Thinking of visiting Washington DC in the next week or so? The universe is telling you to steer clear of nation’s capital until after the US Presidential Inauguration.
First, there’s the FBI memo to law enforcement agencies across the country warning of armed protests being planned for Washington in the next eight days. The National Guard expects about 10,000 troops in Washington by Saturday, with authorization for up to 15,000 troops.
The Department of Homeland Security has extended the National Special Security Event (NSSE) period from Wednesday, January 13, through Sunday, January 24, due to multiple threats of insurrection and violence. A NSSE designation allows the U.S. Secret Service, the FBI and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to work together to secure areas that may be targets.
In practical terms for visitors, all of this means a prolonged period of many blocked streets, barricaded areas and an amplified police presence, as well as closures for some top attractions.
For instance, the U.S. National Park Service has closed the Washington Monument through January 24 due to the continuing threats from the far-right groups threatening to disrupt the inauguration. “This includes the set up and execution of inaugural events, which occur in several park areas,” per a statement from the National Park Service.
With ramped-up security, food and beverage stands and public restrooms have been closed along the National Mall. A seven-foot-tall non-scalable fence erected around the U.S. Capitol is expected to stay there for a month.
Per Covid-19 guidance by the DC government, many museums in DC had already been temporarily suspended before the Capitol riot. These include eight Smithsonian museums, the National Gallery of Art and the Holocaust Museum. A three-week ban on indoor dining in the District runs through Thursday.
Joe Biden and Kamala Harris don’t want you in DC. Their Presidential Inauguration Committee is encouraging Americans to watch the inauguration online. “The public is strongly encouraged to refrain from traveling to Washington, D.C., as the footprint for inaugural events will be limited and activities like the parade will be reimagined,” says the committee website. “The swearing-in ceremony will be live streamed and broadcasted for the country and world to watch.”
Normally, the District of Columbia’s mayor serves as an enthusiastic de facto tourism ambassador. But Washington DC Mayor Muriel Bowser has unequivocally told visitors to stay away from her city for the time being, saying the right-wing groups threatening to gather before and during the inauguration are different from the peaceful protesters the capital normally welcomes for inaugurations.
Last night, President Trump seemed to acknowledge the elevated danger by granting Bowser her request for a pre-emergency declaration in the District, which means the federal government will reimburse her city for costs related to emergency protective measures such as overtime and hazardous-duty pay.
Even the District’s tourism organization is on board with missing out on the tens of thousands of visitors that would normally come for the transfer of power from one U.S. President to another. “We are expecting a smaller crowd than a typical inauguration,” according to a Destination DC spokesperson. “Key factors are: can visitors go out to eat at a restaurant, or go to a museum, which will be based on Mayor Bowser’s guidelines surrounding the current pandemic.”
Speaking at a news conference yesterday, Bowser said she was particularly worried about violence in the run-up to the inauguration. “If I’m scared of anything, it’s for our democracy, because we have very extreme factions in our country that are armed and dangerous,” she said, adding that her goal was “to protect the District of Columbia from a repeat of the violent insurrection experienced at the Capitol and its grounds on January 6.”