All through downtown Washington, the primary sound for several blocks has been the beeping of forklifts unloading more fencing.
It’s a city on edge ahead of Joe Biden’s inauguration as the 46th President of the United States next week.
The perimeter of a high fence putting the city in lockdown has been pushed out to encompass the US Supreme Court and the Library of Congress.
In what have been described as “eerie scenes”, the city has been largely absent of the cars, scooters and tourists that usually flow through downtown DC.
Roads surrounding the Capitol building have been closed, with journalists on the ground sharing Google Maps images showing the red road blocks that blanket the city.
Some businesses said they would shut down next week, and the city's public transportation agency said it was closing certain metro stations and rerouting bus lines from Friday through to January 21, the day after the inauguration.
DC mayor: ‘We are in uncharted waters’
The National Park Service said a decision had yet to be made on whether to close the National Mall running from the Capitol to the Lincoln Memorial. The park service closed the Washington Monument to tours and Mayor Muriel Bowser asked visitors to stay away from the city.
The number of National Guard troops coming to Washington to assist with security has so far grown to about 21,000, Army General Daniel Hokanson, chief of the National Guard Bureau, told Vice President Mike Pence at a briefing Thursday (local time).
Stunningly, officials have said the number could grow as law enforcement agencies review the ongoing threats.
“Clearly we are in uncharted waters,” Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser said.
National Guard members operate under strict rules of engagement on the use of force. But generally speaking, troops can use lethal force to protect the lives of others and themselves.
‘Eerie scenes’ as hotels urged to close
On Wednesday (local time), Airbnb announced it was cancelling all reservations in the Washington metro area.
“We are aware of reports emerging yesterday afternoon regarding armed militias and known hate groups that are attempting to travel and disrupt the Inauguration,” the company said.
“We are continuing our work to ensure hate group members are not part of the Airbnb community.”
The local Black Lives Matter affiliate and Shutdown DC issued a joint statement Wednesday urging all downtown hotels to voluntarily close and pay their staffs.
In addition to the threat of violence, the activist groups say Trump supporters are a threat to the health of hotel staff for their general refusal to wear face masks during the pandemic.
Several downtown hotels, including one which had become a favourite hangout of the militant Proud Boy faction, chose to avoid trouble by closing last week.
“Closing hotels completely for these six nights is the only way to guarantee the safety of hotel workers, neighbours, vulnerable and unhoused residents, incoming administration officials, members of Congress, and our democracy,” the statement said.
“If hotels do not willingly close, we ask Mayor Bowser to extend today’s emergency order and close all hotels in the city.”
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