The same day the U.S. Congress voted to impeach President Donald Trump for a second time, the nation’s capital prepared to welcome thousands more National Guard troops to help keep the peace during next week’s transfer of power.
“I think you can expect to see somewhere upwards of beyond 20,000 members of the National Guard that will be here,” Robert Contee, acting chief of the Metropolitan Police Department of the District of Columbia, told reporters Wednesday.
Defense officials confirmed the increased authorization, which came just days after the National Guard said it was sending up to 15,000 troops to the city to help with security ahead of the January 20 inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden, who defeated Trump in November’s election.
Officials said 10,000 guardsmen — part-time soldiers who can be deployed overseas but who are often called upon to help with emergencies in their home states — are expected to be on duty in Washington by Friday. The rest will arrive soon afterward.
More than 6,000 National Guard troops have been on duty in Washington and at the Capitol itself since pro-Trump extremists stormed the building last Wednesday.
In a statement issued Monday, General Daniel Hokanson, chief of the National Guard Bureau, said the Guard’s role was to “support security, logistics, liaison and communication missions.” But since late Tuesday, National Guard forces working at the Capitol have also been carrying weapons.
“This was requested by federal authorities and authorized by the Secretary of the Army,” the D.C. National Guard said in a statement. “The public’s safety is our top priority.”
Images of armed soldiers in fatigues guarding the Capitol while others lined the hallways spread on social media Wednesday, along with photos of recently installed fencing and metal barriers.
Videos and photos also showed images of streets blocked off by military vehicles while workers put up even more fencing.
In contrast, when Trump was inaugurated four years ago, only about 8,000 National Guard members were on hand to help with security.
In an attempt to calm tensions, the White House on Wednesday issued a statement from Trump, calling on those planning to protest in Washington to abide by the law.
“In light of reports of more demonstrations, I urge that there must be NO violence, NO lawbreaking and NO vandalism of any kind,” Trump said. “That is not what I stand for, and it is not what America stands for.”
In a video released hours later, Trump called on Americans to “overcome the passions of the moment.”
He also spoke to his supporters about the siege of the Capitol.
“Mob violence goes against everything I believe in and everything our movement stands for,” Trump said.
“No true supporter of mine could ever endorse political violence” he added. “No true supporter of mine could ever disrespect law enforcement or our great American flag.”
— The White House (@WhiteHouse) January 13, 2021
Despite such pleas, government officials have been moving ahead with additional security precautions, closing down more streets around the Capitol, while restricting access to lawmakers, their staff members and security personnel.
Other Washington landmarks are also off limits.
The National Park Service announced earlier this week that the Washington Monument was closed to visitors until after the inauguration. It said other parts of the National Mall could also be closed in the coming days.
Officials with the Federal Bureau of Investigation warned this week that armed protesters might be headed to Washington early next week, with posts on social media suggesting they were ready to engage in some sort of “uprising.”
“The events of Jan. 6 serve as a stark reminder of the criticality of comprehensive security planning,” the U.S. Secret Service, which is now leading planning efforts, said in a statement.
“As is always the case, security during a National Special Security Event (NSSE) is a layered network of operations, seen and unseen, that run in tandem with federal, state and local law enforcement, military, and public safety entities,” it added.
Tori Sneden contributed to this report.
Voice of America – English