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U.S. military secures Washington, D.C. ahead of Biden inauguration amid FBI concerns of internal threat

Last Updated Jan 18, 2021 at 7:07 am PDT

With the U.S. Capitol in the background, members of the National Guard change shifts as they exit through anti-scaling security fencing on Saturday, Jan. 16, 2021, in Washington as security is increased ahead of the inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
Summary

Preparations are underway in Washington, D.C. ahead of Biden's inauguration on Wednesday

There are 25,000 U.S. National Guard members on security detail around the Capitol with fears of pro-Trump violence

FBI says there are concerns about possible inside attack from far-right sympathizers

WASHINGTON, D.C. – With troops on every corner, Washington, D.C. has become a fortress ahead of Joe Biden’s inauguration this week. But there are worries from the FBI about the possibility of an insider attack.

Concerns have prompted the FBI to vet all of the 25,000 National Guard troops coming into the U.S. capital for the event, which takes place on Wednesday.

With fears of pro-Trump violence on Inauguration Day, armoured vehicles are blocking intersections, there are endless spans of steel fencing, and soldiers can be seen everywhere.

To prevent an insider threat from guardsmen on security duty at the Capitol who may sympathize with far-right extremists, the army and FBI are working together.

So far, defense officials have said there is no evidence of any internal threats and that nothing has been flagged.

“We’re continually going through the process, and taking second, third looks at every one of the individuals assigned to this operation,” Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy told The Associated Press in an interview after he and other military leaders went through an exhaustive, three-hour security drill in preparation for Wednesday. He said Guard members are also getting training on how to identify potential insider threats.

There are at least two and a half times the number of National Guard members streaming into Washington for this inauguration than there have been for previous ones. And while the military routinely reviews service members for extremist connections, the FBI screening is in addition to any previous monitoring.

Multiple officials said the process began as the first Guard troops began deploying to D.C. more than a week ago. And they said it is slated to be complete by Wednesday. Several officials discussed military planning on condition of anonymity.

“The question is, is that all of them? Are there others?” said McCarthy. “We need to be conscious of it and we need to put all of the mechanisms in place to thoroughly vet these men and women who would support any operations like this.”

In this situation and others like it, the vetting involves running people’s names through databases and watchlists maintained by the FBI to see if anything alarming comes up. That could include involvement in prior investigations or terrorism-related concerns, said David Gomez, a former FBI national security supervisor in Seattle.

This comes after violence at the Capitol building earlier this month, ahead of Congress’ certification of Biden’s presidential win. Mobs of Trump supporters took to the building, breaching the Capitol, where five people eventually died in the chaos.

The insurrection at the Capitol began after Trump made incendiary remarks at the Jan. 6 rally. According to McCarthy, service members from across the military were at that rally, but it’s not clear how many were there or who may have participated in the Capitol breach.

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Gen. Daniel R. Hokanson, chief of the National Guard Bureau, has been meeting with Guard troops as they arrive in D.C. and as they gather downtown. He said he believes there are good processes in place to identify any potential threats.

“If there’s any indication that any of our soldiers or airmen are expressing things that are extremist views, it’s either handed over to law enforcement or dealt with the chain of command immediately,” he said.

On Sunday, dozens of military, National Guard, law enforcement and Washington, D.C., officials and commanders went through a security rehearsal in northern Virginia.

The bulk of the Guard members will be armed. And McCarthy said units are going through repeated drills to practice when and how to use force and how to work quickly with law enforcement partners. Law enforcement officers would make any arrests.

President Donald Trump has said he will not be attending the Biden inauguration. This comes as he continues to come under fire for inflammatory comments and repeated claims of voter fraud.