Armed guards, fences, boarded windows: Washington under heavy security
WASHINGTON, Jan 13, 2021 (BSS/AFP) – Lawmakers walked among armed
National Guard patrols in the halls of the US Capitol on Wednesday, as
downtown Washington was fenced off and boarded up while Congress
weighed a historic second impeachment of President Donald Trump.
The city at the heart of American democracy has been a shadow of
itself during pandemic shutdowns, but now it is also under heavy guard
after Trump supporters’ deadly attack on the Congress building.
Dozens of National Guard members in body armor and camouflage could
be seen asleep or resting on floors inside the Capitol, their black
rifles leaning against the polished stone walls of the building’s
Lawmakers are back in the building to decide whether to formally
accuse the president of inciting the mob that stormed the Capitol last
week in a failed effort to stop Congress from finalizing Trump’s
November loss to Joe Biden.
The building’s grounds are ringed by a security fence erected after
the attack, similar to the one put up around the White House months
ago when protests erupted nationwide against police killings of
The capital of the United States, known for its historical monuments
and crowds of tourists, has had a rough ride over the past 12 months.
– ‘Ghost of itself’ –
Navigating the once humming downtown on foot, it is difficult to
tell which buildings have been shuttered by the pandemic and which
simply shut up shop due to the violent protests the city has been
“This is my first time (in downtown Washington) in a year. There’s
usually people walking all over the place. This is very, very quiet. I
almost think it’s like a ghost of itself,” said Jaime, a mother from
Maryland who did not wish to give her full name.
Hordes of schoolchildren who normally travel from all over the
country to visit museums and see the White House now stay away, as do
most foreign tourists.
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The hectic jostle of politicians, lobbyists and lawyers on the street
has also fallen quiet, while the large metro stations that bring
workers in from suburbs are quiet and little-used.
The city of more than 700,000 inhabitants is subdued, one week
before the presidential inauguration of Joe Biden on the steps of the
Capitol. “The city is basically desolate,” said Nadine Seiler, 55, who
has been demonstrating every day since the end of October near the
White House in favor of anti-racist causes.
“Usually it’s very stressful, but here it’s like everybody’s away on
vacation,” she added.
As in many Western cities, many workers have been signing in from
home — especially staff at big institutions headquartered in
Washington such as the World Bank and the IMF, as well as the
countless government agencies.
Eateries must try to survive by erecting tents and marquees along
sidewalks, and tempting customers to sit down next to heaters of
varying efficiency battling the winter cold.
“I went to the Christmas market… that’s gone, all that’s gone. You
go into bars, (previously) packed bars — it’s gone,” laments Timothy
Bartholomew, a resident of Arlington, just over the Potomac river.
– Violent protests –
According to the specialist site Eater, nearly 70 restaurants have
permanently closed in Washington since the start of the pandemic, and
many others are boarded up without any certainty they will ever
Violent protests and unrest have shaken Washington repeatedly in the
After the death of George Floyd at the hands of the police in
Minneapolis in May, Washington became one of the hotspots of
nationwide anti-racist demonstrations.
City authorities painted huge yellow letters reading “Black Lives
Matter” across a wide street outside the White House, and the location
became a popular site for rallies.
But over the months, clashes between anti-racist activists and
pro-Trump protesters have brought an edge of tension to the city.
Roads and sidewalks have been gradually shut down around the White
House, with the security cordon now holding people far back from
Police cars keep their flashing lights on at all times, and block
streets normally streaming with traffic, while high metal fences
surround many government buildings such as the US Treasury.
Crowds cheering the inauguration on January 20 will be thin on the
ground, with authorities urging Americans to avoid the city, fearing