Americans are being urged not to come to Washington DC for the inauguration of president-elect Joe Biden and vice-president-elect Kamala Harris after last week’s riot at the Capitol Building.
The warning comes as the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) briefed members of Congress overnight, warning of potential for armed protests in all 50 state capitals and Washington DC.
DC Mayor Muriel Bowser has been granted a state of emergency order for the city, but in a public address, she also asked Americans to stay home.
“Our goals right now are to encourage Americans to participate virtually and to protect the District of Columbia from a repeat of the violent insurrection experienced at the Capitol and its grounds on January the 6th,” she said.
She was joined by Mr Biden, who also asked Americans to stay home for his swearing-in, although he told reporters: “I’m not afraid of taking the oath outside”.
With scenes of the Capitol riots still airing daily on national television, current and former federal law enforcement officials are vowing the event will be secure.
Preparations are well underway and DC residents have been told to expect a wide perimeter of roadblocks around the Capitol.
They have also been advised to sign up for emergency text alerts warning of emergencies and curfews.
How has Washington intensified security?
Security at the US Capitol has been ramped up and public access will be severely limited, amid a backdrop of fresh threats of planned violence against the incoming president and vice-president.
The US Secret Service Special Agent in charge of security, Michael Plati, said the inauguration will bear no resemblance to the protests on Capitol Hill last week, citing long-term planning and contingencies that anticipate the possibility of extreme violence.
Unlike the day of the riots last week, anti-scale fencing now circles the perimeter of the Capitol and the Pentagon has authorised up to 15,000 armed National Guard troops to deploy to Washington DC to back up local law enforcement.
The clashes highlighted a security fissure in the District of Columbia, where large swathes of the city are under federal jurisdiction and the Mayor does not have the authority of a state governor to call out the DC National Guard when needed.
The Pentagon reportedly denied her multiple calls for back up as events escalated, only to have the troops arrive well after the worst of the violence had passed.
However, just hours before resigning on Monday (local time), acting Secretary of Homeland Security Chad Wolf agreed to Mayor Bowser’s request to intensify security in the city.
From January 13, the United States Secret Service will assume security control under the designation of a National Special Security Event (NSSE).
Washington mobilises government agencies under one umbrella
While presidential inaugurations have been covered by an NSSE for the past two decades, what makes this unusual is the NSSE designation being invoked this early before an event.
Effectively, the NSSE brings together the Secret Service, the FBI and Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), a former senior Department of Homeland Security official experienced in previous inauguration planning told the ABC.
Speaking on the condition of anonymity, the former official said the National Guard, The Metropolitan Police, Emergency services, White House staff, medical facilities, utility services and others will be kept apprised of intelligence, planning and preparation at a single communication centre.
“Every American, not only those on Capitol Hill, should find solace in the weight and force of the entire US Government being brought to bear on the planning and security needed to ensure this event is successful and safe.”
Former senior Secret Service agent Don Mihalek, who served during two presidential transitions, told the ABC that putting the security umbrella in place early makes sense given the emerging threats.
Mr Mihalek said one of the first steps in an NSSE was to determine what went wrong at the Capitol last week.
“I would expect a full review of what happened on January 6th, from the intelligence failures, to where the breaches took place, the lack of fencing — compare it all to the current NSSE planning and close those gaps,” Mr Mihalek said.
Watching the riots on air, Mr Mihalek later discovered his brother — a Capitol Police officer — was among the officers called to the scene of a pipe bomb outside the headquarters of the Republican National Committee, just blocks from the Capitol.
“My immediate reaction was to call my brother in the Capitol Police,” he said.
“I wanted him to be safe and the rest of his colleagues to be safe. I hoped the tension would dissipate — it clearly didn’t.”
Five deaths have been associated with the riots on January 6, including one officer who died from injuries sustained during the violence.
Yet, when asked about the current threats against the Capitol next week, the former agent said he was “very confident the inauguration will be safe and secure because I know the work the Secret Service does and the level of planning that takes place”.
Mr Mihalek said the events of January 6 would “clearly affect” morale in the short-term, but in the long-term, “no law enforcement officer worth their salt wants a repeat” of what happened.
“They’re going to be 120 per cent on their game and I’m positive they’ll have the resources and planning they need,” he said.