Tight Security, Protests Expected at Inauguration


Members of the Navy Honor Guard participate in a presidential escort practice for Obama's second inauguration at Fort Myer in Arlington, Va.

Associated Press + More

By ERIC TUCKER, Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — Tea party fervor has surged and waned in the past four years, Occupy encampments are long gone from parks in the nation's capital, and the crowd for President Barack Obama's second inauguration figures to be significantly smaller than the record-breaking turnout of 2009.

But spectators can still expect the customary tight security long associated with the event — not to mention protesters for assorted causes.

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City and federal officials are implementing measures intended to prevent calamities, such as a terrorist attack, and to address more mundane concerns, such as slow-moving security lines and cold weather. Flight restrictions are in place in the skies over Washington, with extra security on the city's waterways. Spectators will be limited in where they may drive and what they may bring. The Secret Service, the lead law enforcement agency for the Jan. 21 event, isn't revealing specific precautions, though tactics in the past have included trained counter-snipers, bomb-sniffing dogs and surveillance cameras with feeds streaming into a command center.

"We have a very robust, but standard, package that we put together for something like this. There is not any tool that any of the agencies have that will not be employed," said U.S. Senate Sergeant At Arms Terrance Gainer, who is involved in the planning.

Inauguration preparation is a constant balancing act of ensuring airtight security while simultaneously moving massive crowds around the city. Officials say they're determined to correct some of the logistical headaches of 2009, when some visitors complained of slow-moving, chaotic lines outside security gates and thousands of people with tickets to the swearing-in were left waiting in a tunnel below the National Mall. This year, organizers say, spectators will encounter more magnetometers to speed security lines, along with more — and earlier — signs to get people to their destinations.

"Our biggest concern is making sure that folks can get from wherever their buses are to the events they want to see, and back," said Chris Geldart, director of the District of Columbia's homeland security and emergency management agency.

City officials are expecting between 600,000 to 800,000 inauguration spectators, far fewer than the 1.8 million people who packed the Mall for the inauguration four years ago. But many of the security measures and restrictions will look familiar. Roads around the U.S. Capitol, the Mall and the White House will be closed to vehicles, with parking restricted and bridge traffic diverted in some locations. Some Metrorail stations will be closed, others probably packed. Backpacks, large signs, bicycles, glass containers and weapons are forbidden along the parade route. And anyone who wants to see the swearing-in ceremony from the U.S. Capitol grounds needs a ticket.

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Included in the crowd will be those looking to experience history, but also organized demonstrations, an Inauguration Day fixture. In 2009, a smattering of protest groups lined the parade route but no major incidents were reported. Four years earlier, demonstrators against President George W. Bush jeered his motorcade during the inaugural parade and some tried to rush a security gate blocks from the White House. Police briefly locked down the area, trapping some 400 to 500 spectators.

Many of the demonstrators this year aren't necessarily conventional Obama administration opponents, but nonetheless say they feel let down by his first term. The protesters' causes vary from abortion to military drone strikes to the nation's unemployment rate.

Participants in one demonstration, the Arc of Justice Coalition, will meet at Meridian Hill Park about 1 1/2 miles north of the White House and march toward the parade route while criticizing the Obama administration's use of unmanned drones to attack targets abroad and the "influence of corporations in our lives," said Malachy Kilbride, one of the organizers.