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FILE IMAGE. Members of the National Guard receive weapons as security measures are tightened prior to the swearing-in of President-elect Joe Biden, in Washington, USA, January 17, 2021. REUTERS / Erin Scott
By David Lawder and Jonathan Landay
WASHINGTON, Jan 20 (Reuters) – Washington was preparing for a tense inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden on Wednesday, as more than 25,000 National Guard personnel guard a city with barricades and without the spectators who usually crowd the quadrennial ritual.
With much of downtown fenced off, security analysts expressed confidence that the unprecedented measures will protect Biden’s oath at noon local time (1700 GMT) from an assault like the one suffered by the Capitol two weeks ago that left five dead.
There are few signs of organized plots to disrupt the inauguration, experts say, but the threat of “lone wolf” attacks or violence carried out by radicalized individuals remains a concern, especially in state capitals.
When Trump left the White House for the last time on Wednesday morning, his helicopter flew over thousands of American and state flags displayed on the National Mall, instead of the hundreds of thousands of people who gathered at past inaugurations to watch the process on giant screens.
Near the Supreme Court, some 20 National Guard soldiers watched as a handful of protesters shouted anti-gay and feminist slogans through a megaphone.
Dennis Pluchinsky, a former State Department terrorism analyst, said some right-wing protesters may protest outside of Washington’s fenced central security zone or cause violence there, in an attempt to tarnish Biden’s message of unifying the nation.
However, he indicated that his interruption should not spoil the ceremony. “There is nothing they can do to harm Biden. I think all they are trying to do is fly their flag and poison the inauguration,” said Pluchinsky, who is publishing a four-volume history of anti-American extremism.
Pentagon and FBI officials are checking participating troops to prevent any internal attacks.
On Tuesday, Pentagon officials said a dozen National Guard members were removed from their duties at the inauguration following an investigation that included the detection of possible links to right-wing extremism and disturbing text messages.
The authorities have left little to chance this year. Bridges between Virginia and central Washington have closed, as have subway stations in the central security area, which some residents have compared to the fortress-like Green Zone in central Baghdad, Iraq. .
Some intercity bus services have been suspended, as have many bike-share stations and Amtrak trains going south from Union Station, which pass through a tunnel east of the Capitol.
The number of troops in Washington is three times the normal number of National Guard personnel, said Maj. Gen. William Walker, commander of the National Guard in DC.
“We are not going to take risks,” Walker told NBC. “It is just to ensure the peaceful transition of presidential power.”
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