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D.C. battens down amid threats of violent protests, tense Inauguration Day

Members of the New York National Guard stand guard at the U.S. Capitol Building on Tuesday. (Robb Hill/For The Washington Post)

Fences were going up across downtown Washington, and National Guard troops took up posts on street corners Tuesday, part of a sweeping lockdown aimed at heading off any unrest during a weekend of right-wing protests and the presidential inauguration that follows.

Officials said the massive security cordon could grow even larger in the District in coming days as they consider shuttering hotels, stopping some Metro service and denying permits for demonstrations, fearing another wave of violence like the one that rocked the U.S. Capitol last week.

Already, D.C. officials said local and federal law enforcement were establishing a perimeter around the White House, the Capitol and part of downtown Washington that allows them to conduct security screenings on anyone entering the area over the next week. The moves come as new threats of violence circulate on social media and on Internet forums.

Those measures will be bolstered by up to 15,000 National Guard troops and 3,000 to 4,000 law enforcement officers from across the country who will be deputized to enforce laws in the District for the inauguration, officials said. The city also is deploying all of its 3,700 police officers.

D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) and Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) met with troops from the Virginia National Guard on Tuesday who will remain stationed in Washington through the inauguration, giving the city the feel of an armed camp.

“I just want you all to know that we’re very proud of you,” Northam said to a group of 50 troops before meeting with National Guard leaders separately. “We all know what happened here on Wednesday — an armed insurrection in the cradle of democracy.”

“It’s our job to defend democracy,” he told them.

D.C. pleads for low attendance, federal help as tense Inauguration Day approaches

The preparations were underway the day before a heightened period of security begins that will run through the inauguration on Jan. 20. The designation allows federal agencies, including the FBI and Secret Service, to secure certain areas that may be targets for violence.

But even before Joe Biden is sworn in as president, the FBI has warned of protests by armed right-wing groups in the District and state capitals across the country on Sunday and other days that have prompted additional worries.

Bowser, who has urged all Americans to stay away from Washington during the inauguration and who issued a late-night order on Monday closing indoor dining and museums to make the city less hospitable to tourists, said Tuesday that she also will consider mandating closures or restrictions on hotels.

D.C. officials also are negotiating with the National Park Service over the city’s request that the Park Service not issue permits for mass gatherings on federal land this week or next.

Both Bowser and Northam blamed President Trump, whose supporters stormed the Capitol after his false claims that he had won the election, for the level of threat.

“The president’s comments, his continued lies that he has been telling about the fact that the election was stolen — they hear this over and over again, and that’s what they believe. What the president has created is literally a tinderbox,” Northam said.

Bowser added: “What we saw last Wednesday clearly incited a riot. But it didn’t start last Wednesday. It’s been building for many months.”

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) said the District could be subject to even tighter restrictions, including Metro closures and shutdowns.

“There are ongoing discussions about securing the nation’s capital, not just the immediate site around the Capitol itself, but the entire city,” Hogan said during a news conference in Annapolis.

Rep. Gerald E. Connolly (D-Va.) said Capitol Police briefed House Democrats on Monday night about credible threats targeting Democrats on Inauguration Day and the days leading up to it. One included a call for “4,000 armed patriots” to encircle the Capitol to prevent Democrats from entering, including by using violence, while other extremists threatened to kill Democrats, he said.

“If you weren’t worried or too worried going into that security briefing, you certainly left the security briefing very worried,” Connolly said.

Calls for a “Million Militia March” on Inauguration Day have for weeks proliferated in online chat groups used by the far right, including Parler and Telegram. Organizations including the Proud Boys, Three Percenters, Oath Keepers and Boogaloo Boys have indicated plans to come to the District.

Some event listings for the days ahead of the inauguration are mentioning delivering “justice” for Ashli Babbitt, a rioter and Air Force veteran who was fatally shot by police during the insurrection last week.

‘The storm is here.’ Ashli Babbitt’s journey from capital ‘guardian’ to invader

A new symbol, a flag bearing the outline of a woman’s face juxtaposed with the Capitol building and four stars that far-right groups say represent the four “patriots” who died during the Capitol siege, is being shared in far-right chat groups and channels with the message, “They can’t kill us all.”

The U.S. Park Police on Tuesday said the agency was “monitoring for potential threats” on and around Inauguration Day by working with other federal agencies to evaluate threats.

“We are maintaining a heightened presence throughout Inauguration and are prepared to address any criminal activity or safety and security concerns,” Sgt. Roselyn Norment said in an email Tuesday.

Police forces outside the city are pitching in, with Prince George’s police and Virginia State Police among those sending officers to the nation’s capital.

But the concerns are not limited to the District.

In Maryland, the state’s Capitol Police are coordinating with Annapolis, Anne Arundel County and Maryland State police forces to defend the State House complex from any threats this weekend. However, the governor said police are not aware of a credible, specific threat against the Annapolis complex.

“A lot of this is real, and a lot of it is fake,” Hogan said regarding Internet chatter of protests. “We don’t have a specific threat that we zeroed in on, not nearly the kind of threats that they were kind of ignoring in Washington last week.”

The governor added that the state still will have ample security with 1,000 Guardsmen deployed to the District.

In Virginia, law enforcement officials briefed members of the General Assembly about security issues on Tuesday afternoon ahead of the legislative session getting underway on Wednesday.

Authorities said they had few specific security concerns about the session itself, but that they remain on heightened alert in the days leading up to the presidential inauguration. A particular focus is a large pro-gun caravan scheduled to swarm Richmond streets on Monday, said Brian Moran, the state’s secretary for public safety.

“The intel suggests that we need to be prepared for protests through the weekend and through possibly inauguration,” Moran said Tuesday in an interview. “We’re going to prepare for a week-long effort to be sure everyone is safe here in the commonwealth.”

In Richmond, Capitol Square is going to be closed off and no permits are being honored for demonstrations there, according to the Department of General Services.

Meagan Flynn, Emily Davies, Dan Morse, Katie Mettler and Rachel Weiner contributed to this report.

The Jan. 6 insurrection

The report: The Jan. 6 committee released its final report, marking the culmination of an 18-month investigation into the violent insurrection. Read The Post’s analysis about the committee’s new findings and conclusions.

The final hearing: The House committee investigating the attack on the U.S. Capitol held its final public meeting where members referred four criminal charges against former president Donald Trump and others to the Justice Department. Here’s what the criminal referrals mean.

The riot: On Jan. 6, 2021, a pro-Trump mob stormed the U.S. Capitol in an attempt to stop the certification of the 2020 election results. Five people died on that day or in the immediate aftermath, and 140 police officers were assaulted.

Inside the siege: During the rampage, rioters came perilously close to penetrating the inner sanctums of the building while lawmakers were still there, including former vice president Mike Pence. The Washington Post examined text messages, photos and videos to create a video timeline of what happened on Jan. 6. Here’s what we know about what Trump did on Jan. 6.