Federal authorities overseeing the far-flung security plan for next week's inauguration of President-elect Donald Trump are fortifying a perimeter around the Capitol to account for the threat of deadly truck attacks similar to recent assaults in Germany and France that left dozens dead.
Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said Friday that while there were "no specific or credible threats'' targeting the inauguration events, security forces were "doubling down'' to thwart the type of vehicle attacks that killed 12 last month at a Berlin Christmas market and left 86 dead at a July Bastille Day celebration in Nice.
Johnson, who briefed reporters at a Northern Virginia command center, said heavy construction equipment, dumpsters and other physical barriers were being strategically placed around the city. The barriers will restrict vehicle access to sensitive areas and assist with crowd control during three days of activities when up to 900,000 people are expected to flood the city. The 1.8 million people who attended the 2009 inauguration of President Obama stands as the record for inaugurations.
"The global terror environment is very different even from 2013,'' the secretary said, referring to the last inaugural ceremony marking Obama's second term. "We have to be concerned about individual acts of violent extremism.''
Counter-terrorism officials have been increasingly concerned in recent years of the recruitment campaign waged by the Islamic State terror group, whose operatives have been urging sympathizers to lash out against domestic targets rather than risk travel to the battlefields in Syria and Iraq.
Although terrorism and potential attacks from individual extremists remain top concerns of security planners charged with ensuring a peaceful transfer of power, the anticipated surge in demonstrations, both permitted and unsanctioned, also are figuring prominently. The security operation involves 28,000 security officials, including 7,800 drawn from the ranks of the National Guard.
Johnson said 99 protest groups, more than 10 times of the average number at past inaugurations, are expected. At least 63 of those groups are slated to demonstrate on Inauguration Day.
D.C. police have said they are aware of the online boasts of some groups who have vowed to "shut down'' events. Johnson said Friday that those threats have been factored in to the overall plan, though he declined to elaborate.
The largest single group of demonstrators, up to 200,000, are expected to participate in the Women's March on Washington, a coalition of civil and human rights advocates, scheduled to parade through D.C. the day following Trump's Jan 20 swearing-in.
"We've got to be vigilant, we've got to plan, we've got to be prepared,'' Johnson said. "As long as they are non-violent, (protesters) will be allowed to exercise their First Amendment rights.''
Some of the groups are the same ones who marched and protested during the summer political conventions in Cleveland and Philadelphia, where authorities made few arrests despite early concerns about the possibility of violent clashes.
Chris Geldart, director of D.C.'s Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency, said last week that a delegation from the Washington inaugural security team traveled to Cleveland and Philadelphia to discuss preparations and closely monitored operations in both cities.
"Dealing with protests and demonstrations is something we deal with all of the time,'' Geldart said, adding that local authorities have consistently applied a strategy of "de-escalation'' to deal with potentially volatile groups.
"We will see more protesters here than we have seen in past inaugurations,'' Geldart said. "But we will be ready.''