The entire National Mall was shut to the public Friday morning as one of the many unprecedented security measures being taken to protect next week’s inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden.
Citing last week’s violent riot at the Capitol, the National Park Service instituted a “temporary public closure” of the National Mall at the request of the U.S. Secret Service.
“The unprecedented nature of the recent civil unrest at the U.S. Capitol coupled with the real and substantial threat of violence and unlawful behavior poses an unprecedented public safety and security challenge,” Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt said in a statement.
The two-mile length of the National Mall stretches from the Capitol to the Potomac River, along which lies the Washington Monument, the World War II Memorial, and the Lincoln Memorial. Presidential inaugurations used to be held on the east side of the Capitol until President Ronald Reagan, who moved them in 1981 to the west side in front of the National Mall.
Traditionally, the public has gathered on the National Mall to watch the inauguration ceremony on large jumbotrons, but with the twin threats of COVID-19 and domestic terrorism, the proceedings will be virtual. As Bernhardt wrote:
As has been reported by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the National Counterterrorism Center, and the Department of Homeland Security, the violent breach of the U.S. Capitol by Domestic Violent Extremists (DVEs) on January 6, 2021, could serve as a driver for future targeted violence directed towards government officials, federal landmarks, members of the media, and members of the general public. Specifically, DVEs could exploit upcoming events to engage in or justify violence during the Presidential Inauguration and the NSSE period in Washington, DC. Furthermore, the violent breach of the U.S. Capitol is very likely part of an ongoing trend in which DVEs attempt to exploit lawful protests, rallies, demonstrations and other gatherings to carry out ideologically-motivated violence and criminal activities.
Groups involved in the January 6, 2021 riots at the US Capitol continue to threaten to disrupt the 59th presidential inauguration on January 20, 2021. This includes the set up and execution of the now truncated and largely virtual inaugural events that will be staged on National Park Service areas at the National Mall, President’s Park, and on some portions of Pennsylvania Avenue Historical Park. These events will be produced solely for a television audience, with no live audience, and there will be no traditional Inaugural Parade.
On Thursday evening, Vice President Mike Pence attended a FEMA briefing with top officials regarding the unprecedented measures being taken to secure the upcoming presidential inauguration against threats. Approximately 20,000 troops are estimated to be on the ground guarding much of the nation’s capital, which is under a lockdown that encompasses not just the Capitol and National Mall, but also large parts of downtown and the Capitol Hill neighborhood.
FBI Director Christopher Wray, who attended the briefing, warned that the bureau is seeing “an extensive amount of concerning online chatter” about threats to the inaugural proceedings. “We’re concerned about the potential for violence at multiple protests and rallies,” he said, both in D.C. and at state capitols across the country.