No Large Protests In D.C. As President Biden Is Inaugurated
Updated at 3:33 p.m. ET
Militias and mass protests did not appear in Washington, D.C., during President Biden's inauguration Wednesday — a welcome development for security and law enforcement agencies. Some 25,000 National Guard members are in the city, where insurrectionists stormed the U.S. Capitol just two weeks ago.
The FBI warned last week that all 50 state capitals could see violent protests from people who refuse to accept Donald Trump's loss to Biden.
But similar to the so-called Million Militia March that fizzled on Sunday, some far-right activists are telling their followers to stand down on Inauguration Day, citing a massive security presence at government buildings in Washington and state capitals.
The National Mall has been closed off to the public since Friday, part of an unprecedented security plan that has ringed the Capitol building with razor wire, fenced off Pennsylvania Avenue and placed dozens of dump trucks to block intersections.
Late Tuesday night, far-right podcaster Nicholas Fuentes told his followers not to go "anywhere near" D.C. or state capitol buildings.
"They are not messing around with this inauguration and they are desperate for an excuse to make an example out of somebody," Fuentes said. "STAY HOME!"
Two weeks ago, when a pro-Trump rally near the White House devolved into a deadly riot at the Capitol, there was only a small security presence amid a sea of red MAGA hats.
On Wednesday, that dynamic was reversed near Black Lives Matter Plaza. Security personnel were all around, with just one red cap — worn by 42-year-old Joe Brunner. The Trump supporter said he worked on the campaign, making hundreds of calls. He also maxed out his credit cards to donate and served as an election monitor.
Brunner said it was hard to see Trump fly away in Marine One. And he worries about the future of the Republican Party. "Trump was our Hail Mary," he said.
Brunner said he thinks there was some election fraud, but not enough to change the election's outcome. Unlike many fellow Trump supporters, Brunner accepts the fact that his guy lost. As Brunner stood at the plaza, a couple Biden supporters spotted his red hat and yelled, "Trump's a loser." Brunner didn't react.
"Yes, at the moment, we are losers," Brunner said. "We lost big time."
Early on Wednesday morning, downtown was deserted, with only few dog walkers out.
Donnell Dickson, 57, a lifelong D.C. resident was part of a Verizon crew that set up wiring and communications for the inauguration.
Dickson said the sight of the locked-down city was new to him. "My mother and father might've seen this, but I've never seen the city like this."
Dickson worked on the past four inaugurations – and he says it's normally so busy that there's little time to eat. This year, he said, it's "kind of disturbing" to see the city resembling a fortress.
NPR reporters in the streets near the Capitol reported no sightings of pro-Trump crowds. Near the National Archives, a group of people gathered outside the Penn Quarter Sports Tavern to watch the inauguration proceedings on a large TV, cheering for the newly sworn-in President Biden and Vice President Harris.
One man who said he's a Trump supporter said he plans to check out a rally near Union Station in the early afternoon. But, he added, if it seems like a bust, "I'm going home."
Several factors seem to have taken the wind out of activists' sails. For one thing, the Justice Department is targeting rioters for crimes committed at the U.S. Capitol, making some activists leery of returning to Washington.
In some states, organizers have warned their supporters that police could use new protests as "false flag" events, concocted to gather people for potential arrest.
"I think in some cases, they think that the events that are planned are honey pots that are created to get them in trouble," Oren Segal of the Anti-Defamation League's Center on Extremism recently told NPR.
Also, Twitter and Facebook have clamped down on accounts and messages that organizers relied on to fan outrage and draw support, and far-right platform Parler went down after Amazon stopped hosting it.
Trump left the White House aboard Marine One shortly after 8:15 a.m. ET Wednesday, heading to Joint Base Andrews. After a brief speech, he boarded Air Force One for a final time, marking the end of a contentious one-term presidency.
Biden's inaugural ceremonies began shortly after 11:30 a.m. ET. The 46th president was sworn in by Chief Justice John Roberts on the Capitol's West Front.
Only around 1,000 people attended the inauguration in person, including former Presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama. Members of Congress also attended. City and federal officials have urged everyone else to watch the ceremony either online or on TV.
David Hernandez, a cannabis legalization activist from New York, was carrying around a large sign reading, "Choose Happy." The 24-year-old was asking passersby to sign it to remind them to celebrate — "no matter how surreal this inauguration is," he said.
Hernandez had gotten a lot of signatures, but also some suspicion. After the recent unrest, he said, people were nervous about putting their names on a stranger's sign.
The National Park Service set aside two areas along Pennsylvania Avenue to accommodate a limited number of demonstrators. Up to 100 people are being allowed to gather in each of the zones.
The areas include John Marshall Park, where demonstrators Jack Curtis and Kyle Contrata headed on Wednesday, carrying a Black Lives Matter flag. They told NPR's Tom Bowman that their goal is to show support for the incoming administration, despite the recent violence from pro-Trump extremists.
According to Curtis, "the idea is not to antagonize these people [Trump supporters] but it's important to be seen."
NPR's Marisa Peñaloza contributed to this report.