The nation’s capital was quiet Sunday amid unprecedented security measures as Americans braced for possible violence ahead of the inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden.
National Guard troops were monitoring Washington, D.C., as well as many state capitals after law enforcement officials warned of possibly violent protests planned nationwide this week by supporters of President Donald Trump, who falsely claims the election was stolen from him.
It was just 11 days ago that scores of rioters smashed through windows and rampaged through the U.S. Capitol, clashing with overwhelmed Capitol police. The melee was blamed for five deaths, left parts of the hallowed building in ruins and raised questions about law enforcement’s preparation and response.
USA TODAY is monitoring protests and security issues in Washington, D.C., and across the U.S. Keep refreshing this page for updates.
Virginia pro-gun lobby plans caravans bound for Richmond
Despite tensions in state capitals everywhere, the Virginia Citizens Defense League says it plans on having its voice heard on Monday, the pro-gun group’s annual Lobby Day at the state Capitol. The group, whose rally drew 20,000 last year, notes that it is legal to carry a firearm for self-defense in Richmond.
“We want everyone to know that we are coming to Richmond so we will be in vehicles decked out with VCDL signs and flags,” the group says on its website. “We will form caravans coming from all four corners of the state, with people joining in all along the way.”
Police posted notices on social media warning that signs have been put up throughout the city to “inform those who may gather that firearms are prohibited at permitted events and events that would otherwise require a permit, as well as areas adjacent to such events.”
– Laura Peters, Staunton News Leader
Boarded up windows in Sacramento: ‘This is not the America we know’
The law enforcement presence was heavy amid the new barricades and fencing near California’s Capitol building in Sacramento. A group calling itself “Let Freedom Ring,” headed by a former Republican candidate for Congress, had sought to hold a Sunday rally on the Capitol grounds but was denied a permit.
State lawmakers were told to avoid the area this weekend. Some nearby businesses boarded up their windows. Assemblywoman Cecilia Aguiar-Curry said she was being cautious and remained unsure as to how the week would unfold.
“Isn’t it a shame we have to do this?” the Democrat said. “This is not the America we all know.”
– Cassie Dickman, The Record
Mood upbeat at Black Lives Matter Plaza in DC
The mood was festive at the district’s Black Lives Matter Plaza. Music was playing on a loud speaker as a woman waved a Black Lives Matter flag.
Colin and Kaye Cole and their three children made plans in December to travel from Charlotte for the inauguration and were not dissuaded by the Jan. 6 riot. They found the security state in Washington both reassuring and eerie. Kaye Cole travels often to the district for work.
“For us to be here right now is very important,” she said. “Charlotte is a very conservative city. To be in the nation’s capital to expose our kids to real life was very important.”
Even if it’s not the city she’s accustomed to visiting.
“It’s like a ghost town,” she said. “I told my kids, ‘This is not typical.’ D.C. is usually very bustling, with different smells, sights and sounds.”
– Gabe Lacques
Woman accused of impersonating an officer near US Capitol
A woman was arrested after police said she impersonated a law enforcement officer near an inauguration security checkpoint in Washington, D.C., on Saturday morning.
The suspect drove up to a perimeter checkpoint north of the Capitol Building near Union Station, according to a police incident report that does not give her name. She displayed a military police challenge coin and stated she was a law enforcement officer and part of the presidential cabinet, according to the report.
A challenge coin is a symbolic item given to members of a military unit as a reward for good work or as a morale booster. They don’t serve as law enforcement credentials. The report notes that she was taken to a hospital for evaluation with no further details.
– Katlin Wedell
Capitol riot was like a scene from TV show ‘Designated Survivor’
Handan Gencogluer, 60, came into D.C. from McLean, Virginia, with a friend to walk around and see the extent of the security on Sunday.
“It’s sad. This is supposed to be a happy time,” she said, noting the parties and celebrations of past inaugurations. Gencogluer wasn’t worried too much about violence: “Now they’re ready, the good guys at least.”
Gencogluer, an immigrant from Istanbul, said she watched in horror at the violence last week. She had friends texting her to see if she was safe even though she was out in the suburbs. She described watching the news like she was watching the TV show “Designated Survivor.”
