at Mar-a-Lago.
Vice President Mike Pence, who officially closed the book on Trump’s assertions by signing off on the lopsided Electoral College vote hours after the riot, was scheduled to attend the inauguration.
“The world will witness our determined democracy,” the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies tweeted.
Watch Biden’s inauguration here:
News you should know:
- Vice President Mike Pence is scheduled to attend the inauguration. President Donald Trump is not.
- Bridges into Washington are closed until Thursday, according to the Secret Service. More than a dozen Metro stations will be closed through Thursday.
- The “Field of Flags” exhibit outside the Capitol includes 191,500 U.S. flags of varying sizes, including flags representing every state and territory. In a nod to the pandemic, the Inaugural Committee said the exhibit represents a “commitment to an inclusive and safe event that everyone can enjoy from their home.”
- Capitol riot arrests: See who’s been charged across the U.S.
Robbie Shiver was walking his 2-year-old blue-nosed pitbull, Blue, in front of Union Station on Wednesday morning. Shiver, wearing a black face mask bearing Breonna Taylor’s name, described the atmosphere in Washington this week as “crazy.” But he said he was hardly surprised to see the mostly white rioters treated differently than the mostly Black protestors during marches for social justice over the summer.
“I feel like some of the signs were coming,” he said. “It’s just been a really divisive time. I’m hopeful that with Biden coming into office, we can kind of start to heal some of those wounds and move forward eventually.”
– Thomas Schad
Six blocks away from the barricades and overwhelming military presence downtown, life was continuing as normal. In Logan Circle, residents jogging or walking their dogs. One expressed no interest in watching the inauguration and said she felt the security presence was excessive. Another, Emily Brown, a graduate student at Catholic University wearing a bright red Biden/Harris sweatshirt, said she was going to try to get near the Capitol, but expected she’d have to stream the event online. Brown said she’s optimistic about the next four years.
“It’s a step in the right direction,” she said. “But there’s plenty of work to be done.”
– N’dea Yancey-Bragg
President Donald Trump was scheduled to spend his final minutes in office at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida. Trump is expected to be at the Palm Beach club, which he dubbed the “Winter White House,” when the clock strikes noon, ending a contentious presidential term to be closed with a final military send-off at Joint Base Andrews. Barring a schedule change, the White House has invited hundreds of supporters to a pomp-and-circumstance ceremony at the air base, one expected to feature a red carpet and military color guard – and perhaps a preview of another Trump presidential run in 2024.
“As I prepare to hand power over to a new administration at noon on Wednesday, I want you to know that the movement we started is only just beginning,” Trump said in a taped “farewell address” released Tuesday.
– David Jackson
Before sunrise Wednesday, the heavily guarded nation’s capital woke up in a cold rain. Residents, runners and dog walkers seemed to be the only civilians navigating roads blocked by barricades, 10-foot fences and security checkpoints. Only members of the news media have been consistently making their way down to the National Mall that has become an armed camp. At one checkpoint, officers said only six checks had been done before 6:30am.
– Josh Rivera and N’dea Yancey-Bragg
On a normal Inauguration Day, Washington is packed with protesters for causes of all shapes and sizes. But tight security restrictions have discouraged such activity. The DC Action Lab, an organization that helps other groups navigate the convoluted permitting process, secured space at Union Station’s Columbus Circle for one protest that will be largely virtual, the Washington Post reports. A giant screen will project speeches and videos for the Working Families Party calling on President-elect Joe Biden to enact “more progressive policies,” according to the Park Service permit.
Twelve National Guard troops have been removed from security duties at the Capitol after questionable behavior was detected in their past during security screening, Army Gen. Daniel Hokanson, chief of the National Guard Bureau, said Tuesday. Two from that group had made inappropriate comments or texts about President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration, Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman said. But not all 12 have ties to extremist groups, he said.
“We’re not taking any chances,” said Hoffman, who characterized the comments made by the two as inappropriate texts.
Of the 12, 10 were identified by the FBI in security screening, Hokanson said. Another was flagged by commanders and the final one was identified by an anonymous tipster.
– Tom Vanden Brook and Jorge Ortiz
Three former members of the U.S. military are the first persons to be charged with plotting the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol. The FBI said Thomas Edward Caldwell, 66, of Clarke County, Virginia, appeared to be the leader of a group that included Jessica Watkins, 38, and Donovan Crowl, 50, both residents of Champaign County, Ohio. Caldwell served in the Navy, Watkins in the Army and Crowl in the Marines.
All three are linked to paramilitary activity and have been charged with conspiracy and other federal counts, the first of more than 125 people arrested in connection with the deadly riot to face conspiracy charges.
Court documents filed Tuesday reveal some insight into planning and coordination behind the attack, as well as message exchanges between the defendants and others. Some of the messages referred to the legislators in the Capitol as “traitors” and called for “night hunting.”
A Florida sheriff’s deputy was arrested Tuesday for making “written threats to kill, do bodily injury, or conduct a mass shooting or an act of terrorism” related to the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, the Polk County Sheriff’s Office said. Peter Heneen, 29, was communicating with another deputy on the night of Jan. 6, talking about the riot via Facebook private messenger, according to the sheriff’s office. The other deputy reported Heneen’s threats to his commanding officer.
“I am angry beyond words,” Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd said during a press conference. “Having him arrested was important. Having him arrested before Inauguration Day was even more important.”
– Kimberly C. Moore, The Ledger
A self-professed white supremacist was wearing a GPS-enabled monitoring device under terms of his probation when he joined the crowd of Trump supporters who stormed the U.S. Capitol, according to a court filing accompanying his arrest. Investigators used the monitoring device to retrace Bryan Betancur’s movements on the day of the deadly insurrection. His probation officer in Maryland called the FBI to report that Betancur had claimed to have been inside the Capitol building with rioters.
Betancur told investigators that he has been a member of several white supremacist groups and has expressed a desire to be a “lone wolf killer,” an FBI agent wrote in an affidavit.
A South Carolina man who denied being involved in the Capitol riot is facing charges after a tracking app on his phone placed him at the scene. A witness called the FBI the day of the Jan. 6 riot and said they had knowledge and photos of Andrew Hatley inside the Capitol, the complaint states. The complaint includes a Facebook post, since taken down, in which Hatley says “It has come to my attention that there was someone who looks like me at the Capitol. I’d like to set the record straight. I don’t have that kind of motivation for lost causes.” The FBI says it obtained Hatley’s phone number and verified Hatley’s whereabouts on Jan. 6 through the “Life360” location-tracking app, the complaint says.
Hatley is accused of knowingly entering a restricted building without lawful authority, knowingly impeding government business, engaging in disorderly conduct on Capitol grounds and demonstrating or picketing in the Capitol buildings.
– Daniel J. Gross, Greenville News