Biden inauguration: National Guard troops pour into Washington amid concerns over violent protests

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Members of the National Guard change shifts as they exit through anti-scaling security fencing on Saturday, Jan. 16, 2021, in Washington.
Members of the National Guard change shifts as they exit through anti-scaling security fencing on Saturday, Jan. 16, 2021, in Washington.   -  Copyright  Jacquelyn Martin/AP

Washington DC was abuzz with National Guard troops on Saturday, as governors answered the urgent pleas of US defence officials for more personnel to help safeguard the capital.

Military leaders spent chunks of Thursday evening and Friday calling states in an unprecedented appeal for more National Guard troops to help lock down much of the city in the days before President-elect Joe Biden's inauguration. 

In dribs and drabs, governors responded, some agreeing to send an extra dozen, 100 or even 1,000, while others said no.

The leaders were also keeping an anxious eye on possible violent protests closer to home after the FBI warned of possible marches by armed Trump supporters at the 50 state capitols in the US.

The calls reflect fears that violent extremist groups are targeting the city in the wake of the deadly insurrection at the US Capitol on January 6.

The threats range from armed insurgents to possible attempts to plant explosive devices at so-called soft targets.

Oregon Governor Kate Brown said she turned down the federal request to send at least 100 more National Guard troops to DC because she “didn’t think that we could safely fill that commitment”. 

But others agreed, setting off a dizzying torrent of military flights and convoys into the region.

“The peaceful transfer of power is a central tenet of American democracy, and Connecticut stands ready to aid in the protection of our country,” said Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont, who had initially approved sending 100 Guard and on Friday agreed to send 200 more.

What began in early January as a routine deployment of about 350 members of DC National Guard to help with expected protests exploded over the past two weeks into a vastly greater operation to protect the inauguration and the US Capitol, and to shut down access to the city and many of its historical monuments.

As protesters broke into the building on January 6, just over 100 National Guard were scattered around the city, guarding checkpoints and Metro entrances. 

Hours later, five people were dead, the Capitol was in shambles and all 1,100 of D.C.’s Guard had been activated.

By the next day, as information came in about more violence being planned, requests went out for 6,200 Guard members from the surrounding states.

By Thursday night, as law enforcement and defence heads poured over maps and staged security drills, they concluded they would need at least 25,000 to adequately lock down the Capitol grounds and a large part of DC, including the National Mall. They agreed that the bulk of those Guard will be armed.

Active-duty forces are routinely prepared to respond to emergencies in Washington, such as flight violations in restricted airspace over DC, and a quick reaction force is always on standby. Other active-duty units will take part in various inaugural ceremonies.