“I’m an immigrant here and one of the things that brought me here is this is a country of law,” she added. “It’s scary that at the very top it got trampled.”
– Ryan Miller
‘Honest mistake’: Heavily armed man arrested near US Capitol
Police in Washington, D.C., have arrested a Virginia man who allegedly tried to pass through a security checkpoint with an “unauthorized” inauguration credential,a handgun and more than 500 rounds of ammunition, according to officials. Wesley Allen Beeler, 31, of Front Royal, Virginia, was released on his own recognizance after a hearing Saturday. The Associated Press, citing a law enforcement official who spoke on condition of anonymity, reported that Beeler had a valid credential for inaugural events, though it was not issued by the government.
Beeler told the Washington Post that “it was an honest mistake.” He said he has been working as hired security in downtown Washington and forgot his firearm was in his truck when he left his home in Virginia.
“I pulled up to a checkpoint after getting lost in D.C. because I’m a country boy,” he said. “I showed them the inauguration badge that was given to me.”
At the US Capitol: All quiet early Sunday
Around the U.S. Capitol on Sunday, barricades protected buildings while National Guard members patrolled the grounds and SUVs blocked the streets. To enter Pennsylvania Avenue, the public needed to enter security tents with bag checks and metal detectors. Law enforcement even flipped through reporters’ notebook pages. Barricades blocked any path toward the Capitol several blocks in front of the grounds.
More than 25,000 National Guard members are in place or headed to the city. The National Park Service shut down the entire National Mall, a panoramic 2 miles stretching from the Lincoln Memorial on the west end to the Capitol on the east. More than a dozen Metro commuter train stations have already closed, and the city’s historic core has been divided into a “red zone” for authorized vehicles only and a “green zone” allowing only vehicles of the area’s residents.
Kamieh Hendley, 21, of San Diego, was in Washington for the first time since elementary school. She was amazed by the tightened security but not worried too much about violence Sunday morning.
“It’s kind of a shock to see all this,” she said. “If it does get rough, I’ll just go home.”
– Ryan Miller
Biden’s home state readies for protests
President-elect Joe Biden served as a senator from Delaware for more than a quarter-century, but Gov. John Carney is not assuming his state will be immune from pro-Trump protests. Carney has activated the National Guard to assist state and local law enforcement in keeping the peace if necessary. A 6-foot-tall fence has been constructed around Legislative Hall and traffic has been restricted. Delaware Capitol Police said Capitol buildings “will be secured, and citizens can expect an increased visible law enforcement presence.”
– Nick Siano, Delaware News Journal
Postal Service pulls mailboxes out of some areas
The United States Postal Service has temporarily removed blue mail collection boxes in some areas of major cities and state Capitols as a security measure in more than dozen states ahead of the inauguration, USPS says. Boxes also have been removed around the U.S. Capitol.
“It’s part of our normal procedures to keep our employees and customers safe during times of protest or when large crowds are gathered near postal facilities, on postal routes, or by mailboxes,” Postal Service spokesperson Kim Frum told USA TODAY.
A look at security measures in place at some state capitols
Michigan, which was targeted by armed anti-lockdown protesters earlier this year and an alleged extremist plot to kidnap its governor, activated its National Guard and was boarding up windows at state buildings. The Texas Department of Public Safety shut down its state Capitol after uncovering new intelligence that prompted the agency to further tighten up security.
Across the nation, state capitals were girding for violence. You can see how each state is preparing here.
While it is unclear how many people are expected to show up at protests across the country, “people don’t have the luxury to downplay it,” said Oren Segal, vice president of the ADL Center on Extremism. “People don’t have the luxury to ignore it.
“The president hasn’t backed down on the concept that this is a stolen election. Narratives like that, of something being taken away from you, are so powerful.”
– Jay Cannon and Chastity Laskey
Go in-depth: Why the National Guard’s absence at Capitol riots shows lack of preparation, distrust after heavy-handed BLM response.
Contributing: Lindsay Schnell, Cara Richardson and Joel Shannon, USA TODAY.