WASHINGTON — Thousands of police and military troops continued pouring into the nation's capital Wednesday, transforming the city into an armed fortress in an extraordinary show of force aimed at heading off more mob violence ahead of next week's inauguration ceremony.
Officials involved in the security preparations said they had never been so concerned about violence in Washington, including in the days after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
At the U.S. Capitol, where President-elect Joe Biden is scheduled to be sworn in Jan. 20, hundreds of armed National Guard troops joined police behind new 8-foot fencing and checkpoints walling off the grounds. So many Guard members were dispatched to Washington, and so quickly, they were left to sleep on the domed building's marble floors, a scene reminiscent of the Civil War.
At the White House, the vice president's residence and other federal buildings and monuments, authorities took similar action — setting up checkpoints, closing streets and conducting aerial surveillance. Pentagon officials said that as many as 20,000 National Guard troops mobilized from multiple states could arrive in the area before the inauguration.
The flurry of activity highlighted how flat-footed Capitol Police and other officials were on Jan. 6 when pro-Trump extremists stormed the Capitol seeking to halt the counting of electoral votes marking Biden's election victory. Authorities are concerned about Biden's inauguration but also feared extremists might attempt to disrupt Wednesday's impeachment proceedings. In a bipartisan 232-197 vote, the House voted to impeach Trump for inciting the mob, making him the first president in U.S. history to be so sanctioned twice. No security issues were reported.
"This is unprecedented," said Charles H. Ramsey, who helped oversee security for two inaugurations as Washington's police chief from 1998 to 2006. "We have had security challenges before, but nothing on this scale, because we actually had the Capitol breached."
The Secret Service, which coordinates security for the inauguration, took command of the preparations Wednesday, more than week ahead of schedule. The FBI and other federal law enforcement agencies were investigating thousands of leads and intelligence reports about threats to disrupt the ceremony or riot in the streets, officials said.
National Guard troops deployed at the Capitol and on the streets of Washington were authorized to carry firearms late Tuesday, a break with tradition that reflected the heightening security concerns, a senior defense official said.
That change "was requested by federal authorities," the National Guard said in a statement, adding that "the public's safety is our top priority."
President Donald Trump, who last week help incite the mob at a White House rally that later took over the U.S. Capitol, urged restraint in a written statement released by the White House on Wednesday.