Amid rising speculations and mounting evidence that the deadly assault on the U.S. Capitol led by thousands of pro-Trump supporters on Jan. 6 was carefully planned in advance, political leaders and law enforcement agencies across the D.C. region have ramped up security measures to avoid a similar occurrence both in the days leading up to and on Jan. 20 when the inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris will take place.
On Tuesday, House Democrats briefed on security preparations ahead of the inauguration concluded that there’s an “increased threat” to the Capitol.
Meanwhile, just one day earlier, U.S. Capitol Police, already suffering record-low morale and heavy criticism for their inability to quell the siege until their numbers were boosted by members of the National Guard and Metropolitan Police Department, recently described the potential upcoming violence as “chilling and horrific,” according to a spokesperson for the U.S. Capitol Police.
Five people died after insurgents stormed the U.S. Capitol last Wednesday including U.S. Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick, 42, whose funeral procession traveled throughout downtown D.C. including along New Hampshire Avenue in Northwest on Sunday. Scores of local citizens and many of his colleagues as well as other law enforcement officials lined the streets to pay their final respects.
Sicknick, a retired military veteran, joined the force in 2008 and had recently been assigned to the First Responders Unit. Prosecutors in the U.S. Attorney’s office said they plan to open an investigation into Sicknick’s death. Both the Capitol Police and D.C. Metropolitan police will participate in the investigation.
Hours after the insurgence was brought under control by a combined team of local police officers, including members of the National Guard, Steven Sund, U.S. Capitol Police chief, tenured his resignation, effective Jan. 16.
“The violent attack on the U.S. Capitol was unlike any I have ever experienced in my 30 years in law enforcement here in Washington, D.C.,” Sund said in a written statement.
He further added the following caveat: “Maintaining public safety in an open environment – specifically for First Amendment activities – has long been a challenge.”
In an interview on Jan. 12 with WJLA-TV (ABC 7 News) reporters, Sund stated his belief that the attack on the U.S. Capitol had been carefully planned with many of the insurgents heavily armed – wielding a plethora of various weapons in numbers far greater than he had ever experienced during his years of service for the Capitol Police.
In related news, a second U.S. Capitol Police officer died Jan. 9, apparently in connection with the riots on the U.S. Capitol. Officer Howard Liebengood, 51, died on Saturday by suicide.
“We are reeling from the death of Officer Liebengood,” Gus Papathanasiou, the union chairman for the U.S. Capitol Police, said on Sunday. “Every Capitol Police officer puts the security of others before their own safety and Officer Liebengood was an example of the selfless service that is the hallmark of USCP. This is a tragic day.”
The local law enforcement agencies are wrestling with other problems, though. Investigators are exploring potential involvement between pro-Trump forces and active officers. Two D.C. officers are under investigation, as are unidentified Anne Arundel officers, according to D.C officials.
D.C. Takes on Semblance of an Entrenched Fortress
While D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser suspended her order to extend the pause of various activities in the District through the inauguration on Jan. 12 – an order issued just one day earlier – she continues to encourage residents to be cautious and to stay away from the inauguration. Instead she has urged Americans to participate virtually – a request made during a news conference on Jan. 11.
Bowser has already issued the closing of several of the major thoroughfares in downtown D.C. until after the inauguration including: E. Capitol Street, Independence Avenue, 1st Street and Constitution Avenue. Un-scalable fences have been erected around the U.S. Capitol, the White House, the Washington Monument, the Supreme Court and several other federal buildings. Parking restrictions have also been ordered along these and other nearby streets by the mayor. And Capitol Police have announced that there will be “absolutely no public access” to Capitol grounds until further notice.
Bowser (D), Gov. Larry Hogan (R-Md.) and Gov. Ralph Northam (D-Va.) held a joint call on Monday in preparation of the 59th Presidential Inauguration that covered requests by D.C. to the federal government and the importance of enhanced planning and preparation compared to previous inaugurations.
“On January 20, there will be a transition of power, and we will work together, and with our partners in the federal government, to ensure the safety of the National Capital Region. Due to the unique circumstances surrounding the 59th Presidential Inauguration, including last week’s violent insurrection as well as the ongoing and deadly COVID-19 pandemic, we are taking the extraordinary step of encouraging Americans not to come to Washington, D.C. and to instead participate virtually.”
“In this very trying time, January 6 was a dark moment for our nation. But we know that we will get through this period because American ideals are stronger than one extreme ideology. Together, we will overcome extremism and get back to the work of our residents,” the statement said.
Hogan, who says he will attend the inauguration, has doubled the number of National Guard officers representing the state of Maryland from 500 to 1,000 to assist with law enforcement efforts in the District.
Estimates reveal that there are already or in a few short days will be close to 7,000 members of the National Guard representing Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey and Virginia.
Trump Will Not Attend; Pence Says ‘Yes’
President Donald Trump recently confirmed he will not attend the inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden, putting to rest any lingering questions about whether he would go.
“To all of those who have asked, I will not be going to the Inauguration on January 20th,” Trump tweeted on Friday, Jan. 8.
Biden, speaking to reporters in Wilmington, later on Friday, said that Trump not coming to his swearing-in was “one of the few things we agree on.”
However, Vice President Mike Pence has indicated that he will attend the inauguration – a decision that has led to unbridled criticism by many of Trump’s supporters – even death threats lodged against Pence and his family.
In U.S. history, there have only been a handful of times that an outgoing president did not attend the inauguration of his successor. John Adams, John Quincy Adams and Andrew Johnson all skipped the event, while Richard Nixon departed the White House after his resignation and did not attend Gerald Ford’s swearing-in.
Former Presidents George W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama have all said they will attend the inauguration. Former President Jimmy Carter, in failing health and 96 years old, will not attend.
WI Contributing Writer Curtis Knowles contributed to this report.