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What The U.S. Capitol Looks Like Ahead Of The Inauguration

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

And I'm Mary Louise Kelly in Washington, where, on a Friday, downtown streets are closed. The National Mall is closed. The National Guard is already everywhere. And up to 21,000 guardsmen are authorized to be on hand in the runup to next Wednesday's presidential inauguration. Local authorities, federal authorities - they are announcing other security measures. You can already see them, barricades and fences and so on as you move around the streets here. All this, of course, in the wake of the siege of the U.S. Capitol and concerns about more attacks by right-wing extremists. Well, NPR's Greg Myre is a block from the U.S. Capitol. He joins me now. Hey, Greg.

GREG MYRE, BYLINE: Hi, Mary Louise.

KELLY: Hey, where exactly are you? What can you see?

MYRE: Well, what - from where I'm standing, a block or so from the Capitol, it looks like a military staging area because that's exactly what it is. There are thousands and thousands of National Guard personnel in camouflage with M4 rifles, helmets, backpacks. There's a black metal fence that is being dragged as we speak here that goes around the Capitol, up and down the Mall. There's about 7,000 National Guardsmen deployed at the moment. That number is expected to rise now to 25,000 by Inauguration Day.

Once you get outside the perimeter, you know, outside the Mall and the perimeter here, there's still some foot traffic in downtown. Some cars are still going, filling the streets. But shops are boarding up right now. And one thing we should note - that the events of last week really concentrated the mind. There's no way you could have a large gathering on the Capitol grounds or near the Capitol grounds. So because of all this security, we certainly won't see a repeat of last week, although there certainly are other concerns.

KELLY: Yeah. Well, and I don't know if that's wind or a helicopter we can hear behind you, but I know that helicopters feel like they've become the soundtrack of my life, living a mile or two from where you are now. I'm just thinking, you know, you and I have both spent time on assignment in war zones. We saw Washington after 9/11. I have never seen the Capitol of the United States as militarized as it is at this moment. What do we actually know about the threat level right now?

MYRE: Well, there's a lot of concern. As early as this weekend, there were a lot of events planned around the country before the events of January 6. So there's a big concern about state capitols, that some events could start taking place there as soon as this weekend. The FBI and others who are monitoring online chatter are concerned. And I think there's a lot of concern about small groups or lone individuals as well. A lot of interagency meetings in the different security branches are going on. The FBI says from last week's events they've made about a hundred arrests and have 275 cases going, so lots of balls in the air right now.

KELLY: Here in D.C., Greg, are they going to let anybody be out and about? Are there any authorized protests in D.C. on Inauguration Day?

MYRE: Well, surprisingly, the Park Service has approved two small First Amendment-type demonstrations on Pennsylvania Avenue, not too far from the White House, apparently just outside the security perimeter. These will be limited to about a hundred people or so on Inauguration Day and unarmed, of course, but still a little surprising that two demonstrations will have permission.

KELLY: One more question about next Wednesday, which is, who is in charge this time around trying to prevent the kinds of problems, using the term problems mildly, that we saw on January 6?

MYRE: So the Secret Service will certainly be in charge of President-elect Biden as he's being inaugurated and those around him. These thousands and thousands of National Guard personnel will be in charge of the wider ceremony in the Mall area. You've got the D.C. Police, Capitol Police as well. One thing to remember, President Trump is still the commander-in-chief of these National Guardspeople until next Wednesday, but he hasn't shown much interest in it. Vice President Pence came and talked to the National Guard. He's called Kamala Harris. He's met with the FBI. He's been the point person at the White House.

KELLY: That is NPR's Greg Myre reporting from as close as you can get at the moment to the U.S. Capitol. Thank you, Greg.

MYRE: My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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