Law Enforcement Forces Prepare for Biden’s Inauguration

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -
Preparations take place for President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration on the West Front of the U.S. Capitol in Washington. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

The inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden will be held on the same risers in the same spot at the U.S. Capitol where a violent, pro-Trump mob descended last week. But the two events aren’t even comparable from a security standpoint, said Michael Plati, U.S. Secret Service special agent in charge, who is leading the inauguration security.

The inauguration is designated as a “national special security event,” which clears the way for communication, funding and preparation between multiple agencies in Washington, like the Capitol Police, Pentagon, Homeland Security and District-area police. Other such events are the State of the Union and the Democratic and Republican National Conventions.

“I don’t want to use the expression that we’re comparing apples to oranges,” Plati said, but the event is planned over a year with contingencies, and they anticipate the possibility of extreme violence.

Biden himself hasn’t expressed concern about his own security at the inauguration.

“I’m not afraid of taking the oath outside,” he told reporters Monday. “It is critically important that there’ll be a real serious focus on holding those folks who engaged in sedition and threatening the lives, defacing public property, caused great damage – that they be held accountable.”

Law enforcement officials never go into too much detail about security so would-be attackers aren’t tipped off. But Plati said they’ve taken into account the siege: “It’s a poignant reminder of what can happen.”

And the inauguration will look different from other presidential inaugurations because of last week’s riot, with extremely tight security around the entire capital region. At least 10,000 National Guard troops will be in place by Saturday. Some will be obvious: officers in uniforms, checkpoints, metal detectors, fencing. Some won’t.

“There’s a variety of methods to ensure that we have a secure, seamless, safe environment for our protectees, but most importantly, the general public,” Plati said.

Acting U.S. Capitol Police Chief Yogananda Pittman said in a statement Monday that officials have “comprehensive, coordinated plans” in place to ensure safety and security. She said the grounds of the Capitol will be closed to the public. The inauguration is a ticketed event.

The Department of Homeland Security is setting increased inauguration security measures in motion earlier than scheduled, citing an “evolving security landscape” leading up to the event.

DHS Secretary Chad Wolf said Monday, just hours before he announced his resignation, that he’s moved up the timing of the national special security event for Biden’s inauguration to Wednesday, instead of Jan. 19. He cited the “events of the past week,” along with an evolving security landscape.

Next week’s event was already going to be pared down because of COVID-19; Biden had asked supporters to say home and watch from afar. In keeping with crowd size restrictions to slow the spread of the virus, traditional activities like the parade and the inaugural balls will be virtual.

The theme for the event will be “America United,” an issue that’s long been a central focus for Biden but one that’s taken on added weight.

In an announcement shared first with The Associated Press, the Presidential Inaugural Committee said that the theme “reflects the beginning of a new national journey that restores the soul of America, brings the country together, and creates a path to a brighter future.”

“This inauguration marks a new chapter for the American people — one of healing, of unifying, of coming together, of an America united,” said Tony Allen, CEO of the Presidential Inaugural Committee. “It is time to turn the page on this era of division. The inaugural activities will reflect our shared values and serve as a reminder that we are stronger together than we are apart, just as our motto ‘e pluribus unum’ reminds us — out of many, one.”