On the floor of an Army post two miles south of the Capitol on Friday, soldiers moved index cards representing groups of roving protesters around a giant map of Washington. Then they plotted where to post police and National Guard soldiers to ensure the presidential inauguration is not disrupted.
Planning for protesters is taking up more bandwidth ahead of the quadrennial festivities in the District than at any time in over a decade, since thousands sought to overshadow the second inauguration of President George W. Bush in 2005, officials say.
The number of those who might converge in the District this month to protest the inauguration of President-elect Donald Trump is unclear. But dozens of groups have applied for permits, and more than 100,000 have registered online that they plan to participate in a march the day after the Jan. 20 inauguration.
In light of those early indications, authorities on Friday dedicated a large share of a rare, joint news conference with D.C. police and the Secret Service to stress that they will respect the rights of those demonstrating. In return, the authorities said, they expect the gatherings will remain peaceful.
D.C. Homeland Security Director Chris Geldart brought up the issue before any reporter did so:
“To anticipate questions about potential protester demonstrations,” Geldart said, “our goal is always to make sure that people can come, express their rights peacefully and lawfully, regardless of subject matter, and ensure everybody returns home safely at the end of the day.”
Brian Ebert, special agent in charge of the Washington Field Office for the Secret Service, added in response to reporters’ questions that authorities would not seek to corral protesters into designated areas.
“The Secret Service respects the rights of the public to demonstrate and voice their views,” Ebert said. “We expect that a lot of folks are going to come down to Washington, D.C., over the course of the inauguration and exercise their First Amendment rights.”
Acting D.C. police chief Peter Newsham noted that the city has peacefully managed several protests since the election, including one that drew thousands opposed to Trump.
Asked about self-proclaimed anarchist groups that have indicated online that they may seek to disrupt the inauguration, Newsham said the city would be ready.
“The fact that you have some folks who are indicating on social media that they are coming to shut down the inauguration or the events is something that we will be prepared for,” Newsham said.
D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) said that, similarly to previous inaugurations, the city will host approximately 5,000 National Guard troops who will be activated and deployed by the District as well as by governors of several states to help with crowd control.
The city also will host about 3,000 police officers from surrounding states and federal-law-enforcement agencies — nearly doubling the number of police on duty in the city. Surrounding counties in Maryland and Virginia may also be dispatched inside the District to respond to non-inaugural-related 911 emergency calls on Jan. 20.
Beyond security preparations, regional transportation officials on Friday also released a plan similar to recent inaugurals. It will severely restrict movements across a wide swath of downtown D.C. from Jan. 19 to Jan. 21.
Parking will be banned on public streets across a large area of Capitol Hill and for many blocks extending in every direction from the parade route along Pennsylvania Avenue. On Inauguration Day, five downtown Metro stops will also be closed: Archives, Mount Vernon Square, Federal Triangle, Smithsonian and Pentagon.
Generally, officials recommended leaving automobiles far from downtown and taking public transportation to within walking distance of the Mall or parade route.
Asked about recent attacks in Europe, in which terrorists have driven trucks into crowds, Geldart said the District would use many types of blockades to create a buffer zone.
Ebert, of the Secret Service, said the inauguration is the 56th time the agency has designated a gathering as a national security event. About half of those have taken place without incident in the District.
Ebert predicted a successful one again: “We’ve developed a comprehensive, integrated and seamless security plan to ensure a safe environment for our protectees as well as all the general public attending,” he said.