Foreign interference, which can be masked as domestic unrest, is also a concern. If protesters can’t get close to the opening events, Homeland Security officials fear they could turn to cyber interference to obscure Mr Biden’s first words to the nation and the world. There are similar concerns about infrastructure attacks, which may be far from the opening events and which would create a sense of chaos at a moment when Mr Biden is calling for order to be restored.
The Army Secretary’s decision on Tuesday evening to arm some of the National Guard troops sent to Washington came after a meeting with California Democrat Nancy Pelosi. Ms. Pelosi, according to staff members in Congress, called for the Pentagon to adopt a more muscular and proactive stance on inauguration than it did last week when Defense Department officials waited for Trump loyalists to overtake the Capitol before deploying additional troops. And even then, the troops that showed up carried no lethal weapons.
This is in sharp contrast to the National Guard’s response in the spring during the protests against Black Lives Matter. Many states called on National Guard forces, and in Washington, two military helicopters in Chinatown frightened the demonstrators in a show of force, generating winds resembling a tropical storm.
The vast majority of the armed forces in Washington will be the National Guard. A small number of elite commandos of the Joint Special Operations Command, a secret commando based in Fort Bragg, NC, will be available, as with any inauguration, to counter terrorist attacks or other national emergencies, particularly those involving nuclear, chemical or biological weapons.
Pentagon officials express grave concern over protests slated for the inauguration. About 16 groups – some of whom said they would be armed, and most of them made up of die-hard supporters of Mr. Trump – have signed up for protests in Washington, officials said.
A Defense Department official said law enforcement agencies are planning a number of outcomes, including a worst-case scenario where people with firearms try to attack dignitaries, “suicide planes” attempt to fly into the Capitol’s restricted airspace, and even remote-controlled drones that could attack the crowd.
A second Pentagon official expressed concern about a repeat of the pipe bombs placed in Washington last week. The official said law enforcement agencies were also concerned that some protesters threatened to appear in lawmakers’ homes or target their families.
Zolan Kanno-Youngs Contribution to reporting.