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Expecting trouble, DC locks down a week before inauguration

The Dome of the Capitol building is visible as riot gear is laid out on a field on Capitol Hill in Washington Wednesday. (AP photo)

WASHINGTON — All through downtown Washington, the primary sound for several blocks was the beeping of forklifts unloading more fencing.

There were no cars or scooters and seemingly no tourists Wednesday, just the occasional jogger and multiple construction crews at work. The U.S. Capitol that proved such a soft target last week was visible only through lines of tall, black fence.

Two blocks from the White House, a group of uniformed National Guard troops emerged from a tour bus and headed into a hotel as a state of lockdown descended on Washington that will last through the Jan. 20 inauguration.

“Clearly we are in uncharted waters,” said Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser.

Last week’s “violent insurrection” at the Capitol by supporters of outgoing President Donald Trump has “impacted the way we are approaching working with our federal partners in planning for the 59th inauguration,” Bowser said Wednesday.

The FBI has warned that armed protests by violent Trump supporters were being planned in all 50 state capitals as well as in Washington for the days leading up to the inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden.

Between the pandemic and the security threat, Bowser is flat-out asking people not to come to the District of Columbia for the inauguration. And at Bowser’s request, a National Special Security Event declaration was moved up to Jan. 13, a distinction which she said “puts in place an entirely different command and control structure” for security.

The NSSE status is normal for a presidential inauguration and other major events like an international summit or the Super Bowl. But it’s rare to start the lockdown so far in advance of the event.

Police vehicles sealed off a huge swath of downtown D.C. Wednesday, causing immediate traffic snarls. Starting Wednesday, Bowser said, anyone inside the inauguration perimeter might be stopped and questioned. Starting today, all parking garages in the downtown restricted zone will be sealed through the inauguration.

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