WASHINGTON – All or most of the National Mall is expected to close to the general public for Inauguration Day, according to two people familiar with the matter who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive security issues. The National Park Service has not announced its full swath of closures for Jan. 20, saying in a statement Thursday that it has “yet to make an official decision regarding closures of the National Mall.”
Blocking public access to the area between the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial would effectively shut down the iconic event to hundreds of thousands of Americans who typically gather on grassy lawns to watch the presidential swearing-in ceremony.
The move would be the latest in a series of security measures to harden the city against the type of violence that rocked the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6. Local and federal officials had already established a downtown security zone and called up more than 20,000 National Guard troops to protect the presidential swearing-in next week.
U.S. Capitol Police said they will work with National Guard troops to keep the public away from the Capitol, which will be closed to the public Jan. 20, according to a statement by Capitol Police on Thursday.
“Anyone attempting to unlawfully gain access to the Capitol Grounds by climbing a fence or any other unlawful means will be subject to an appropriate use of force and arrest,” the statement said.
Closures of the National Mall would not alter plans for the inauguration ceremony, which had already been pared back because of the coronavirus pandemic, said a senior official with the committee planning the event.
President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris will still be sworn in on the West Front of the Capitol. They will then review military forces arrayed on the East Front of the Capitol before being escorted to the White House. Other virtual events will follow.
But it will be difficult, if not impossible, for the public to lay eyes on the inaugural proceedings Wednesday. Metro said it will close 13 rail stations within the downtown security perimeter and alter bus routes in the area. Airbnb also announced it would cancel and block reservations in the District of Columbia area in the days leading up to the inauguration. There will also not be jumbotrons, which are typically set up downtown to live-stream the swearing-in ceremony.
“No one will be able to get into the Mall,” one of the officials said. “I would think about it as if you are going to watch, you are not going to be able to see anything. You would maybe be able to see the top of the Capitol.”
Washington area officials have for weeks warned the public to stay away from the District as right-wing groups plan armed protests for Sunday and Inauguration Day.
On Thursday, FBI Director Christopher Wray briefed Vice President Mike Pence on inauguration security, saying that more than 100 people have been arrested and more than 200 suspects have been identified in connection with last week’s attempted insurrection at the Capitol. Pence said at the briefing that the “American people deserve a safe inauguration on January 20th and I encourage you to convey to all your members to continue to lean forward to achieve just that.”
District of Columbia Mayor Muriel Bowser, a Democrat, has called for the Interior Department to rescind and deny all permits for demonstrations in downtown Washington through Jan. 24. After multiple back-and-forths between Bowser and the secretary of the interior over the past week, the status of permits for a handful of groups looking to rally on the National Mall was still unclear by Thursday evening.
Historians say sweeping closures to the National Mall would be unprecedented since inaugurations were first staged on the West Front of the Capitol in 1981.
“What we had on Jan. 6 was a real assault on democracy. Now, this is a real symbolic assault on democracy,” said Jim Bendat, a historian focusing on inaugurations and the author of “Democracy’s Big Day.”