Politics, Americas, US Elections 2020

US: After the insurrection and before the inauguration

A shaken nation braces for more potential Trump-inspired violence

Andy Roesgen   | 15.01.2021
US: After the insurrection and before the inauguration

CHICAGO, Illinois 

Don't call what happened at the US Capitol in Washington D.C. last week a "failed" insurrection.

For many supporters of President Donald Trump, it was a resounding success.

Spencer and Denise, a Trump-supporting middle-aged couple from Panama City Beach, Florida, walked away from the Capitol last week, as rioting roared through its halls, impressed by what they saw.

"I thought it was awesome," they said in unison. "We enjoyed it".

"They stole [the election] from us," said Denise, "so we're fighting to get it back."

"That [the riot] is minor to all the stuff that led up to this," Spencer added, using a common Trump-supporter refrain that last summer's rioting over police treatment of Black people was far worse.

Over a hundred accused Capitol rioters (and counting) across the country have been hunted down by FBI agents, paraded in mug shots and "perp" walks at courthouses, many fired from their jobs, shunned by polite society and condemned by politicians of both parties.

But federal law enforcement officials say far from being humbled and dispirited, the ecosystem of violent-leaning Trump supporters is energized and itching for more.

"We are seeing an extensive amount of concerning online chatter," said FBI Director Christopher Ray on Thursday.

"We're looking at individuals who may have an eye toward repeating that same kind of violence that we saw last week," both at the national and local level, said Ray.

But Ray said it's difficult to distinguish which online chatter is "aspirational" and what's "intentional".

"Our posture is aggressive, and it's going to stay that way through the Inauguration."

State Capitol threats

The FBI announced this week that all 50 state capitols are under threat of armed protests, and already, that's happening: a group of armed vigilantes in Michigan say they will demonstrate outside Michigan's capitol in Lansing on Sunday. Barricades are being erected outside.

In fact, the capitols in Michigan and neighboring Wisconsin could be the most vulnerable to armed protests.

At Wisconsin's capitol, in Madison, the first floor windows have been boarded up.

Both states are governed by Democrats; Trump lost both states in the 2020 election after narrowly winning them in 2016, and the Trump campaign has filed multiple lawsuits (unsuccessfully) in both states to overturn the election results.

Both state capitols saw heavily armed protesters demonstrating last spring; at Michigan's capitol, demonstrators carrying assault weapons actually walked screaming into the capitol, which many feel was a precursor to the insurrection in Washington. And last fall, more than a dozen militia members in Michigan were arrested, accused of plotting to kidnap the Governor of Michigan and possibly storm the capitol.

A woman named Peggy strolled past the Wisconsin capitol on Tuesday, horrified by the threats.

"I think it's a travesty, a terrible attack on democracy. I sure hope we don't have any problems here. I and everyone I know are just shocked and disgusted that this could happen. And we actually think the President should have been gone the next day (after the Capitol riot)."

Militarized zone 

What is normally a celebration of democracy - the inauguration of a new President - has turned into a nail-biting fear of violence in Washington. Everyone from the city's mayor to the head of the FBI is telling ordinary Americans to stay home.

The US Capitol, where the inauguration of Joe Biden will happen Wednesday on the very steps that rioters clashed violently with police, is surrounded by massive layers of security and armed National Guard members.

At the start of the week, about 15,000 National Guard troops were on duty, and sleeping in the halls of the Capitol; by the end of the week, that number had risen to 21,000.

The protection ripples out from the Capitol in waves. Barbed wire fencing rings the Capitol; and farther out, a ring of National Guardsmen; and farther out, a ring of concrete barriers; and farther out, a ring of more fencing. Vehicles and pedestrians are being stopped at checkpoints. The National Mall, on which last week's rioters marched toward the Capitol, is closed.

Train stations close to the Capitol are already shut down; President-elect Biden had hoped to take a train (his favored method of travel) from his home in Delaware, to the Capitol for the inauguration. That plan has been scuttled.

The Secret Service, which is the nation's lead agency in protecting the inauguration, has called this a "zero fail mission", confident that things will run smoothly. But multiple sources inside the Secret Service have told news agencies they are very concerned.

And while many have suggested that the inauguration should be moved indoors, the Biden team has been adamant, so far, that holding the inauguration outdoors, as customary, is a sign that they won't be cowed by last week's mob.

Meantime, for any repeat trouble-makers, the FBI's Wray is talking tough.

Americans "may not see the FBI's hand in everything we do, but they should be confident that there's an awful lot of work all around the country, behind the scenes."

"From January 6th alone, we've already identified over 200 suspects. We know who you are and FBI agents are coming to find you."

But hard-core Trump supporters remain unbowed.

"America will never be the same," Denise told me outside the Capitol insurrection.

And what happens next?

"Civil war," she chirped.

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