TheNational hamburger logo

Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 28 February 2021

Washington quiet before presidential inauguration

Security concerns after January 6 riot on Capitol Hill have turned city into 'ghost town'

The US Capitol building behind caution tape and several layers of security. Willy Lowry / The National
The US Capitol building behind caution tape and several layers of security. Willy Lowry / The National

As the sun sets on Donald Trump’s presidency, the US capital has become a fortified “ghost town”.

On Tuesday, tens of thousands of National Guard troops patrolled the streets around the US Capitol building, the National Mall and the White House.

The day before the inauguration of the new president, there were dozens of police checkpoints and heavily armed men and women at nearly every corner of the city centre.

Covid-19 and the high security surrounding president-elect Joe Biden and vice president-elect Kamala Harris’s inauguration has made the city look more like a closed-down movie set than the bustling capital of the world’s oldest democracy.

“It’s basically a ghost town, other than the fact of all the military activity. It’s kind of wild to me,” said Gerald Kelly, 53.

Gerald Kelly poses on New Jersey Avenue in front of the US Capitol building in Washington. Willy Lowry / The National
Gerald Kelly poses on New Jersey Avenue in front of the US Capitol building in Washington. Willy Lowry / The National

Mr Kelly has lived in Washington for several years but has never seen the city quite like this.

Eager to see just how secure it was, he wandered down New Jersey Avenue, a thoroughfare leading to the Capitol building.

At the corner of H Street, he was met by two large military vehicles surrounded by National Guard troops blocking the street, despite being several blocks from the Capitol.

Behind the troops, the sun glinted off the building’s picturesque dome.

It was there that less than two weeks ago, supporters of Mr Trump rampaged through the sacred halls of the republic, unnerving the nation and eliciting the unprecedented security presence across the city.

US National Guard troops question a driver at a checkpoint in Washington ahead of the presidential inauguration. Willy Lowry / The National
US National Guard troops question a driver at a checkpoint in Washington ahead of the presidential inauguration. Willy Lowry / The National

“What happened on January 6 was extraordinary, nothing that I had ever seen in my lifetime," said Daniel Nester, 60.

"And as an American, I think we have to do whatever we have to do to make sure that that doesn't happen again."

Among Washingtonians, there is a sense of resigned acceptance that the hassle caused by all the road closures and security presence is worth it.

“We have to protect the president and the vice president,” Mr Kelly said.

For Mr Nester, who was hoping to take a picture of the National Mall, filled with 19,500 American flags in lieu of the people who would usually fill it on inauguration day, the logistical headache will be worth it if Wednesday’s transition of power goes ahead peacefully.

“We can’t even get close and I understand that it’s a dangerous time and it’s necessary to keep us all safe, and I’m hoping tomorrow is a smooth day and the next four years are also smooth,” he said.

Stay at home celebrations

With public celebrations cancelled, residents of the US capital are getting creative with how they will welcome Mr Biden and Ms Harris to the city.

One resident is encouraging her neighbours to place lights in their windows starting at dusk on inauguration night.

Celina Gerbic originally conceived of the idea, which she calls IllumiNATION DC, as a way for locals to meaningfully participate in the inauguration during the Covid-19 pandemic.

After the attack on the Capitol, Ms Gerbic is encouraging everyone in the city “to bring light and hope to the nation’s capital.”

Another resident, Elaine Billie, is inviting her neighbours in LeDroit Park to fill their community circle with decorations.

Elaine Billie's hand painted decoration hangs from a tree in the LeDroit Park Neighbourhood of Washington. Courtesy of Elaine Billie
Elaine Billie's hand painted decoration hangs from a tree in the LeDroit Park Neighbourhood of Washington. Courtesy of Elaine Billie

Others across the city are planning to ring bells and bang pots and pans the moment the oath is finished with Mr Biden speaking the words: “So help me God.”

‘What I envision is at the moment Joe Biden completes the oath of office that we – the residents, churches and institutions of the nation’s capital – collectively raise our voices loudly enough to usher in the occasion with the celebratory spirit it deserves,” John Kelley, who lives in Truxton Circle, posted on a neighbourhood app.

“Four full minutes should ring in the new presidency."

Updated: January 20, 2021 04:12 AM

EDITOR'S PICKS
NEWSLETTERS
Sign up to:

* Please select one

Most Read