The stage is set for President-elect Donald Trump’s inauguration – not just the traditional swearing-in platform on Capitol Hill, but a massive security presence amid protest plans to “shut down” the nation’s capital.
Most crowd estimates for the Jan. 20 festivities are far short of the record-setting 1.8 million visitors for President Obama’s historic 2009 inauguration. But the throngs of spectators and protesters alike are enough to create transit, security and hospitality challenges.
“Security is my greatest concern,” Missouri GOP Sen. Roy Blunt, chairman of the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies, recently said. “No question that on inaugural day, this would be the most appealing target in the world.”
He suggested the city could have as many as 750,000 demonstrators alone.
More than three-dozen law enforcement agencies are working together on security and safety plans in anticipation, including the Capitol Police, FBI, Secret Service and National Guard.
Roughly 7,500 Guardsmen from across the country will come to Washington, along with about 3,000 police officers from various states, with the Secret Service taking the lead on security.
Essentially everybody involved already is rehearsing for the big weekend, which kicks off next Friday morning with the swearings-in on the Capitol’s West Front, followed by official events including the traditional parade on Pennsylvania Avenue to the White House and the inaugural balls.
The Joint Task Force — National Capital Region — 58th Presidential Inauguration has held several “table top” sessions in which agencies plot strategy over a large-scale, three-dimensional map.
“It’s a rehearsal, but in the military we call it a drill,” Navy Cmdr. Jonathan Blyth, the group’s spokesman, told FoxNews.com on Wednesday. “We’ve been preparing for this since the last inauguration. We’re focused to protecting and honoring a new commander in chief.”
The task force and its Capitol Hill counterpart are holding a “dress rehearsal” this weekend for the swearings-in, the Presidential Review of troops and the parade along the roughly 2.5-mile stretch of Pennsylvania Avenue.
Several protest groups planning large-scale demonstrations have permits in place and have already held organizational meetings, among them the collaborative DisruptJ20.
“We’re planning a series of massive, direct actions that will shut down the inauguration ceremonies and any related celebrations,” the group says. “We’re also planning to paralyze the city.”
Organizers say they are targeting everything from the parade to the balls and plan to use blockades and protesters to stop traffic, public transit and parties.
The group RefuseFacism.org is planning a small-scale protest Saturday in the city’s McPherson Square, just blocks from the White House, that organizers hope will grow into larger inauguration-weekend protests.
The group burned U.S. flags this summer at the Democratic and Republican national conventions and this week tried to disrupt the Senate confirmation hearing for Alabama GOP Sen. Jeff Sessions to become Trump’s attorney general.
“I wouldn’t want to meet with [Trump], but I would say to him, ‘You’re a fascist. Your regime is illegitimate.’ And it must not be allowed to take power,” the group’s Carl Dix told Fox on Wednesday on Capitol Hill. Dix acknowledged the group doesn’t have a federal or city permit to protest but still intends to “stop the regime.”
The two major groups with permits are a pro-Trump organization and the ANSWER Coalition, which turned out the largest anti-war protests during the Bush years and next weekend has a permit for a mass protest at Freedom Plaza, near the parade route.
The other group is Bikers for Trump, a familiar presence on last year’s campaign trail and visitors to both 2016 major-party conventions. The group’s permit shows members at John Marshall Park, near the Canadian Embassy and close to the parade route.
The biggest protest is expected to take place the following day — the Women’s March on Washington. Organizers have finally received a permit and estimate 200,000 attendees, with celebrities such as Amy Schumer and Scarlett Johansson reportedly among them.
Blyth said the big variable next weekend, as usual, will be the weather.
Eight inches of snow fell the night before John F. Kennedy’s inauguration in 1961.
“The weather is always the biggest challenge,” Blyth said. “We’re reading the Farmer’s Almanac and always checking forecasts.”
The 58th Presidential Inaugural Committee will hold at least two official — or “sanctioned” — balls.
Among the other balls that week will be the Deplorables Inaugural Ball, at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center, and the Salute to the Heroes Inaugural Ball, at the Renaissance hotel downtown.
Trump boasted this week that so many people are attending balls and other events that dress shops are sold out. However, Calypso St. Barts women’s shop, in Georgetown, said Wednesday it has plenty of options still available.
“We still have many nice pieces, including some cocktail dresses,” store manager Briona Jackson said. “We have items on sale and can get gowns from our other stores.”