US security lockdown ahead of Biden inauguration

Members of the US National Guard arrive to Washington, DC, Jan. 12, 2021. (Photo: AFP/Tasos Katopodis)
Members of the US National Guard arrive to Washington, DC, Jan. 12, 2021. (Photo: AFP/Tasos Katopodis)

WASHINGTON DC (Kurdistan 24) - Stunned by the Jan. 6 assault on the US Congress, federal and local authorities have undertaken massive steps to secure the US capital ahead of the Jan. 20 inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden.

In addition, all 50 governors have been warned to be prepared to counter unrest in their state capitals.

Some 25,000 National Guard troops are being deployed to Washington—more forces than the US has in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria combined. In addition, Customs and Border Protection will dispatch aircraft to surveil the inauguration to detect any dangers early on.

FBI Director Chris Wray cautioned on Thursday that the FBI was tracking an “extensive amount of concerning online chatter,” including calls for armed protests against the inauguration of the new president.

A Joint Intelligence Bulletin, issued on Wednesday by the FBI, Department of Homeland Security, and National Counterterrorism Center, warned of a “broad perception” among extremists that “the violent breach” of the Capitol Building “was successful” and the event “very likely will serve as a significant driver” of further violence.

Read More: Mob storms US Capitol to protest Biden victory certification

Also on Wednesday, the FBI Director, along with Kenneth Cuccinelli, acting deputy secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, in a conference call with heads of police forces across the US, cautioned that the states face a similar danger. They “warned about potential attacks on state capitols, federal buildings, the homes of congressional members and businesses,” as The New York Times reported.

The following day, FBI Director James Comey described the breadth of the threat—in every state—as “unprecedented.”

Who attacked the Capitol Building?

Those involved in the Jan. 6 assault were among Donald Trump’s most fervent supporters. Polling suggests that his supporters, The Washington Post explained, tend to be older, white, less well-educated, and live in rural parts of the country.

Those who came to Washington last week included “dozens” of white supremacists whose names appear on a large, but little-known, terrorism watch list—the Terrorist Screening Database.

But those who participated in the siege also included “current and former law enforcement and military personnel as well as senior business executives and middle-aged business owners,” the Post reported.

The Atlantic Monthly described the broad range of participants in these terms: “partisans of the long-gone country of South Vietnam, Falun Gong adherents, end-times Christians, neo-Nazis, QAnon believers, a handful of Orthodox Jews, and Daniel Boone impersonators.”

They included an Olympic gold medalist Klete Keller, 38, who was on US Olympic swimming teams in three successive rounds of the international competition: 2000, 2004, and 2008.

After Keller left competitive swimming, he fell on hard times. As he himself explained, he could never afterwards achieve the success he had won in the pool. So he went through a period of divorce, unemployment, and even homelessness.

Yet by January 2021, Keller had recovered his footing. He was engaged to be married and was working as a commercial real estate agent in Colorado.

Following his arrest, Keller lost his job. Charged on three counts, he faces a prison sentence of up to fifteen and one-half years. “For him to throw everything away,” a fellow swimmer, one of Keller’s long-time friends, told the Post, “I don’t understand it. It’s very, very troubling.”

Other individuals appeared more menacing. Cleveland Meredith, who, like Keller, lives in Colorado, drove his truck to Washington DC. It needed repair on the road, so he arrived late on Jan. 6—too late for the siege of Congress.

In his vehicle, Meredith carried an assault rifle, a semi-automatic pistol, with high capacity magazines, and some 2,500 rounds of ammunition. He texted to acquaintances that he meant to kill the House Speaker, Nancy Pelosi, and the Mayor of Washington. He didn’t commit any murders, but did launch an unprovoked assault on a complete stranger in Washington.

Meredith was arrested and jailed. As the prosecution explained, he is a habitual drug user (marijuana) and has a history of mental illness.

Those capable of carrying out more organized and sophisticated violence were also present in the mob. Two Virginia police officers were arrested for their roles in the melee. One is an Army veteran, a former Ranger, who was trained as a sniper.

Did They Have Insider Help?

Suspicion has fallen on a number of Capitol Police officers who may have been involved in the riots or, at least, showed inappropriate sympathy with the mob. Several officers have been suspended and over a dozen others are under investigation.

In addition, Democratic Congressmen have complained that some Republican Congressmen actively aided the mob. Ordinarily, people can freely enter the US Congress. However, because of the coronavirus pandemic, public visits have been severely restricted. Since March, there have been no tours of the Capitol Building.

Yet, on Tuesday, Rep. Mikie Sherrill (D, New Jersey), a Navy veteran, charged that she had seen Congressmen giving “reconnaissance” tours to groups of people on Jan. 5 to prepare them for the next day’s events.

Then, on Wednesday, 33 other Democratic Congressmen joined Sherrill in publishing a letter which called for an investigation of those tours. “The visitors encountered by some of the Members of Congress on this letter appeared to be associated with the rally at the White House the following day,” it stated.

Indeed, a senior Congressional figure, Rep. James Clyburn (D, South Carolina), asked “how rioters knew some of the most hidden, obscure destinations in the Capitol to target and loot,” Roll Call, which focuses on Congressional news, reported. “Clyburn’s second-floor office, with his name above the door, remained untouched during the destruction and violence last week. But a more private office, which is unmarked on the third floor, was targeted,” it said.

That charge is being taken seriously. On Friday, House Speaker, Nancy Pelosi (D, California), announced that she was appointing retired Army Lt. Gen. Russel Honore to lead a security review of the assault. “If, in fact, it is found that members of Congress were accomplices to this insurrection -- if they aided and abetted the crime,” they will face criminal prosecution, Pelosi affirmed.

Editing by John J. Catherine